William Bennett, Gays, and the Truth

The conventional wisdom debunked.
Dec. 19 1997 3:30 AM

William Bennett, Gays, and the Truth

Mr. Virtue dabbles in phony statistics.

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Unfortunately there really is no satisfactory measure of actual life expectancy among gay men. However, Harry Rosenberg, the mortality-statistics chief at the National Center for Health Statistics, says he's unaware of evidence that HIV-negative gays have a lower life expectancy than other males. Rosenberg also points to one reason to think the HIV-negative gay male may actually live longer on average than the straight male: Gays may have higher incomes and more education on average than straights--two factors powerfully correlated with longer life spans. (Bennett himself appears to share this view, terming gays, "as a group, wealthy and well educated.")

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Challenged by the Human Rights Campaign's Elizabeth Birch in the letters column of the Dec. 8 Standard, Bennett, remarkably, dug in to defend the Cameron numbers, which he said coincided with the views of other authorities such as psychiatrist. Satinover's 1996 book, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, does discuss gay life spans, but cites as its authority ... Cameron's study. In other words, Bennett is not adducing a second authority for his assertions but merely falling back on the first via its recycling by another writer.

Throughout the controversy, Bennett has made much of the cause of "truth" with a capital T. His Standard article, portentously titled "Clinton, Gays, and the Truth," accused the Clintonites of scanting that important commodity. Bennett is right to the extent that there's no excuse for telling falsehoods in the course of raising otherwise legitimate issues. He should mind his own lesson.

Walter Olson is the author of The Excuse Factory and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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