Accuracy in Media

The revelation that Strom Thurmond had a black daughter was big news. Reporters used to joke about his sexual prowess and his young wives, but his cover-up of a sexual relationship with a black maid gave the liberal media a great opportunity to attack the former segregationist as a first-class hypocrite. If anything, the story confirmed that conspiracies do succeed; dozens, perhaps hundreds of people, kept it a secret over the course of decades.

New York Times editorial writer Brent Staples could not resist the opportunity to use the incident to smear founding father Thomas Jefferson. In a December 18th column about the Thurmond scandal, he declared, “The cover-up hatched 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson’s family was blown away a few years back after genetic evidence showed that Jefferson almost certainly fathered Sally Hemings’s final son, Eston, born in 1808. This led historians to conclude that Jefferson fathered all of her children in a relationship that lasted more than 35 years.”

In a July 25, 2003 article, Staples put it differently, saying that, “Leading historians who doubted this have done an about-face since genetic evidence linked Jefferson to one Hemings child. There is a growing consensus that Jefferson fathered most, if not all, of Sally’s children, just as Madison Hemings claimed in a now-famous newspaper interview published in 1873.”

These charges are so wild as to constitute a lie. It is a lie that has been cited by the liberal media for two reasons. One, they wish to smear the reputations of America’s founders. And two, the charges serve to excuse or divert attention from the sexual misconduct of one of their favorite liberal presidents, Bill Clinton. But the charge against Jefferson isn’t true. The well-documented book, “The Jefferson-Hemings Myth, an American Travesty” concludes that, contrary to the way the matter has been portrayed by the media, there is no substantial evidence at all to support the charge that Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Hemings. In fact, the best evidence indicates it never happened, and that his younger brother, Randolph, was the father.

An Associated Press article by Allen G. Breed quoted Thurmond’s daughter as saying, “There are many stories like Sally Hemings’ and mine.” Breed said this was a reference to “Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with one of his slaves.” He went on to say that “For years, [Julia] Westerinen and other descendants of Sally Hemings have fought to be recognized as blood relatives to the third president.” Over at Newsday, black columnist Sheryl McCarthy criticized “Thomas Jefferson’s white descendants [for] refusing to acknowledge the black side of the family?”

David N. Mayer, a professor of Law and History at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, has cited the Jefferson-Hemings myth as an example of how American history has been politicized. The media do the same thing. It looks like the Times did not learn its lesson in the Jayson Blair scandal. The Times also recently published an obituary for an actress who wasn’t dead. It corrected that error.

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