Despite evidence to contrary, Fox News machine claims Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Despite evidence to the contrary, Fox News -- led by Sean Hannity -- and other right-wing media have claimed that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape" and violated Massachusetts law by not reporting to authorities a 1988 conversation in which a high school student told Jennings about his relationship with an older man. In fact, Jennings' attorney wrote in a 2004 letter that the student was 16 years old, which is -- and was at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Fox, right-wing media claim Jennings covered up "statutory rape"

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 Fox News' Hannity, host 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."

The Fox Nation: Jennings "Cover[ed] Up Statutory Rape." The Fox News website TheFoxNation.com posted the following headline on September 30:

Gateway Pundit: "Jennings hid pedophilia from authorities." In a September 30 post titled "Obama's 'Safe Schools Czar' Expresses Regret for Not Reporting Statutory Rape," the right-wing blog Gateway Pundit claimed: "Barack Obama's 'safe school's czar' Kevin Jennings hid pedophilia from authorities. Jennings violated a state law that required him to report the abuse."

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."

Jennings' attorney stated in 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.

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.

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