that could bring the conversation about birth control into
New York state classrooms hits a snag over semantics
New York state decided in September to turn back $3.67 million
in federal sex-ed funds that could be used only to teach abstinence,
it seemed that the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer would
be able to set its own course through this controversial and
often divisive topic.
The decision has freed restricted matching state funds, limited
to abstinence-only education, and allowed the state to instead
use that $2.6 million for comprehensive sex-ed programs that
discuss birth-control methods in addition to abstinence.
But sex remains a sticky subject for the Legislature, and
now a bill that has struck a chord of common sense with both
Republicans and Democrats remains stalled—in direct response,
its Republican sponsor said, to the sensitivities of the Catholic
Church and other religious organizations that oppose any sex-ed
message other than abstinence.
The bill, which is known as the Healthy Teens Act, would provide
additional funding for comprehensive sex-ed programs for schools
that choose to participate. The bill has passed the Assembly
but hasn’t gone beyond committee levels in the Senate.
trying to help our teens make more informed, better and safer
choices,” said state Sen. George Winner (R-Elmira), who’s
sponsoring the bill. “To me, this legislation makes perfect
sense in New York state, where we have some of the highest
rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
in the nation.”
JoAnn Smith, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates
of New York State, which represents a number of reproductive-health
organizations, noted that two studies in the last year have
added weight to the argument that abstinence-only sex education
does not reduce teen pregnancy or sexual activity among teenagers.
One of those studies was conducted by the National Campaign
to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; the other, “Financing Ignorance,”
was by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines called
the Bush administration’s focus on abstinence-only sex education
“a failed national-health-care-policy directive, based on
ideology rather than on sound, scientific-based evidence”
in September when he explained the state’s decision to refuse
further federal funds tied to abstinence teaching.
Now, reproductive-health advocates want to expand the comprehensive
programs beyond those in place that are using the previously
restricted state matching funds.
need the Senate to pass this bill, and we need to give schools
a chance to apply for grants and put age-appropriate, comprehensive,
abstinence-plus sex- education programs in place,” Smith said.
“Comprehensive programs can be tailored to age and communities.
There’s nothing about this [bill] that encourages sexual activity;
if anything, it helps kids be stronger. It would be encouraging
to a young person who had made the decision to be abstinent.”
But semantics often play a strong role in legislation about
sexuality, and that phrase “age-appropriate” in the Healthy
Teens Act appears to be no exception.
‘Age-appropriate’ is something that could be different, depending
on who is interpreting it,” said Mark Hanson, a spokesman
for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick). “That’s
Winner has cited “significant opposition” by religious organizations
and especially by the Catholic Church as an obstacle to the
Healthy Teens Act, something that the New York State Catholic
Conference does not deny. The conference is the lobbying arm
of the state’s Roman Catholic bishops.
sure they give lip service to an abstinence message, but the
business of Planned Parenthood is contraception and abortion,”
said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference.
“They talk about ‘age-appropriate,’ but when Planned Parenthood
talks about age-appropriate, it may not be how other parents
Language was an issue in another hotly contested bill dealing
with reproductive health five years ago, when New York sought
to become one of only a handful of states to require hospitals
to counsel rape victims about the use of emergency contraception
and to offer the medication on-site.
In that debate, the Catholic Conference blocked the bill until
a change in its wording guaranteed hospitals the right to
do a pregnancy test before administering the emergency contraception.
The change satisfied the Catholic Conference’s objection to
abortion and the bishops’ concern that emergency contraception
might cause a pregnancy to abort.
So far, a compromise over the language in the Healthy Teens
Act isn’t promising.
think most people in society agree—including Family Planning
Advocates—that children are too young to have sex,” Poust
said. “We believe that’s the best way to reach kids; they
just shouldn’t be having sex when they’re 13, 14, 15 years
week, The New York Times ran a story it
had been sitting on at the behest of the Bush
administration for more than three years. The
story documented joint efforts between Pakistan
and the United States to protect nuclear weapons
in Pakistan. In 2004, when the Times originally
was going to break the story, the White House
requested it be held as not to jeopardize the
success of the program. This month, when notified
the story was scheduled to run, the White House
did not object.
police unions called for the resignation of Albany
Common Council President Shawn Morris at this
week’s council meeting. Union heads claimed Morris
had intimidated them in an attempt to get them
to withdraw their endorsement of Albany Legislature
candidate Brian Scavo. They claim they were told
by Morris that the endorsement “would come back
to bite us.” Morris has told Metroland
that Scavo has a reputation for engaging in inappropriate
conversations with teenage girls.
fight over gas prices ended in murder in Detroit
this week. The owners of two neighboring Detroit
gas stations were embroiled in a heated competition
to see who could have the lowest prices. The BP
station owner finally confronted the owner of
the Marathon station after he had lowered his
prices by one cent three times in one day. During
the altercation, the owner of the Marathon station
pulled a gun and shot his competitor. As soon
as the body of the BP gas station owner was taken
away, BP raised the price of its gas by 13 cents.
Your Tongue Part 2
his ongoing crackdown on dissent, Pakistan President—and
Washington ally—Gen. Pervez Musharraf shut down
the country’s two largest privately owned TV news
stations on Friday. In the wake of this action,
roughly 140 journalists were jailed after protests
broke out in Karachi. The state crackdown on the
two stations is just one action taken by the embattled
Musharraf in an effort to silence criticism and
contain a roiling anger over his rule. Bowing
to world pressure, however, Musharraf has reinstated
the January elections.
search of higher ratings and more prominence in the community,
WRGB has begun a crusade
Michelle Smith, CBS 6 news anchor and education reporter,
has a mission.
For the past year and a half, WRGB has been working to integrate
the technique of unapologetically biased reporting known as
“advocacy journalism” into its broadcasts. The idea, Smith
said, is that reporters get behind specific issues of the
day, agitate for change, and act as the mouthpiece for their
viewers. So when she reported in September that there are
no laws in New York state to make it a crime for an adult
to use the Internet to attempt to arrange a meeting with a
child, hundreds of parents responded, and Smith had found
started asking for my help,” Smith said of her viewers. “They
wanted to know what they could do.”
In response, the station authored a petition asking that lawmakers
pass legislation “closing this loophole,” and invited viewers
am being the correspondent of the parents to the Legislature,”
Smith said. “I am the go-between.”
Gathered in the Carl E. Touhey Forum at the College of Saint
Rose on Nov. 13, legislators from the state Senate and Assembly,
including Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and Minority Leader
Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady), and law-enforcement officials
from local, state, and federal agencies took part in a town-hall
meeting for concerned parents organized by WRGB.
Few parents showed up. The seats were mostly empty, save for
a class of Saint Rose students.
Smith sat at the center of the legislators and lawmakers and
guided an hour of testimonials and back-and-forth discussion
about the issue of online sex predators, all captured by WRGB’s
cameras to be edited together for later broadcasts.
Despite the low turnout, Lisa Jackson, the news director for
WRGB, was thrilled.
lot of news shops just react to the news of the day,” said
Jackson. Examples of such reactive journalism: press conferences,
breaking news, community schedules.
we are going is ‘proactive journalism,’ ” she said, “which
is really old-fashioned journalism; it is watchdog journalism.
It is going back to the roots.”
one-on-one with our viewers,” she added. “We encourage them
to tell us what they would like us to look into.”
And they have heard from parents. WRGB has collected thousands
of signatures for its petition, of which Smith then hand-delivered
copies to every local legislator in New York state—with a
cameraman in tow.
Some critics see the new crusade by CBS 6 less as a genuine
interest in advocacy journalism and more as a play for ratings.
And they wonder if the station will avoid worthy but controversial
issues in favor of ones that are easy to oversimplifiy and
pander to public fear, like those involving sex offenders.
Further, they question the integrity of blurring the line
between news reporting and advocacy.
is a place for advocacy journalism,” said Alan Chartock, publisher
of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of
WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. “But you can’t be both; you can’t
be a commentator and a news deliverer. I think that’s their
cocaine guys go to jail five times longer than powder cocaine,”
Chartock said. “Alcoholics who cause 40,000 deaths a year
get a slap on the wrist and maybe two years in the can for
killing somebody. The kid that holds up a store gets 10 years
for armed robbery.”
His point? Everything is relative, and issues are not always
as simple as they seem. A news reporter is supposed to keep
a clear, open-minded view of the issues and ask the difficult,
even unpopular questions.
are these people,” these sex offenders, Chartock asked. “Do
they have mental-health issues? Were they abused as children?
Does nobody now bother to ask these questions?”
Will CBS 6’s race to lure viewers and the attendant ad dollars
drive them to pander to the lowest common denominator? If
the public demands an unquestioning crusade against suspected
online predators, is that what CBS 6 is going to give them,
with Smith leading the charge?
is kind of controversial out on the streets,” Smith agreed
of advocacy journalism. “Should we be taking sides? Should
we be getting behind an issue? Should we be advocating for
one thing or another?”
In most cases, she said, the answer is no. With the issue
sexual predators, however, it seemed like a simple choice.
you are a predator yourself,” she said, “are you really going
to be against a law like this?”
can rationalize it,” Chartock said, “they can put the best
face on it, but it all comes down to ratings, and we all know
it. It all comes down to numbers.”
Once a law is passed, Jackson said, WRGB will be proud to
have contributed to its community in a positive manner. Maybe
their efforts will help save a child. And, she asked, “What’s
wrong with that?”
loose ends this week-