The devil inside Jenna and George ... and Andrew

Readers respond to Salon's recent coverage of the Bush twins' alcohol bust and the controversy surrounding Andrew Sullivan's online sexual persona.

By Salon Staff

Published June 5, 2001 4:44PM (EDT)

Read "The devil inside Jenna and George."

The media has allowed George W. Bush to publicly lie about his alcoholism. Though he won't admit to it, he is a recovering alcoholic who quit drinking at age 40 after several bouts with the law due to his drinking. His behavior and drinking patterns, and the effect they had on his life, are the hallmarks of an alcoholic. More than likely, Laura Bush sponsored an intervention with an ultimatum to get sober or suffer the loss of his family. It's clear that his daughters, Jenna and Barbara, are at risk of alcoholic behavior. But Salon writers are musing about the girls' being able to drink when they're with Dad, and topping that off with the bonus of a designated driver? When will Salon and other media point out the obvious truth about the first family's alcoholism?

-- Suzanne DeBolt

Your article on Bush and his daughters is a disservice to It serves no purpose for the liberal cause to comment on Jenna's use of alcohol or to use it as an excuse to examine Bush's own prior alcohol abuse. It makes about the same sense as it did when the right wasted their time with the whole "I didn't inhale" marijuana episode with Clinton. We on the left received a great gift with the James Jeffords defection from the GOP. Spending time on the Jenna Bush affair may seem like an additional opportunity to discredit Bush, but the likelihood of that is doubtful. Every parent who has had his or her child use drugs or alcohol as a teenager is going to sympathize with Bush on this matter. The present media coverage of this incident is going to make the general public feel that Bush is being wronged in the same way that they felt sorry for Clinton during Monica-gate.

If you wish to comment on the hypocrisy of the Bush agenda on drug enforcement, stick to stories of lives ruined by minor drug offenses. No one is going to see the failure of anyone's drug policies in Jenna Bush's story because everyone knows that an 18-year-old girl is not going to spend any time in jail for using a fake I.D.

-- Brian Hutmacher

It's very unfair for the press to take the two Bush daughters to task for doing things that many other people their age are doing. Young people have a point -- we let them vote, we let them join the military where they could be putting their lives on the line for the country, but God forbid that they should drink. Europe has a healthier attitude than the U.S. Also, anyone aware of the problems of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy's children would say that the Bush kids haven't reached that extreme. Let the president and first lady deal with this matter with their children as they see fit.

-- Michelle Schmidt

What has struck me the most about the current wave of media coverage regarding the Bush daughters' alcohol troubles is that it has brought about zero discussion on the absurdity of the drinking laws in the U.S. As a college student I have witnessed and participated in all of the same activities that the Bush daughters have been accused of. These actions have in no way affected my or my friends' abilities to achieve dean's list grades and contribute to the community in many meaningful ways.

I have seen alcohol use by many age groups, and I have observed it being used responsibly by young people more than the older generations. What is the difference between a student relaxing after a hard day with a drink and a 45-year-old executive doing the same? I would argue nothing, but this is not the case. One is ignored while the other could bring about a "raid" from a law enforcement agency. Law enforcement is trained to enforce all laws no matter if they make sense or not. This leads to huge amounts of police hours being wasted on underage drinking that is no more dangerous than legal drinking. Still, there will never be any action to bring the drinking age down to the sensible age of 18 -- despite the fact the government believes a person the age of the Bush daughters is emotionally able to handle killing another human in war but not able to be responsible with alcohol. MADD will never allow it, despite the fact that there is no proof that the younger a person is the more likely he or she is to drive drunk. As the country wonders if the Bush daughters have a problem, maybe we should instead be wondering if the problem is really bad laws.

-- Jonathan Edmondson

Read "In defense of Andrew Sullivan."

It seems that in any minority group, anyone who stands up against the popular opinion is instantly a target for the sharks to shred. Whether it's a black man speaking against the corruption and hypocrisy of certain black leaders, politicians with centrist views or a gay man who is (horrors!) a conservative, the schoolyard mentality prevails. Although I personally feel that the "Village People" mentality that Sullivan decries is one of the attractive facets of today's homosexual community, I strongly respect Mr. Sullivan's personal strength in consistently bringing his personal feelings to the public, and for being a strong gay voice. Kudos to you, Mr. Sullivan, and to you, Mr. Rothman, for having the wisdom to recognize the truth of this situation.

-- Chris Jenkins

While I agree with the notion of sexual privacy (and all other forms of privacy), I must take issue with a few of your points.

First, you state that the individuals reporting on Sullivan's sexual life are out "to punish him for his political views." However, later in your article you state that you "actually believe Ehrenstein and Signorile went after Sullivan for reasons of principle. They are sincerely offended by what they see as Sullivan's passing judgment on gays who differ from him, especially his nasty attacks on gay leftists."

So, which is it? Is this reporting a revenge of some sort, or are they simply responding (in one way or another) to Sullivan's shared opinions on morality?

I'm also surprised that you would leave unaddressed the use of the term "sexual McCarthyism" in describing Sullivan's current situation. McCarthyism involved false accusations and unfair blacklisting. No one is accusing Sullivan falsely -- he has sought sexual favors online and he has made sweeping statements regarding morality.

And while I agree with you that Sullivan has "a right to his contradictions," so too do journalists have the right to report on those contradictions. To insist otherwise would sound to me like the most blatant form of journalistic immaturity: "I have a right to contradict myself, but don't you dare call me on it!"

-- Mara Baz

Andrew Sullivan has taken on increasingly vexing positions in the last decade, espousing conservative positions while still claiming credibility on gay and lesbian issues. As a gay man who is certainly left-leaning, I do appreciate Sullivan's viewpoint, though I often disagree.

But as someone who calls so clearly for gay men to claim responsibility for their actions, I have absolutely no sympathy for his "sexual McCarthyism" defense. It's downright laughable -- and a scurrilous argument that could have been used to swat away some of his past arguments with equal futility. He is a public figure with ideological stances on these very issues. I don't think these actions completely undermine his stated opinions, but they do help me, as a reader of his, to put his opinions in perspective. I will continue to read him and consider his arguments, but I am glad he has been exposed

-- Martin Brennan

Andrew Sullivan lists on his Web site the many reasons that Signorile was perfectly within his rights when writing his article -- Sullivan's openness regarding his HIV status, his previous relationships and his thoughts regarding the AIDS crisis.

What Sullivan has just learned is that communication is a two-way street. Gary Hart learned this the hard way too -- remember "any reporter who followed me around would be pretty bored"? In other words, Sullivan started it.

It's really quite simple -- if he did not want people poking around his sex life, he shouldn't have written about it. Criticizing other people's sexual mores is also pretty much an open invitation to have yours put under a microscope. And trying to deny recent rises in AIDS infection rates doesn't just make people mad -- if they believe you, it can make them dead. Also, nothing on the Internet has ever been, or ever will be, private. Most second graders know that.

-- Ayah Setel

Salon Staff

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