How Media Matters stopped the Kevin Jennings smear – UPDATED

by on October 21, 2009  •  In Uncategorized

UPDATE – See the Media Matters documentation of each step in the Washington Times campaign to drive Jennings out of his job.

Marc Ambinder's Politics blog carries a post today crediting the progressive media watchdog group Media Matters with stopping the smear campaign against Kevin Jennings.  How?  the old fashioned way: research.  Kudos to Media Matters editor-in-chief Marcia Kuntz. 

…Jennings appears to have survived. Here's why. While the fire hasn't completely died down …it has certainly lost steam. Jennings is no longer a topic du jour, mostly due to one simple fact: the boy wasn't actually underage. The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America dug up a 2004 letter from Jennings' attorney stating that the boy was actually 16 at the time–the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, where this had taken place–although Jennings had said the boy was 15 in his speech.

According to Media Matters' timeline of events, Fox News then confirmed the boy's age (by contacting him via Facebook). The watchdog group then posted a copy of the boy's driver's license, showing that he had been over the age of consent when Jennings advised him.

Whether or not one agrees with how Jennings handled the situation–a completely separate, ethical question–the boy's age was an important fact. Had the boy been under 16, Jennings would have had different legal responsibilities. Under state law, teachers are considered "mandated reporters" of statutory rape, required to report cases to the Department of Social Services, though not necessarily to police, according to multiple authorities on Massachusetts education law.

If the boy had been under 16, Jennings would have appeared to violate the law, and that would have placed him in a very different situation, politically. With affirmed legal high-ground, one can bet that conservative pundits, bloggers, and political groups wouldn't have backed off in the least–and that the noise surrounding Jennings wouldn't have faded as it has. And the White House would have had a much more difficult time ignoring the calls for resignation.


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