Your Mail: Dan, Ann, Tom and the Texas Teacher Sex Scandal

On June 20 I wrote a column about the precipitous sacking of Dan Rather and criticized CBS for failing to recognize the value of an outstanding 44 year career. While most of you agreed with me that loyalty is a virtue and that age is treated unfairly in the workplace, you were sharply divided about the cause for Dan’s dismissal. One way or the other, it seems few of you are pleased with CBS.

Nicholas Choppe writes:

“I think this does not come down to loyalty, but to journalistic integrity. In a world where the mainstream media is being continually challenged by internet-based forms of communication, we cannot afford to lose sight of it.”

SRE: Interesting point Nicholas. The internet does give people a resource to challenge traditional sources of news and certainly has had an impact on news channel ratings. Given Dan’s excellent career, work ethic and experience however, I don’t believe there wasn’t a single place for him at CBS.

Sue Wright writes:

“I think this is the first time I have ever agreed with you on FOX. Dan Rather has made some mistakes, but no one should be treated that way.”

SRE: Thanks Sue. More of my female readers than male readers made this point, maybe because age discrimination is more visible in their lives.

Doug Abendroth of Tustin, California writes:

“Thank you for your column on Dan Rather, which was spot on. Although as a conservative Republican I’m not in sympathy with Dan’s political views, and I thought he performed poorly in the memogate controversy, I emphatically agree that his record and accomplishments earned him far better treatment.

I had occasion to work on a legal team that represented CBS and Dan Rather some years ago in a defamation suit arising out of a 60 minutes broadcast. Like you, I found Dan to be unfailingly fair, gracious, honest and in every way an old-school gentleman.

It’s a sad commentary on our times that there can be so little gratitude for a lifetime of A-plus work, so little room for forgiveness, and so little respect for age and accomplishment. We all are headed for Dan’s age, and when we countenance this kind of treatment, we only wound ourselves.”

SRE: Thanks Doug for your excellent comments.

Your responses show that age, loyalty and the political process in broadcast journalism are important issues for all of you. Time will tell how viewers respond to CBS.

My column on Ann Coulter was met with hundreds of responses. Most of you agreed with me that her great success has been a combination of her intelligence and drive with the qualities that make her outrageous. Many of you also pointed out other media figures who have worked the same combination. I was impressed, however, that while many of you said sensationalism might draw your attention at first, you are most concerned with someone’s ideas.

Janis Badarau from New Jersey writes:

I couldn’t agree with you more about Anne Coulter. I winced when she suggested the husbands might have been considering divorce. It was totally uncalled-for speculation, and essentially negated the important point she was making.

On the other hand, if she sells more copies of her book -- which is 99 percent smack on target, and a rollicking good read -- then more power to her.

Gloria Steinem played the glamour-girl game to her advantage a generation ago. Now its Ann’s turn to shake her money-maker.”

SRE: Great points Janis. I think it is unfortunate that sensationalism has to be a vehicle to sell books, but I agree that if Ann is getting more people into political dialogue we should be pleased.

Dave Swanay of Tyngsborough, Mass., writes:

Thank you for your sensible explanation of Ann Coulter. Ann is part entertainer and part political pundit. She has analyzed the market and figured out that to excel she needs to be somewhat outrageous. She has succeeded.

I really do enjoy Ann’s antics and am amazed at the ire she is able to raise from ordinarily rather sensible people.

But, I would love anyone, man or woman, with her intelligence, sense of humor, wit, and the guts to make waves. She is a fighter and I admire that. The fact that she is nice to look at is a plus.

SRE: Again, I think we should be questioning that market, particularly for female political pundits, but I share your respect for Ann’s intelligence and wit.

The many responses I received about Ann suggest that she has certainly struck a nerve with many. I am glad to hear it is her ideas you value most.

In response to my article about the Texas school teacher who allegedly had sex with her 18 year-old student, many of you contacted me with shock that I was the only one advocating my position and agreed that the act should result in a felony conviction.

Others expressed dismay and believed the act was a matter for professional discipline. Still others asked some good questions which I have answered below.

Bruce Gould writes:

Wouldn't a law which made it a crime for a high school teacher to have sex with an 18 year old student but did not make it a crime for a junior college/college/grad school teacher to have sex with an 18 year old student be unconstitutional?

Why should high school teachers having sex with 18 year olds be criminals but junior college/community college teachers (when the 18 year old student could be attending both high school and junior college/community college at the same time under the "head start" program) be considered non-criminals?

For example, the same 18 year old boy goes to high school in the morning, has sex with a 25 year old woman teacher during lunch break. He goes to community college in the afternoon and has sex after school with 25 year old woman community college teacher.

In the former case, the 25 year old woman teacher gets 20 years in prison. In the latter case, she gets no prison time and in fact can continue to have sex with the 18 year old boy with no penalty.

SRE: Good question Bruce. Amy McElhenney has violated Texas Penal Code sec. 21.12 which makes it a second degree felony for a primary or secondary school educator to have sex with a primary or secondary school student. The situation you present points out that the same immoral act could occur between the student and a college professor with no legal consequences.

To answer your question, no, it isn’t an equal protection violation to make a distinction between a secondary school teacher and a college professor. Lots of things are regulated differently in college than in high school (student newspapers, sex education, etc.) because the law assumes that a certain degree of maturation occurs in college.

Is the law always right on this point? Clearly not. But the law makes many brightline cut offs in order to be efficient.

The situation you point out might be cured by the Texas legislature counting college professors as “secondary school educators” when they teach high school students.

Jack Porter writes:

Should it be against the law for a 25 year old professor at a college to have sex with a 21 year old senior? What if a 35 year old male is getting his GED; should it be against the law for him to have sex with his 33 year old teacher?

Consent is consent, regardless of the student teacher relationship. If both participants are deemed to be “adults,” I say no foul.

SRE: Good hypotheticals and I say they are both morally questionable. They both violate the student-teacher relationship which should respect values of fairness and professionalism. Sex can wait.

Should they be crimes? The second one might be if a state considers a GED student to be a part of a secondary school program. But at some age the interest in legally protecting someone from sexual advancements becomes less compelling.

Your responses to my article on Tom DeLay generally made two points: either you were disgusted with a system of legislative favors for campaign contributions, or you thought DeLay simply kept running with a system that was already in place.

Some of you thought I unfairly highlighted Republican political corruption, and I invite you to read my column on William Jefferson from May 28.

William Rodebaugh writes:

Tom DeLay worked with corporate lobbyists, which is wrong in the eyes of most. I question whether taking money from the NEA or AFL-CIO is really any different. The business lobbyist has an agenda to support its constituency as does the NEA or AFL-CIO. I guess both parties should admit they are being bought by someone.”

SRE: Thanks for your thoughts William and I agree somewhat. Teachers unions and labor unions might be more palatable to some because part of their mission is to function as political coalitions.

Martha Gills writes:

I used to be so proud to be an American. I am not so naïve as to believe that we are always doing the right thing. But I thought that when push cam to shove or leaders would step in and do the right thing. There are so many shameful things happening these days that I am losing my confidence. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the Mariana Islands, phone surveillance, and the strategic use of divisive social issues are a few of the cases in point.

“Don’t explain, don’t apologize” indeed!

Please continue to write about these matters. Hopefully the day will come when we all stand up and say these actions are not the “American way.”

SRE: Thanks for your thoughtful words!

Your disgust with the K Street system suggests it may be an election issue in 2006. Now that DeLay is gone we will see if those who have condemned him will continue to participate in it.