FROM ONE TARGET TO THE NEXT…. The Conservative Attack Machine seems to have a new hobby. In the wake of Van Jones’ departure, every day is a game of “which administration figure can we target this week?” The latest target is the Department of Education’s Kevin Jennings.

Regular readers may recall that the right initially went after Jennings in July, in large part because he’s gay. The criticism didn’t go anywhere, and Jennings got to work without controversy.

But that was before conservatives started hunting for scalps.

Fox News launched something of a crusade against Jennings, apropos of nothing, about a week ago. Soon after, Lou Dobbs and the Washington Times were on board, and joined the attack.

This week, the campaign went into over-drive. Fox News is claiming Jennings “cover[ed] up statutory rape.” Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh followed suit. Politico‘s Mike Allen suggested that Jennings may have broken the law. Sean Hannity demanded on the air, “I want him fired!

The crusade is more than a little unseemly.

Today, Media Matters for America condemned the latest Fox News-driven smear campaign, in which right-wing media figures have called for Department of Education official Kevin Jennings to be fired. Conservative media have promoted the made-up charge that Jennings “cover[ed] up statutory rape.” They have painted him as a “radical” “gay activist” and have misrepresented and distorted Jennings’ previous comments.

“Fox News’ allegations about Kevin Jennings covering up a statutory rape are wholly unsupported by the facts,” said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters. “But Fox has already proven that facts don’t matter in its campaign against Jennings. Who needs facts when your reports are built on made-up charges and anti-gay bigotry?”

What’s the real story here? Apparently, Jennings wrote a book 15 years ago, and shared an anecdote about a student he met while teaching in 1987. The student, a 16-year-old young man, told Jennings he was involved with an older man in Boston.

For the lynch mob, that means Jennings was aware of statutory rape and didn’t report it. In reality, the student was of the age of consent in Massachusetts, and there was nothing inappropriate about Jennings’ conduct.

This is about targeting administration officials the right considers vulnerable. Next week, it’ll be someone else. The week after, someone else. This anecdote from Jennings’ book has been around for quite a while, but it’s become a “story” now because conservatives got bored with their last target and needed a new one.

Hopefully, the White House will ignore the cries.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.