Accuracy in Media

When a British journal ran an article last November charging that DNA had proven that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a child by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, this was big news all over the country. Over two hundred stories, editorials and columns were published. Some of them attacked Jefferson as a hypocrite. Some even suggested that he may have raped Hemings. Two months later, the British journal was forced to admit that it had overstated what the DNA analysis showed.

It admitted that at most, the analysis showed that some Jefferson was the father of Heming?s child. It could have been Thomas Jefferson?s younger brother, Randolph, or one of Randolph?s five sons, or Jefferson?s cousin, George Jefferson, Jr. There was no proof that it was Thomas. Nevertheless, most of the American media, including The New York Times, failed to correct the record. Two Virginia universities, including the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson, have hosted symposia to spread the false claim that the father was Thomas Jefferson.

Now, 190 years after that child was born, Juanita Broaddrick has publicly charged that in 1978 Bill Clinton, then the attorney general of Arkansas, raped her. Her allegation was very carefully checked out by NBC News. They found four people who said Mrs. Broaddrick told them of the rape soon after it occurred. One was a nurse, who treated Mrs. Broaddrick?s badly bitten lip. Broaddrick said Clinton had bitten her lip to force her to submit to him.

NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post all interviewed Mrs. Broaddrick this year. They concluded that she was credible, and they all publicized her story prominently. Bill Clinton, who had denied ever meeting Paula Jones and said very emphatically on national television that he had never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, refused to respond to any of the questions NBC asked him about Juanita Broaddrick. He had his private attorney say that any allegations that he had assaulted Ms. Broaddrick were false and there would be no further comment. That is not the response one would expect to a false accusation.

Many journalists have taken the position that the attorney?s denial cancels out Juanita Broaddrick?s account of what happened and the corroboration provided by others. Gene Lyons, a pro-Clinton columnist has said, “To say that we have caught Bill Clinton telling falsehoods about his sex life one time, from that to saying he?s a rapist, is a jump that I?m not willing to make, and that?s where I think most Americans are. They are concerned about this, but they know they are never going to have an answer.”

Susan Estrich, a feminist talking head, says the rape charge is 21 years old and cannot be proven. It bothers her to hear people discussing it as if it were true. She says, ” We can?t convict the president on this kind of speculation.” Pro-Clinton historians have convicted Jefferson of charges nearly 200 years old invented by a political foe based on pure speculation. By comparison, the evidence supporting the rape charge against Clinton looks iron-clad.

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