Franken v. Minnery Redux

On reflection, Al Franken was right.

A rousing debate in the comments section of my post “Al Franken Distorts CDC Study to Claim Distortion of Study” has convinced me that I was uncharitable to Franken. Having been introduced to the exchange by a post about how Franken “absolutely destroyed” Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery, I focused too narrowly on the factual point in dispute in the video clip rather than on the larger argument being made.

Franken essentially called Minnery a liar for using a CDC report to claim that children are better off living with a married mother and father than any other form when in fact the study in question found that “nuclear families,” not those with a mother and father, were ideal. This struck me as a definitional dispute and I pointed out at some length that, since the CDC definition of “nuclear family” required that the parents be married and, since same-sex marriage was not legally permitted anywhere in the United States during the first half of the study period and permitted only in tiny Massachusetts during the second half, this was a distinction without meaning.

But Franken’s indirectly stated point was that Minnery introduced the study–in a hearing on whether to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act–to demonstrate that opposite-sex families were better at raising children than same-sex families. The study showed no such thing; it didn’t look at that question at all.

While the specific claim that Franken accosted Minnery for making was technically correct as a standalone sentence–which is how I was viewing it here–it was not correct in the context of the testimony.

Further, while an intelligent amateur could reasonably and honestly make the mistake of reading a finding that nuclear families are ideal as saying therefore same-sex families are less than ideal, I’m hard pressed to see how someone who heads up the political wing of a group focusing on the family could do so without being either unintelligent or dishonest.

So, while Franken didn’t frame the argument in the way I would have, he was right both in his analytic point and his characterization of Minnery.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jonathan says:

    Dr. Joyner, I very much admire a your impeccable journalistic integrity. You are a man deserving total and complete respect. Thank you.

  2. Herb says:

    Good call, James. This issue hits home for me. I was raised being shuffled between a traditional nuclear family and a lesbian mother. That lasted until I was old enough to choose which parent I could live with.

    I chose the loving, non-abusive one: the lesbian.

    That’s not to say that lesbians make better parents. It’s to say that sexual orientation is not much of a factor when it comes to creating a healthy environment for raising children.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Herb: That’s the fundamental point and, as I hope I made clear in the original post, I’m in utter agreement with Franken on that point. Indeed, virtually every study done on the matter by those without an axe to grind seems to show no effect or actually positive effects of being raised by same-sex parents.

    My amateur (in the sense of having only skimmed the studies and not being a sociologist or physician) sense is that the positive effects are an artifact of same-sex couples having to consciously choose to raise kids in a way that opposite-sex couples don’t.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Sir, thank you. Very few people in public life have the integrity to admit to error. You gain respect with this post.

  5. Jonathan says:

    @gVOR08: I agree wholeheartedly, -MUCH RESPECT IS DUE FOR ADMIRABLE CHARACTER. I sincerely applaud Dr. Joyner’s intact sense of integrity with full salute.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Adding my voice praising the integrity of Mr Joyner.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    Good on you, James.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    James: your honesty is not at all surprising to me. You got it right the second time, which puts you well ahead of the punditocracy.

  9. WR says:

    I didn’t know it was technically possible for anyone to admit they were wrong on the internet, since I’ve never seen it done before. Thanks for the education.

  10. Mr. Prosser says:

    What all the above said.

  11. ken says:

    One clue to help you not make the same mistake again is to always consider the source of the dispute. Whenever it is a conservative, and I mean this sincerely, you should assume they are lying until proven otherwise.

    I know that if you examined the historical record on who distorts facts and misleads the public with the same integrity you used on this issue you will that conservatives tend to lie when the facts are not supportive of their position. Liberals do not generally mislead with factual inaccuracies the way conservatives do and can therefore be trusted until proven otherwise.

    I believe this is objectively true and can be proven if one were to take the time to examine the data.

  12. Socrates says:

    I want to agree with everyone else: Mr. Joyner, your integrity is admirable.

  13. jukeboxgrad says:

    There’s nothing remarkable about making a mistake. All humans do it, and pretty regularly. But only a subset are honorable enough to admit it when it happens.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The sign of true intelligence is the ability to change one’s mind upon a reassessment of the facts. A sign of true honor is to do it in an open and honest manner.

    well said, well done.

  15. Rick Shreiner says:

    Dear Sir:
    As one otf those who responded with a critical viewpoint of your previous post, I am impressed that you have both altered your original position, and are willing to admit to having done so.
    Thank you for that,, and please understand that I did somewhat agree with your original thinking [as you described it here], even if I did not specifically state this in my criticism.
    Have a good day.
    Rick Shreiner an American residing in Stockholm, Sweden

  16. Rob in CT says:

    James, you sir are a gentleman and a scholar. Bravo.