Gays, cowardice, and Fox

    Was that a newsy weekend, or what?For starters, the U.S. Senate finally acknowledged mainstream public opinion when it voted to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military – thus ensuring that American policy will soon be in sync with those of its western allies. Even some of the Senate Republicans recognized reality; Richard Burr of North Carolina, one of the eight defectors, cited the “generational transition that has taken place in our nation.”On the losing side, John McCain stood athwart history to the bitter end. In one last futile blast of get-off-my-lawn rhetoric, he grumped that the Senate was acting “in direct repudiation of the message of the American people,” that repeal of the gays-in-the-closet law would spark “high fives all over the liberal bastions of America,” and in “the salons of Georgetown.” Apparently, this tinpot populist is still oblivious to the fact that landslide American majorities – including millions of people who (unlike McCain) have never visited the Georgetown salons – steadfastly support repeal. But happily, on this issue McCain is now irrelevant.Now the Pentagon needs to ensure that no gays will be kicked out of the service during the potentially lengthy implementation phase. To date, 14,000 military gays have been drummed out of the ranks after having revealed their orientation, or after having been exposed against their wishes. What a waste of personnel. With reform imminent and backed by the force of law, it would seem logical to halt all pending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” probes. To update the young John Kerry’s remark about Vietnam: How can you ask an outed gay to be the last one fired for a mistake?——-By the way, the Profile in Cowardice Award goes to Joe Machin, the new Democratic senator from West Virginia. Rather than take an official stand Saturday on the DADT repeal, like virtually all his colleagues did, he went AWOL instead. He explained that he had a more pressing obligation – a family holiday party.Wait a sec…Eggnog took priority over a vote on whether to end institutional bigotry?  Colleague Joe Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who never works on Saturday, yet he was able to reorder his priorities on this occasion.Nevertheless, Manchin did try to assure everyone that his views on repeal were clear. He said he was sympathetic in principle, but had concerns about “timing and implementation.” Translation: He’s positioning himself to pander to both sides back home, as the need arises. He can tell pro-repeal West Virginians that he was broadly sympathetic and that he was concerned only with doing it right; and he can tell anti-repeal constituents that he defied his party and refused to vote Yes.In a TV ad this autumn, Manchin fired a rifle. Yeah, put him in front of a camera with  gun, and he’s a real tough guy. But take the gun away and put him on the spot with an historic issue on the line, and suddenly he’s not so tough anymore. He’s just another calculating pol, only worse.——Meanwhile, on the Sunday shows, key Senate Republicans said they would try this week to block ratification of New START, the pending nuclear arms pact that has been endorsed by virtually the entire Republican foreign policy establishment. The Senate GOP leaders said they were ticked off at the Democrats’ successful passage of DADT repeal; they said that the mood on Capitol Hill has soured as a result.So, therefore: In retaliation for their failure to perpetuate a bigoted policy that has kicked 14,000 gays out of the military, Senate Republicans vow to kill a treaty with Russia that would reduce nuclear arms.What’s wrong with that picture?——-Fox News is clearly not happy with a new study – sponsored by The Program on International Policy Attitudes, and the Center for International and Security Studies, both based at the University of Maryland – which concludes that “almost daily” Fox viewers are demonstrably more ignorant about factual reality than those Americans who get their primary information from other sources.I detailed many of the findings here on Friday. But now we have a response from Fox. Michael Clemente, a senior vice president who reportedly oversees the network’s objective news programming, has put out a statement seeking to rebut the study:”The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study the Least,’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.”If we unpack that paragraph, we can truly understand why frequent Fox viewers are so ill-informed. Note, for instance, that the guy who oversees Fox’s objective news coverage didn’t even bother to contest the study’s statistics; instead, he tried to knock down the study by broadly tarring the school that hosted the study. And he crafted the smear by omitting some salient factual information:(1) The Princeton Review, which does conduct academic rankings, lists the University of Maryland as one of the best northeastern schools, (2) Even though the Princeton Review ranks UM as the 19th best party school in the northeast, it also ranks UM’s library as the 17th best, (3) It ranks UM’s college newspaper as the third best out of 373 northeastern schools. Perhaps most importantly, it’s impossible to tar a huge school with one brush; the party habits of undergrads have virtually no bearing on the work of university think tanks. Nevertheless, Fox’s senior veep has now provided Fox devotees with the opportunity to simply say, “Nah, who cares about that study, we hear it’s just a party school.” And the dumb will have become dumber.——-In my latest freelance contribution to Obit, the online magazine, I assess some of the noteworthy political deaths of 2010, while managing to work in a quote from one of my favorite movies.

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