by Laura Flanders
February 20, 2003
"Follow the money." That's one standby in journalism. Another could be "follow the invitations."
We've seen an example, recently, of what can happen when the credentials of someone the Bush administration favors were exposed to public scrutiny. But there are an awful lot of White House cronies getting a free ride.
The Washington Post provoked a firestorm this January, when it pointed out that the Bush administration had nominated Jerry Thacker, a Christian conservative, to the president's council on HIV and AIDS.
Thacker has called AIDS the "gay plague" and homosexuality a "deathstyle." His words showed up on the World Wide Web in various places, until they were purged. The same day that the Post story ran, Thacker withdrew his nomination, which made more news.
But what was missing in all the coverage of this aborted nomination, was any word on the members who remain on Bush's council.
As the Post revealed, Thacker's a wacky guy with unscientific views about homosexuality, AIDS transmission and how to preserve the public health, but he is far from alone in the Bush administration in holding those beliefs, and he wouldn't have been alone on the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).
Check out the list drawn up by the group, People for the American Way, and you find that PACHA's Director is Patricia Funderburk Ware, described as "a key advocate of abstinence-only sex education." Ware, like many in the administration, supports teaching kids about abstinence only, when it comes to sex, and banning any other information about what might help protect against disease.
PACHA's co-chair is Former Republican Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Religious Right leader with a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition. Coburn's on the board of Gary Bauer's Family Research Council which also opposes comprehensive sex education.
Another member is Dr. Joe McIlhaney, director of something called the Medical Institute in Texas. A colleague who worked with McIlhaney told the Austin Chronicle that he refuses even to talk about condoms, despite years of science showing that proper condom use saves lives.
Thacker was wrong, and now he's gone, but that's only one half of the story. The public got another half story, January 29, when the press covered a guest at the President's State of the Union address.
Writing about one of those invited to sit with the first lady, The New York Times (among others) mentioned Tonja Myles, director of an anti-drug addiction program at the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mr. Bush talked about the Healing Place in his speech.
The religious nature of Myles' program, said the Times, "illustrates the concerns of critics who worry about the separation of church and state." Readers would have been better equipped to assess those "critics" concerns had they known that Myles testified in 2001 at the Louisiana legislature in favor of a creationist-sponsored resolution.
The resolution, which passed, over the objections of educators and scholars, declares that Darwin and evolution are racist, "Ku Klux Klan thinking." Myles' record was reported in the Lousiana Advocate.
One can hope that in the next few weeks, the media will bring us lots of in depth coverage of those nominees whom the Bush administration would see confirmed to the federal bench. But when it comes to spending public money or framing the public's policy, not only judges count.
The people whom the Bush administration embraces are the American public's business, and we rely on journalists to bring us all the picture, not just part of it.
Laura Flanders is author of Real Majority, Media Minority: The Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting (Common Courage, 1997), and the host of Working Assets Radio. This commentary was first published in TomPaine.com (www.TomPaine.com)