"Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer hosted a serious debate on Wednesday about whether Maine middle school students, children as young as 11, should have access to birth control pills. The ABC program engaged in a classic example of labeling bias with a graphic that identified talk show host Glenn Beck as a "conservative commentator." In contrast, Sawyer referred to the other guest, Logan Levkoff, not as a liberal, but simply a "sexual educator." This is despite the fact that the "educator" advocated not only for birth control for 11-year-olds, but wouldn't rule out giving it to elementary-aged children. Additionally, Levkoff has blogged about her distaste for President Bush and joy that the Democrats won Congress in 2006.
Despite a few tough questions to Levkoff, Sawyer clearly sympathized with her position. After explaining that a middle school in Portland is considering distributing the pill as well as the patch, she opened the debate by lecturing Beck: "You may not like it. You may want parents to go in and take care of their own children and make sure that they're not sexually active that young, but it's happening. It's happening." When Beck asserted that state law made sex under the age of 14 a crime, the GMA host retorted, "Well, but that's a legislative issue, what about these actual girls?"
Sawyer did ask Levkoff a pair of challenging questions, including wondering, "Would you draw the line anywhere? What if it were grade school?" The "sexual educator" wouldn't rule it out. She justified, "I don't necessarily draw the line because we're in a world where we get so many sexual messages and where is our goal? Our priority should be to protect our youth..." At this point, an onscreen graphic labeled Levkoff with a slightly different moniker, a "sexuality educator" Despite these extremely left-wing sentiments, ABC never identified her as a liberal. Glenn Beck, of course, was a "conservative commentator."
Levkoff, it should also be noted, blogs on the Trojan Elexa website. Her topics have included celebrating "Blog for Choice Day," bashing President Bush and enthusing how "psyched" she was about the Democrats taking control of Congress in 2006. According to ABC, however, that's not enough to describe someone as left of center.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:31am on October 17, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: "But first, we turn to this debate about contraception and middle schools. Did you know that two percent of middle schools and junior high schools are already making condoms available? But now, one school, tonight, educators are going to consider whether they're going to add the pill and the patch to that as well. And we're talking about for children as young as 11 to 13 years old. By and large, these will be distributed in health clinics which are generally in neighborhoods which need help with health care. They are caught in the changing worlds of early puberty and sexual messages everywhere. And a middle school in Portland, Maine, today, some students say they are sexually active."
AMANDA ROWE (PORTLAND SCHOOL NURSES COORDINATOR): "We do certainly sit down and speak with them about why that's not a good choice but there are some who persist even though we don't like to think about that in being sexually active. They need to be protected."
SAWYER: "Just how much protection will be debated tonight when the Portland School Committee meets to decide if their middle school will offer a broader range, including prescriptions for birth control pills and the patch. Not for everyone, but the few who are sexually active."
ROWE: "It will provide a means of making sure that you don't get pregnant and ruin your school career and limit yourself in the future."
SAWYER: "The middle school health center already provides condoms as part of its reproductive health program. They say of the 135 children who visited the center last year, five reported being sexually active. By the way, while students need a parent's written permission to take advantage of the health services, no one has to tell parents if birth control is, in fact, being given."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE PARENT #1: "I think that education about birth control at that age is appropriate because our culture is saturated with messages about sex."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE PARENT #2: "I don't think I would want my child in middle school to be getting birth control pills, unless I had something to do with it."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE PARENT #3: "I think providing birth control pills may encourage some kids to have sex if they think it's safe. But what's the alternative? Unsafe sex? Pregnant 12-year-olds?"
SAWYER: "So I think we've got a preview of the debate that is going on tonight. Joining us now is Glenn Beck. As you know, he is 'The Glenn Beck Show,' the same name, 'The Glenn Beck Show.' Also, sexual educator, Logan Levkoff. And we thank you for joining us."
LOGAN LEVKOFF: "Thank you."
SAWYER: "And we want to tackle this, but, Glenn, let me start with you. You may not like it. You may want parents to go in and take care of their own children and make sure that they're not sexually active that young, but it's happening. It's happening."
GLENN BECK: "Yeah. Well, that's why they're giving away condoms. We're taking a next jump here, which is the disturbing part for me. You're already getting condoms. How easy are we going to make it? Now we get birth control as well."
SAWYER: "Yes, but if it protects these young girl, if it's more protection for these young girls--"
BECK: "Let me ask you this. Why does the state of Maine have a law on the books now saying it's illegal to have sex under 14? They're sending mixed messages. In the state of Maine, you cannot have sex under 14--"
SAWYER: "Well, but that's a legislative issue, what about these actual girls?"
BECK: "I understand that. They're saying because they are not emotional capable of making the decision of having sex. You're talking about an 11-year-old and you're cutting the family out of the process."
SAWYER: "All right. Logan, 11-year-old, and it can be done privately as we heard."
LEVKOFF: "Well, it could be and parents should be the sex educators of their children. They can be the best ones. The problem is that not every parent feels empowered to do this. Not every parent feels he or she has the skills. And if you've already expressed your issues and values about sexuality to your kids, than if contraception is being offered in these school-based health programs, than your kids understand what your values are. And if they're not, and if they're not, if your parents aren't talking to the kids, than you better be thanking your lucky stars that someone is taking care of their sexual health."
BECK (ABC GRAPHIC: CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR): "I wish I'd have been-- please, don't take away the power from the parent. I understand if you want to-- if the school wants to talk about sex, great, the school can talk about sex. But the parents -- if these kids go in for this help, the school is not allowed to talk to the parents. We're talking about a--"
LEVKOFF: "This is a parental consent law and--"
BECK: "It is -- no, no, no, for the health care. They can get the condoms, but--"
SAWYER: "So, let me -- Let me see if we agree on one thing here."
SAWYER: "If the parents were notified that, indeed, the pill, the patch, was going to be administered, you'd be okay then? "
BECK: "No, here's the -- I don't demonize the kids. 'Kay? What I do is, if the parents said, go ahead, give them the pill. They're an 11-year-old! Would you say it would be okay as a parent if I said, you know, my kid's going to get drunk--"
BECK: "Hang on. My kid's going to get drunk tonight, please dispense some aspirin and some Tums tomorrow morning. You would take that child out of the house because it's not right to allow the kid to get drunk."
LEVKOFF: "Sexuality is part of who we are and our sexual health is part of our overall health so it's not a surprise if we're dealing with head to toe health issues, sexual health is one of them and we can't forget that."
BECK: "We're talking about parents--"
LEVKOFF: "We are talking about parents."
BECK: " --who are making the decision that it would okay for their kid to have sex. As an alcoholic, I'm a recovering alcoholic, I know a little thing about enabling people. You're enabling people."
LEVKOFF: "Glenn, there has never been any research to suggest that by providing contraception, you're encouraging people to go out and--"
BECK: "Not talking about contraception, I'm okay, go ahead with the condoms. I'm talking about not writing a prescription for the pill."
LEVKOFF: "I know, but don't forget, don't forget the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists just said that they want teen girls to see a gynecologist in the early teens--"
BECK: "They can see a gynecologist with mom and dad."
SAWYER: "I'm curious about your differentiation between condom and the pill."
BECK: "Oh, I'm not -- look, because I'm a -- I'm a realist on-- I understand that there are bad parents out there. I understand that there are disease out there. But we're talking, now, about taking the pill. Now we're saying, hey, you go ahead -- I mean, how easy are we going to make it?"
LEVKOFF: "You're not making it easy."
BECK: "Why don't we make it easy? The library is outdated, why don't we have a copulation room for the kids?"
SAWYER: "Oh, come on."
BECK: "No, I mean, how easy are we going to make it?"
LEVKOFF: "But Glenn, they need a physical exam, still, which most people don't get before they just pick up their condoms and become sexually active. You're talking to counselors. There is background information here. It's not just, here, take them and go."
SAWYER: "Would you draw the line anywhere? What if it were grade school? Debating this-- Because we know puberty is younger in this country."
LEVKOFF: "Here's the issue-- It's absolutely earlier."
SAWYER: "Where do you draw the line?"
LEVKOFF: (ABC GRAPHIC: SEXUALITY EDUCATOR): "I think I-- I don't necessarily draw the line because we're in a world where we get so many sexual messages and where is our goal? Our priority should be to protect our youth and make sure if they're going to make decisions that they are as sexually active as possible and we give parents the tools to teach at home so we don't have to defer to a lot of other sources."
SAWYER: "All right. Well, this is the debate going on tonight, as I say--"
BECK: "Raise the bar, don't lower it. Raise the bar."
LEVKOFF: "Take care of our youth."
SAWYER: "All right."
BECK: "By raising the bar."