Fox News tirelessly advanced false accusation that Jennings covered up "statutory rape"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Fox News and its websites Fox Nation and FoxNews.com repeatedly advanced the falsehood that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, in the words of Fox News host Bill Hemmer, knew of a "statutory rape" and "never reported it." While pushing this attack on Jennings, Fox News ignored evidence that the student who told Jennings about his relationship with an older man was of legal age, and Media Matters for America has since confirmed that the student was of legal age and that Fox News' smears of Jennings were scurrilous and false.

Fox figures ran with false smear of Jennings

Sean Hannity: "As The Washington Times said, 'At the very least, statutory rape occurred,' and he didn't report it." On the September 30 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity said: "We have the safe schools czar, a guy by the name of Kevin Jennings, OK? And he writes this book, and he gives information to a 15-year-old -- ABC News and Jake Tapper write about this tonight -- a 15-year-old sophomore, and his advice to him when he's having a gay relationship is, you know, 'Did you use a condom?' He knew it was an older adult. Now, as The Washington Times said, 'At the very least, statutory rape occurred,' and he didn't report it. Now he's saying that he made a mistake, only because it's been reported on. My question is, where's the vetting process? Why was he even put in this position?" Hannity went on to call for Jennings to be "fired."

Hannity: Jennings did not tell authorities about "statutory rape" of 15-year-old. From the "Great American Panel" segment of the October 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: All right. So we have, you know, another czar in trouble -- and many of them. All right, the latest one, this guy Kevin Jennings. You know, here's a guy -- you're a pastor -- and a 15-year-old kid goes into his office, seeks advice. He's having a relationship with an older -- with an adult, which, by the way, he said it was 15. That would be statutory rape.

And does he call the police, does he tell authorities, does he get in counseling? No, he asks him if he wore a condom.

Obenshain: Jennings is "a mandatory reporter as a teacher, and yet allowed this to happen without protecting the child." During the October 1 Hannity segment, panelist Kate Obenshain, vice president of Young America's Foundation, asserted, "But for the man who is supposed to be promoting safe schools -- he's a mandatory reporter as a teacher, and yet allowed this to happen without protecting the child."

Fox Nation: "Did 'Safe School Czar' Encourage Statutory Rape?" On September 28, the Fox Nation linked to the same Washington Times editorial that Hannity referenced, with the headline, "Did 'Safe School Czar' Encourage Statutory Rape?"

jennings1

Fox Nation: Jennings "Cover[ed] Up Statutory Rape." The Fox Nation subsequently asserted as fact that Jennings covered up statutory rape in a September 30 headline:

jennings2

Fox News contributor Malkin: Jennings failed to report "homosexual child predator." Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin wrote a September 30 blog post titled, "Safe Schools czar now 'regrets' failure to report child predator," in which she referred to Jennings' purported "failure as a young gay teacher to protect a 15-year old student from a homosexual child predator."

Brian Kilmeade: "[Jennings] details a report on how he did not report an incident with an underage student who had sex with an older man." During a September 24 Fox & Friends segment, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Jennings "details ... how he did not report an incident with an underage student who had sex with an older man."

Hemmer claimed as fact that Jennings knew of "statutory rape" case and "never reported it." During the October 1 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer stated, "[W]e are talking about a case that involves statutory rape, and Jennings never reported it. According to a book he wrote, had no regrets about how he handled it then."

Baier alleged Jennings failed to report "sexual abuse." During the October 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier claimed, "Education Secretary Arne Duncan is standing behind his so-called safe schools czar after revelations that Kevin Jennings did not report a case of sexual abuse he encountered as a schoolteacher."

FoxNews.com: Jennings "detailed an incident in which he did not report an underage student who told him he was having sex with older men." FoxNews.com reported in a September 23 article that Jennings "detailed an incident in which he did not report an underage student who told him he was having sex with older men."

Jennings' attorney stated in 2004 letter that student was 16, which is -- and was -- MA age of consent

Jennings' attorney: Conversation was "with a sixteen-year-old student"; "no factual basis" that Jennings was "aware of any sexual victimization of any student." In an August 3, 2004, letter, Constance M. Boland of the law firm Nixon Peabody -- which represented the organization that Jennings ran -- wrote that the "conversation" Jennings had was with "a sixteen-year-old student" and that there "is no factual basis whatsoever for" the "claim that Mr. Jennings engaged in unethical practices, or that he was aware of any sexual victimization of any student, or that he declined to report any sexual victimization at any time." [Boland letter, 8/3/04]

Massachusetts age of consent is -- and was at the time -- 16. According to a footnote in the 1982 Massachusetts case Commonwealth v. Calvin D. Miller, chapter 265, section 23, of the General Laws of Massachusetts, as amended in 1974, at the time provided:

Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under sixteen years of age shall, for the first offense, be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, or, except as otherwise provided, for any term in a jail or house of correction, and for the second or subsequent offense by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, but not less than five years. [emphasis added]

According to the legislative history available in the Lexis database, the provision was not amended after 1982 until 1998. It was amended again in 2008 and now provides:

Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years or, except as otherwise provided, for any term in a jail or house of correction. A prosecution commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file. [emphasis added]

Media Matters has since confirmed that student was at least 16 at time of discussion with Jennings

Former student: "I was of legal consent at the time." The former student provided Media Matters with the following statement, which Media Matters published on October 2:

Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen-minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody's concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my "well-being" and that of America's students, they'll be relieved to know that I was not "inducted" into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery.

In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence. I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation's students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings' courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I'd be the proud gay man that I am today.

- Brewster

Former student on Facebook: "I was 16 when Kevin gave me the advice he gave me." Further, Media Matters exclusively obtained the following Facebook exchange between FoxNews.com writer Maxim Lott and the student, which Media Matters also published on October 2:

jennings3

Former student's driver's license also indicates he was at least 16 when he approached Jennings. Media Matters also exclusively obtained the Massachusetts driver's license of the student confirming that at the time of the incident he was at least 16 years of age. The following scanned image of the student's current driver's license, published on October 2, has been heavily redacted to protect his identity.

brewster

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.