Accuracy in Media

A claim by Bobbie Ann Williams, a Little Rock prostitute, that her son, Danny, was fathered by Bill Clinton has been proven false by DNA analysis. Star, the tabloid that first published Gennifer Flowers? claim that she had been one of Clinton?s lovers, was reported to have paid Williams “a low six-figure” sum for exclusive rights to the story. It arranged to have Danny?s DNA checked against that of the President. On January 9, the Drudge Report broke the news that Time magazine had learned that the DNA tests cleared Clinton.

Time ran a short story in its January 15 issue under the headline, “Scandal Interruptus; A bit less Jefferson in William Jefferson Clinton.” What Time was trying to do in this strange headline was to remind its readers of the claim that DNA tests had proven that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a son by his slave, Sally Hemings, as it reported that DNA tests had cleared Bill Clinton of fathering a son by a black hooker.

The claim by Bobbie Ann Williams that Clinton was the father of her son Danny had been spread by Robert McIntosh, a black Little Rock businessman, during the 1992 presidential campaign. It was not picked up by the national media, but the Globe, a supermarket tabloid that doesn?t have a reputation for accuracy, paid Williams for her story and ran it in February 1992, with a photo of Danny that showed a resemblance to Clinton.

Clinton never offered to submit to a paternity test to prove that the rumor was false, but McIntosh abruptly ended his effort to spread it. After Clinton won the election, McIntosh?s son, who was serving a long prison term on drug charges, was pardoned by the black speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives who was acting governor for a brief period while Clinton was away. This, combined with the mounting evidence of Clinton?s promiscuity, revived interest in the Danny story on the Internet and talk radio. It was reported that the Williams family wanted Clinton to submit to a paternity test.

Bobbie Ann Williams? claim that Clinton was the father was based on her assertion that Clinton had been her only white client when Danny was conceived. Clinton?s reaction to her claims suggests that he feared that a paternity test might prove that she was telling the truth. He did not hail the Star?s decision to pay for DNA testing.

In reporting that the DNA test had cleared Clinton, The Washington Post gave none of this background. Referring to it as “a love child story,” it did not reveal that the mother was a black prostitute. It described her claim as “utterly bogus” and “slimy.” That was how the Washington Post justified its never having reported the story. The Post and others rushed to publicize a bogus claim that DNA tests had proven that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a child by a slave. The British journal that first published the claim has now admitted that it was inaccurate, but as Time?s headline on the Danny story showed, this has not erased the original error from the minds of all journalists.




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