State of some unions
by Victoria A. Brownworth
Some weeks, TV just rocks. As if the premiere of Lost: The Final Season weren't enough to grip anyone who loves really good TV and make it a fab week on the tube, we also got a political smackdown – plus a huge dollop of another political scandal, a Super Bowl controversy, an update on a religious scandal, and Oprah's birthday. Quel week!
We admit we were dreading President Obama's State of the Union address. Some things you just don't want to see, but it was far better than we expected. Our favorite part of the "Daddy's home, and you're in trouble" speech was the awesome chiding of the Republicans. We firmly believe that they need to be taken out behind the woodshed. Or just taken out. It took a year for Obama to remind the Republicans and the nation that George Bush destroyed the surplus that Bill Clinton built, as well as mucked up just about everything else. Better late than never.
Obama also gave a little slap to the U.S. Supreme Court, which many found unseemly. Pundits on both sides commented on Justice Samuel Alito's snarky "That's simply not true" response to Obama's comments about the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Technically, Alito was right: Obama was wrong about foreign corporations. But it was hardly a Joe Wilson moment.
What not a single pundit mentioned was far more important. When Obama said it was past time to fix "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Joint Chiefs sat stone-faced and unresponsive – however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on his feet, clapping.
It was quite telling. If Gates and Obama are together on actually getting this done, it could happen. And while we aren't thrilled with militarization in general, we do believe in the equal right to serve.
During his many political campaigns, John Edwards spoke a great deal about public service. His populist message won him second place on the Democratic ticket in 2004. Many political experts believe that if 2008 hadn't been the year of the woman and/or person of color, Edwards would have easily won the nomination.
Even when it became clear that Edwards was not going to be the 2008 nominee, he still had political cachet. As the third-runner-up in the political beauty pageant, he could expect a position in either an Obama or Clinton Administration.
That was not to be. Edwards' personal life took a game-changing turn when it was revealed that he'd had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a woman hired to shoot campaign videos for him. Just before flying to Haiti to do relief work last week, Edwards released a statement that he was indeed the father of Hunter's illegitimate daughter, Frances Quinn. Then on Jan. 28, it was announced that John and Elizabeth Edwards had officially separated.
The revelation about the baby wasn't news. Although Edwards had denied paternity of the child to ABC's Bob Woodruff in an interview for Nightline last year, as had Elizabeth Edwards in her interview with Oprah, few doubted he was the father.
What was surprising was that the couple were splitting after 33 years of marriage and a full three-and-a-half years since Edwards told his wife about the affair. They had continued his presidential campaign despite that and her cancer recurrence. Why the split now?
Andrew Young probably pushed Elizabeth over the edge. Young has been all over the tube in recent days. The entire Jan. 29 episode of ABC's 20/20 was devoted to Young and his wife Cheryl, as were three episodes of Nightline. Young has also appeared on GMA, Inside Edition, and is scheduled for more TV appearances as he promotes his tell-all book about Edwards' affair, The Politician. Young's book and subsequent interviews reveal an unseemly series of truly scandalous events.
We usually enjoy a political scandal, but this one is all levels of disturbing. The only people we feel empathy for are the children: Edwards', Hunter's and Young's. They all deserve much better – and more private – parents. It's difficult to imagine smarmier creatures than Andrew and Cheryl Young. When their efforts at blackmailing Edwards and Hunter failed, they sold their story to a publisher and to TV. Not that John and Elizabeth Edwards or Rielle Hunter deserve protection – each had their own ambitious agenda, and those agendas ignored the fate of a pivotal presidential election, a marriage, the lives of several children, and their own self-esteem.
But the Youngs? By their own admission, they were bought and paid for by Edwards, and when the cash ran out, they did what blackmailers always do: looked for easy money elsewhere.
We were appalled at the interview Bob Woodruff, a seasoned war reporter, did with the couple on 20/20 and Nightline. At no point did Woodruff call the couple to task for their own ugly misdeeds, which included Young claiming paternity of Hunter's baby, and being paid a salary to do so. Rather, Woodruff sat in repulsed disbelief at the tale the Youngs told about the Edwards and Hunter, and barely blinked at their own calumny.
Woodruff should have noted that the Youngs got close to a million dollars out of the Edwards cover-up. Young noted they had to stop building their dream house, into which they had already put $350,000, because the money well dried up when Edwards told his wife the truth. He also acknowledged, "We got greedy." Ya think? Check out the full two-hours of interviews at www.ABCnews.com.
What Woodruff never noted is this: Edwards, with the agreement of his wife and the facilitation of Young, lied to the American people. He held Obama and Clinton hostage for his endorsement. It's the ultimate tale of political hubris, in which he and Elizabeth put their own ambition before everything: their own marriage, their children, and the country.
Young presents himself and his wife as victims of the Edwards and Hunter. They are not. Woodruff should have asked the Youngs, "When you spent all these years lying for money, why should we believe a word you say?"
Pants on fire
Speaking of liars, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow doesn't seem like one, although queers know that the so-called Christian group Focus on Family lies regularly, particularly about lesbians and gay men. In Tebow's case, perhaps just like politicians who tell a lie so often they believe it, the NFL star believes that his mother, Pam, chose not to abort him.
This wouldn't be much of a TV tale, except that Tebow and his mother are featured in Focus on Family's right-to-life spot during the Super Bowl. That, too, wouldn't be much of a story if CBS hadn't refused to air a spot for the United Church of Christ during last year's game, saying it was too controversial. CBS also refused to run an ad this year for a gay eHarmony-style online dating service, Mancrunch.com.
The UCC ad was pro-inclusion, saying that churches should include everyone, and that queers were welcome at theirs. The Mancrunch.com ad is self-explanatory.
GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios is pretty steamed about what he calls a "homophobic double-standard." Everyone else should be, too. CBS says it's all about the money: a 30-second spot of the sort Focus on Family and Mancruch.com would air costs $2.6 million. CBS said it could not verify Mancrunch's ability to pay. But CBS also issued the following vague statement in response to GLAAD's request for a review of how it chooses advertising: "After reviewing the ad – which is entirely commercial in nature – our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot. As always, we are open to working with the client on alternative submissions." Uh-huh.
But there's a kicker, so to speak. Pam Tebow allegedly was told to have an abortion while a missionary in the Philippines because she'd gotten amoebic dysentery, and the heavy-duty drugs she took might have damaged the fetus. But she "chose life." Or did she? Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. Illegal. Punishable by imprisonment if you are involved. So who was telling a missionary she should have an abortion? Who was going to perform it?
Is the Tebow story even true, or just a convenient apocryphal tale to stoke the abortion debate once again? After all, who would have aborted Tim Tebow – literally?
The Center for Reproductive Rights felt CBS should know the facts, and sent them a letter explaining the Philippines' law: no exemptions for abortion, not even the life of the mother. According to CRR, more than 1,000 women died in 2008 in the Philippines as a result of high-risk pregnancies that should have been terminated to save the life of the mother, and another 90,000 women suffered life-threatening and life-altering complications.
We can't comment on Mancruch's finances, but it seems to us that Focus on Family should get the same treatment UCC got last year. If a church that believes in inclusion for all is too controversial for the Super Bowl, then a group that lies about women's lives should be as well.
All cured now
Speaking of evangelical liars, Ted Haggard and his wife Gayle were on Oprah this week. Unlike Elizabeth Edwards, Gayle Haggard chose to stay in her marriage to Haggard, who had several affairs with men, including a three-year pay-for-sex arrangement with a gay male prostitute.
Mrs. Haggard was on Oprah touting her new book, Why I Stayed. Rev. Haggard joined her mid-interview to explain that he's all "cured" of being gay now, as his therapists claim. In a cringe-worthy moment, Haggard told Oprah that he is fully heterosexual, and there's ample evidence to prove it – then patted his wife's thigh. Ew, ew, ew.
The Haggards are doing the talk-show rounds, much like the Youngs. Their damage control is likely to be just as unsuccessful. Sexual orientation is not a disease to be cured. It's genetic. Haggard may have convinced himself that his wife is man enough for him, but it was clear that Gayle Haggard isn't sure her husband won't cheat on her again.
As with the Edwards, the lies these people tell themselves and each other impact far more than just their immediate family. All across America, Haggard will be used as an example of a mythical homo cure. We can only imagine how many gay and lesbian kids will have that story flung in their faces by homophobic parents. We're all for selling books. It's selling lies we don't approve of.
Finally, Jan. 29 was Oprah's birthday. The wealthiest and most powerful woman in America could have anything for her birthday. She only wanted two things. She wanted new puppies, from PAWS, a Chicago shelter. And she wanted everyone who watches her show and their friends to sign a contract to stop using cell phones and texting while driving.
We heartily approve of adopting from shelters, and applaud our Oprah for doing so. Go, Oprah. But even more than that, we are thrilled by her movement to stop the incredibly dangerous practice of using cell phones while driving.
Oprah did a program last week on how many thousands of people are killed and injured by so-called "distracted driving" practices every year. The stories were harrowing. She also had confirmed cell-phone addicts take a driving test while texting or calling friends. Each failed – not surprisingly, since texting increases your accident risk by 20 times. (Drinking and driving only increases it four times.)
Go to www.Oprah.com and sign onto her "no phone zone" movement. It only takes a literal second to kill yourself or another person while using your cell phone. The car is not your office or your home. It's a dangerous weapon. We don't always agree with Oprah, but having watched the slow recovery of a close friend who was nearly killed by a distracted driver on a cell phone, we applaud Oprah's latest quest to save lives.
Support Oprah, denounce CBS and check out Lost . And don't forget, stay tuned.