Accuracy In Media
Media Monitor

Smearing Thomas Jefferson

By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid
February 24, 2000

In an article about the CBS television network movie, "Sally Hemings: An American Scandal," Megan Rosenfeld of the Washington Post said, "There is little doubt in the age of DNA testing that our third president, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, had a liaison with his slave Sally Hemings, and that they produced children." On the contary, there is a lot of doubt. At best, there is only a slight possibility that he did so. Both the CBS movie and the review of it represent a political smear of Jefferson for the purpose of making President Clinton’s sex with a White House intern seem less shocking.

Ironically, Rosenfeld’s smear of Jefferson was contained in an article reporting that the CBS movie on the alleged relationship was "silly" and "mind-boggling" and "fishy." Rosenfeld’s main complaints were with the made-up story about their alleged relationship -- not whether it actually existed in the first place. The CBS mini-series was fiction from start to finish. But one of Rosenfeld’s main concerns was why the producers cast a Latin actress and not a black in the role of Sally Hemings. This is what journalism has degenerated into -- not a search for truth but a desire to make history politically correct. We won’t be surprised if their next project is a TV movie claiming Abe Lincoln was gay.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation also sunk to a new low when it issued a report saying it was likely that Jefferson fathered her children. The term "likely" was based on the simple assumption that they had sex when Jefferson and Hemings were known to be at Monticello at about the same time. This is a big stretch. Herbert Barger, the Jefferson family historian, goes further, saying it is bunk. He says that Thomas Jefferson was just one of eight in a position to have sex with Hemings, and that it is far more likely that Jefferson’s younger brother Randolph is the one who fathered those children.

The CBS movie is the culmination of a campaign to smear Thomas Jefferson and try to make the current occupant of the White House look good. The old saying, "They all do it," when applied to illicit sex, might make the Clinton legacy look better than it really is. In addition to the political overtones, Herbert Barger says the foundation’s release of its so-called "study" on Jefferson and Hemings was timed to coincide with the airing of the CBS movie and the occasion of Black History Month.

The claim that he had children by Hemings stems from a DNA test showing that a rare Jefferson DNA characteristic was found in a descendant of Eston Hemings, a son of Sally Hemings, and five descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s uncle, Field Jefferson. But this only tends to show that a Jefferson somewhere down the line had sex with Hemings.

The screenwriter, Tina Andrews, says that if Jefferson didn’t have sex with Hemings, he should have said so publicly by wagging his finger and proclaiming "I didn’t have sex with that woman." This is the tip-off that they see the attacks on Jefferson as designed to rehabilitate Clinton. They are using lies to protect a liar.

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