Reviving a smear that even Fox News has repudiated, Fox News contributor and Washington Examiner chief political correspondent Byron York reported as fact that a student counseled by Education Department official Kevin Jennings in 1988 regarding the student's “encounter with an older man” was 15 at the time, adding that “some defenders now say the boy was 16.” In fact, Media Matters for America has definitively proven that the student was 16 at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts -- producing a statement from the student and his driver's license, evidence that CNN subsequently reported on and confirmed.
York reported as fact that student was 15, says “some defenders” say he was 16
From York's October 6 article:
As a young teacher, nearly two decades ago, Jennings was approached by a 15-year old boy (some defenders now say the boy was 16) who said he had had an encounter with an older man. Instead of pursuing the matter with the authorities, Jennings, by his own account, offered some simple advice: “I hope you used a condom.”
Fox-promoted claim that student was 15 has been debunked
Student was 16 at the time of the incident. The former student at the center of the Jennings controversy, whom Jennings has referred to as “Brewster,” provided Media Matters with a statement that he was “a sixteen year-old” and “was of legal consent at the time.” Additionally, Media Matters obtained a copy of the student's driver's license, which shows that he was 16 at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.
CNN's Yellin cited student's license, statement in debunking right-wing smears. After reporting that CNN spoke to Brewster and reading from the same statement Brewster provided to Media Matters, CNN's Jessica Yellin reported that “the critics have also contended that Brewster was 15 at the time of this incident; the Fox News website continues to report that.” Yellin then aired an image of the student's driver's license, stating that it “verifies he was actually 16 at the time, not 15, which means that if there had been sex, he was actually the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.” [CNN's The Situation Room, 10/2/09]
Fox News tirelessly advanced false accusation that Jennings covered up “statutory rape.” Fox News and its websites Fox Nation and FoxNews.com repeatedly advanced the smear that Jennings, in the words of Fox News host Bill Hemmer, knew of a “statutory rape” and “never reported it,” based on the falsehood that the student was 15.
FoxNews.com later issues “Editor's Note” confirming student was 16 at the time. Fox News has appended the following editor's note to two FoxNews.com stories that stated or suggested that Brewster was 15 at the time: “Since this story was originally published, the former student referred to as 'Brewster' has stepped forward to reveal that he was 16 years old, not 15, at the time of the incident described in this report.”
York falsely claims that “defenders” only now “say the boy was 16”
Jennings' attorney in 2004: 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]