Even after acknowledging it's false, CNN and Fox News continue to push smear of Jennings

CNN's Lou Dobbs and Fox News' Brian Wilson and Sean Hannity ignored their own networks' past reporting and continued to forward the discredited smear that, while working as a teacher in 1988, Department of Education official Kevin Jennings failed to report an underage student's involvement with an older man. Dobbs claimed that “Jennings admit[ed] to failing to report a sexual matter involving a minor,” and Wilson claimed that Jennings admitted that “he failed to alert authorities when a 15-year-old boy told him he was involved in a sexual relationship with an older man,” even though both FoxNews.com and CNN have acknowledged that the student was of legal age -- 16 years old -- at the time.

Conservative media figures persist in reporting that student was 15, “a minor”

Dobbs: “Jennings admitting to failing to report a sexual matter involving a minor ... a homosexual relationship.” Dobbs stated, “There are now calls for Kevin Jennings, the so-called school safety czar, to step down. Jennings admitting to failing to report a sexual matter involving a minor when he was a public school teacher, a homosexual relationship.” [CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/6/09]

Wilson: Jennings “admitted” that “he failed to alert authorities when a 15-year-old boy told him he was involved in a sexual relationship with an older man.” Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson stated: “School safety czar Kevin Jennings is currently under fire because he admitted that in 1988, when he was a high school teacher, he failed to alert authorities when a 15-year-old boy told him he was involved in a sexual relationship with an older man. One member of the House believes Jennings would not have his current job if czars were required to face Senate confirmation hearings.” [Fox News' Special Report, 10/6/09]

Hannity: “I'm not convinced of the timeline.” Hannity stated on his Fox News program that Jennings “admitted that he gave counsel and advice to a 15-year-old sophomore who came to him and said he was having sex with an adult.” He added, “Now, the kid has since come out, and he said, 'No, no, I was 16 at the time.' I'm not convinced of the timeline. But that's neither here or there. Jennings is the one that said the kid was 15.” [Fox News' Hannity, 10/6/09]

CNN has acknowledged that driver's license “verifies he was actually 16 at the time,” “the legal age of consent'

CNN's Yellin cited student's license, statement in debunking right-wing smears. After reporting that CNN spoke to the student -- whom Jennings has referred to as ” Brewster" -- and reading from the same statement Brewster had provided to Media Matters for America, 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]

Dobbs told that student issued statement “saying he was of age when this happened.” On October 2, Salon.com's Joe Conason stated on Lou Dobbs Tonight that Media Matters “has a statement ... [f]rom the young man who was allegedly involved in this incident, absolving Kevin Jennings of any responsibility, saying he was of age when this happened, so this may turn out to be nothing.” [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/2/09]

After skipping fact-check to run with smear, Fox News has also acknowledged student was of legal age

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 falsehood that 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 was of legal age, and Media Matters has since confirmed that the student was of legal age and that Fox News' smears of Jennings were false.

Lott asked former student whether “rumor” that he was 15 is “accurate.” As Media Matters exclusively reported, FoxNews.com reporter Maxim Lott sent a Facebook message to Brewster with a timestamp reading, “October 1 at 5:03pm.” Lott wrote: “Please give me a call or e-mail me if you'd like to clear up any of the rumors out there. In particular, in one speech Jennings said that you were 15 when he gave you advice. Is that accurate?” In response, the student told Lott on October 2, “I was 16 when Kevin gave me the advice he gave me.” Media Matters exclusively obtained the Facebook exchange between Lott and the student, which Media Matters also published on October 2.

FoxNews.com later issued “Editor's Note” confirming student was 16 at the time. Prior to the Facebook exchange, Lott had written two stories for FoxNews.com discussing Jennings' 1988 conversation with Brewster and reporting as fact that Brewster was 15 at the time -- despite the fact that significant publicly available evidence suggested that Brewster was actually 16. Lott's stories now contain an editor's note stating, “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.”

Fox-promoted claim that student was 15 debunked

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

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'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.