Sunday, March 19, 2006

Girl Fight!: Maryland's First Lady Vs. State Superintendent

Kendel Ehrlich, Maryland's First Lady, (Republican) wants to talk to her state's high school students about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs. The Democratic-Controlled State Education Department has decided that her video message in inappropriate and has banned it from public school classrooms:
Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich pitched the state schools superintendent a plan to air her television talk show about drug and alcohol prevention in public school classrooms, but the department eventually turned her down.

The State Education Department declined her offer after an expert on drug and alcohol prevention reviewed it and determined that it was not suitable for children. One episode, filmed on the beach and at a nightclub in Ocean City, includes sexually explicit language and brief nudity as it explores the pitfalls of drinking.

The department instead offered to distribute the videos to parents and PTAs.

Comcast Cable Communications Inc. paid Ehrlich $55,000 to host 16 episodes of "Live Right: Straight Talk on Substance Abuse," which to date has been available only in the cable provider's on-demand library.

Democrats in Annapolis said they considered the proposal the latest attempt by the Republican governor and first lady to use their clout to gain widespread television exposure and statewide name recognition.

In response to a series of taxpayer-financed tourism commercials and public service announcements that featured the governor and first lady, the legislature has included language in the budget this year that would ban the practice during the upcoming campaign season.

A spokesman for the first lady said she would not comment. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she believes Kendel Ehrlich's goals in seeing the show distributed were in no way political but instead aimed at spreading the word about teenage drug and alcohol abuse, an issue the first lady has championed for years.

"I don't think it's politicizing the classroom," Grasmick said. "Each first lady, even Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, they all have a piece they carve out that is a personal interest. . . . For this first lady, this is a real issue."

Grasmick said she never viewed the show and was not aware that one episode include scenes inappropriate for schoolchildren.

Most episodes feature Kendel Ehrlich interviewing authors and scientists who study alcohol abuse, and "straight talk" discussions with recovering addicts. But in one episode, a camera crew follows a group of teenagers to the beach and films them as they become drunk. They smoke cigarettes, curse and talk about such topics as pot, herpes and lesbians. A teenage girl jiggles her hips, and the camera pans to her lower torso.

The first lady appears as the host of every episode and is introduced in each show as the governor's wife. The two are shown in a photograph, hands clasped over their heads, celebrating his inauguration.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) raised concerns not about the show's content but about the politics of disseminating it through the schools.

"All of us like to go into classrooms and read to kids," Busch said. "What you don't do is infringe your will on the state school system. You don't try to make yourself part of the mandated curriculum."
I find it surprising (or incredulous) that State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick (Democrat) hasn't bothered to view the video before affirming her Department's decision not to allow the video to be viewed. Maybe it's the "brief nudity" that frightens her. But then again, it may just depend on what one's meaning of the word "brief" is.

I don't really buy the argument that that the video was "pulled" because it would exert undue "influence" upon impressionable adolescents. It's common knowledge that most 18-20 year olds don't even bother to register much less vote.

Perhaps this is just a case of one political partisan blocking another political partisan's efforts because "she could."
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