Colin Powell, White House Defend MTV Condom Remarks in Face of Conservative Backlash
Despite criticism from conservative groups, Secretary of State Colin Powell over the weekend defended remarks he made last week on an MTV youth forum in which he urged condom use as a way to prevent the spread of HIV, the Washington Times reports (Price, Washington Times, 2/18). On CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday night, when asked by host Wolf Blitzer if he had "second thoughts" about what he said, Powell answered, "Absolutely not," adding, "[W]e have to do everything we can to teach people that, if they're going to be sexually active, they have to protect themselves." He noted that U.S. policy "starts with abstinence ... but then condoms for the simple reason that people are sexually active around the world. And for me to have said anything else would have been irresponsible" (Morton/Blitzer, "Late Edition," CNN, 2/17). Earlier that day on NBC's "Meet the Press," Powell "stood firmly" in support of his comments, saying, "I don't take one step back from the remarks I made" (Washington Times, 2/18). He added, "For us to say that we shouldn't ... encourage people to use the protection that we know is there is irresponsible. We have a pandemic on the face of the earth right now, raging through sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, other parts of the world, and we have to use all the tools at our disposal ... abstinence, faithfulness, and yes, condoms" ("Nightly News," NBC, 2/17). "I believe condoms are part of the solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I encourage their use by young people who are sexually active," Powell said (Washington Times, 2/18).
Powell's original comments on MTV "irritated" some conservative groups, who urged the White House to "repudiate" the remarks. Groups such as the Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council said that Powell's support of condom use "undermine[s]" the administration's support of abstinence-based sex education. Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said, "President Bush should publicly exhort Secretary Powell for his irresponsible remarks." James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, "denounced" Powell's statements, saying, "Colin Powell is the secretary of state, not the secretary of health. He is talking about a subject he doesn't understand. He clearly doesn't understand the science regarding condom efficacy." However, several lawmakers and the White House defended Powell's comments. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that Powell was not advocating sexual activity among teenagers. "The president and the secretary are shoulder to shoulder on abstinence education, as well as health education and sex education, as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and as a way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases," he said (Sorokin, Washington Times, 2/16). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended Powell on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, saying, "I agree with him." He added, "I think we need to use every means possible to try to eradicate [the HIV/AIDS] epidemic that has affected particularly Third World countries" ("Meet the Press," NBC, 2/17). Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a "leading pro-life" Republican, said he had "no complaints" about Powell's comments (Washington Times, 2/18)
Several newspapers have published editorials in support of Powell's comments, including the following:
- Boston Globe: Given that the U.S. Agency for International Development is a "leader in buying and delivering" condoms overseas to slow the spread of disease, Powell's comments to American and international youth are simply "what has long been official U.S. policy abroad," the Boston Globe editorial states. The Globe concludes that Powell's statement "would have been even better if he had combined it with an announcement of a major increase in support" for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Boston Globe, 2/18).
- Detroit Free Press: HIV/AIDS is "impossible to cure but easy to prevent -- but only if leaders like Powell are willing and able to speak the truth," a Detroit Free Press editorial says. "People always say they want politicians to talk straight," although when former Surgeons General David Satcher and Joycelyn Elders talked "honestly" about sex they were "quickly denounced," the editorial states. Powell, "[i]nstead of getting credit for some sorely needed leadership" on HIV/AIDS, also was denounced by conservative groups (Detroit Free Press, 2/19).
- Philadelphia Inquirer: Powell "deserves applause," as his comments "served the country well" by offering an "alternative" to the "abstinence-only" position of the White House, a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial states. However, Powell also "served his boss well by making himself accessible to young people through a network favored by young people," which "probably left young people ... with an improved image of American leaders." The Inquirer concludes, "Mr. Powell rocks" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/16).
- Washington Post: To prevent discussion of condom use as a way of stopping HIV/AIDS transmission "ignore[s] the reality" and will "consign young people to behavior that can take their lives," the Washington Post says. Although Powell's remarks have social conservatives "near cardiac arrest," the editorial says that they are "needlessly polarizing the discussion about the prevention of AIDS and unintended pregnancies." While abstinence "should be taught," censoring "any talk about protected sex with condoms for the sexually active is backward" (Washington Post, 2/16).