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How Kevin Jennings Survived

Saturday, October 24, 2009

By Marc Ambinder
The Atlantic

A few weeks ago, Kevin Jennings was in trouble.

After social conservatives at the Family Research Council had opposed his nomination as director of the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools earlier in the year, he came under a firestorm of criticism from conservative bloggers and Fox News pundits for counseling an underage student--a 15 year-old boy, it was reported--on a sexual relationship with an older man.

The student sought Jennings's advice in 1988, and, as a young teacher, and a gay man himself who had recently seen a friend die of AIDS, Jennings gave it: "I hope you knew to use a condom."

When this was discovered (from a speech Jennings gave in 2000), it set off an explosion of calls for his resignation. The Washington Times ran an editorial suggesting he was unfit for the job. He had failed to report statutory rape and, in doing so, condoned it, conservative pundits argued. It looked as if Jennings would follow in the footsteps of former green jobs czar Van Jones and former National Endowment for the Arts Communications Director Yosi Sergant--the latest administration appointee to resign amid controversy. In other words, the latest scalp for the administration's critics.

But Jennings appears to have survived. Here's why.

While the fire hasn't completely died down--53 House Republicans sent a letter calling for his job last week--it has certainly lost steam. Jennings is no longer a topic du jour, mostly due to one simple fact: the boy wasn't actually underage.

The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America dug up a 2004 letter from Jennings' attorney stating that the boy was actually 16 at the time--the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, where this had taken place--although Jennings had said the boy was 15 in his speech....(Remainder.)

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