Columnists, Newspapers Weigh In on Powell’s MTV Condom Remarks
Newspaper and syndicated columnists from across the country have begun to weigh in on remarks Secretary of State Colin Powell made last week on an MTV youth forum in which he urged condom use as a way to prevent the spread of HIV. On Sunday, Powell defended his remarks on CNN's "Late Edition." 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" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/19). The following is a sample of the columns, in alphabetical order by author, that have recently been published:
- Joseph Dolman, Newsday: Powell's "honest" and "pragmatic" statement on condom use was an "unabashed act of heroism" deserving of "another bronze star," Newsday columnist Joseph Dolman writes. Although the comment produced an "uproar" among conservatives Gary Bauer and Family Research Council President Kenneth Connor, Powell spoke the "unvarnished truth" when he "strongly implied that -- if you're going to have sex in the age of AIDS -- you're infinitely better off with a condom," Dolman continues. The "awful part" is that the "sound and the fury" that have resulted from Powell's comments "erode prevention efforts -- at a time when we need them most," as some AIDS drugs are losing effectiveness in some HIV-positive patients and HIV rates remain steady, Dolman concludes (Dolman, Newsday, 2/20).
- Georgie Anne Geyer, Washington Times: The fact that Powell's "commonsensical" advice should need to be given at all in "a world where AIDS is ravaging whole societies and destroying cultural norms" is "strange," nationally syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer writes in the Washington Times. "[S]uch basic ideas should simply be given to rational and sensitive people," Geyer continues. The "fuss" from the "far right" concerning Powell's advocation of condom use for the sexually active indicates that "these constituents ... are not only against abortion" but are also opposed to family planning and birth control, Geyer concludes (Geyer, Washington Times, 2/22).
- Arianna Huffington, Los Angeles Times: "With AIDS claiming three million victims last year and another 42 million people infected with HIV, Powell's message is one that can't be repeated often enough -- especially on MTV," syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington says in the Los Angeles Times. The "anti-condom cabal" that "attacked" Powell for recommending that sexually active young people should use condoms to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS is "trying to roll back the clock to the 1950s -- or at least the sitcom version of the 50s -- where Ricky and Lucy slept in separate beds," Huffington writes. "But this isn't 'Leave It To Beaver,' and our kids are having sex," she continues. "Instead of being excoriated, Powell deserves to be celebrated for abandoning the double talk that is the lingua franca of those in power and confronting this life and death issue head-on," she concludes (Huffington, Los Angeles Times, 2/20).
- Mary McGrory, Washington Post: Although Powell "br[oke] formation" by advocating condom use for the sexually active, he has "as much job security as is available in Washington," columnist Mary McGrory writes in the Washington Post. The Republican Party's official position is to support abstinence-only education, but "millions of condoms" are shipped to developing nations as part of U.S. policy, so Powell's comment "sounded more heretical that it actually was," McGrory continues. In addition, although Bush is "court[ing]" religious conservatives, only the "usual voices" of some small conservative religious organizations were raised in response to Powell's comments, while the Pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have had "no comment," McGrory concludes (McGrory, Washington Post, 2/21).
- Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Although Powell's remarks "sparked an angry backlash from some who seem to be living in a dream world," he was actually in line with "long-standing American policy abroad" in advocating condom use for sexually active people, Clarence Page writes in his Chicago Tribune column. In the "real world," there is "no real need to polarize the politics around condom use. ... [M]any lives can be saved with these low-tech devices," Page continues. Powell's advice to young people "makes up in a modest way" for the Bush administration's "failures to come up with more dollars" to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide, Page says, concluding that the "world is looking to America for leadership in the global fight against AIDS. Powell's words were right on target" (Page, Chicago Tribune, 2/20).
- Kathleen Parker, Orlando Sentinel: Powell "didn't go far enough" in his remarks, Kathleen Parker says in her Orlando Sentinel column. In addition to recommending condom use for sexually active teenagers, he should have added that abstinence is the "best defense against disease and pregnancy" and that condoms are only 85% effective in preventing HIV transmission, which is "not enough," according to Parker. Powell should have also said that sex is "too important to waste on an encounter that means nothing and risks everything. That's part of what we hope to impart through abstinence education," she concludes (Parker, Orlando Sentinel, 2/20).
- Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald: Powell's comments do not indicate that he is against abstinence but instead show that he has "accept[ed] the reality" that teenagers may not abstain from sex, Leonard Pitts writes in his Miami Herald column. "[A]pparently the secretary thinks one of the things we should talk about is how to save children from their impulsive, impatient selves," he says. Asking Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who criticized Powell for his comments, "What planet are you from?" Pitts concludes, "[T]ry not to be too hard on Secretary Powell. Like many of us, he's afflicted with an imperfection that makes it difficult for him to see things as you do: He's from Earth" (Pitts, Miami Herald, 2/21).
- Tracy Quan, Salon.com: By advocating condom use for sexually active teenagers, Powell "is aligning himself with realists who acknowledge that most human beings will eventually have sex," Tracy Quan, a writer and call girl, says in a Salon.com op-ed. While Quan "applauds" Powell's advocation of condom use, she says that "condoms alone" -- without proper education and training about condom use -- "are not the answer" (Quan, Salon.com, 2/20).
- Tom Teepen, Omaha World-Herald: After telling "a plain but impolitic truth" that condoms are an "important defense" against HIV, Powell will be able to "keep his head and even his job" because he is in the "right administration," Cox Newspapers columnist Tom Teepen writes in the Omaha World-Herald. Although Powell's statement is "nothing more than common sense" to most Americans, Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders took the same stance as Powell and was "smeared as 'the condom queen'" and eventually "run out of Washington" for suggesting that masturbation discussions should be a part of sexuality education, Teepan says. Surgeon General David Satcher also "blew any chance at reappointment" when he released a scientific sexuality study as a public health issue. Powell can "count himself lucky" that "declar[ing] [him] the condom king" is not "in the GOP's interest this time," Teepen concludes (Teepen, Omaha World-Herald, 2/20).
- DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Powell's support for condom use among sexually active teenagers "put an unwanted spotlight" on the Bush administration's policy regarding condoms, DeWayne Wickham writes in his USA Today column. Although "Republican right-wingers" want the administration to support abstinence as the "only acceptable means" for preventing HIV transmission, the administration seems to be "doing little to block the teaching of other forms of sex education," Wickham says. "Powell's MTV remarks were targeted at the worldwide AIDS crisis, but they are just as instructive for people in Baltimore as for those who live in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or South America. ... Colin Powell deserves to be praised, not panned," Wickham concludes (Wickham, USA Today, 2/20).
Several newspapers have also weighed in on Powell's remarks this week. Editorials include the following, listed in alphabetical order:
- Chicago Daily Herald: Powell was being a "realist" when he advocated condom use for the sexually active, and "harsh criticism" of him is "hardly fair," a Chicago Daily Herald editorial says. "Abstinence has a prominent place in discouraging teens from engaging in reckless, risky sexual relationships. But it's naive to believe teens are going to uniformly acknowledge the wisdom of abstinence," the editorial continues. Powell and Bush realize that both abstinence and condom use "need to be highlighted," the Daily Herald concludes (Chicago Daily Herald, 2/19).
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Ignorance will not keep [young people] chaste," a South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial says, adding that Powell gave "sound advice." Although abstinence should be taught as a way to "keep the body as well as the soul pure," the editorial says, not every young person will abstain from sex. "Promoting the use of condoms as a way to prevent AIDS is a public health issue. Young people should not be shielded from this information," the Sun-Sentinel concludes (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 2/19).
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Seeing the "devastating presence" of AIDS throughout the world and especially in Africa has seemingly convinced Powell that "doublespeak" about HIV/AIDS is "the last thing this generation of young people needs to hear," a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial says. Powell "brought a renewed sense of urgency" to the fight against HIV/AIDS when he "chose frankness" and delivered a "sensible position" on condom use to 17- to 25-year-olds in 375 million households across the world. His well-timed message "adds a new dimension to the debate" at a time when the administration is proposing to spend $135 million to promote abstinence "at the expense of other potentially effective remedies, such as condom use," the editorial concludes (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/19).