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A Media Lynching; Dale Kildee story deserved more scrutiny

Patrick Clawson is one of the more aggressive investigative reporters I know.

The former CNN journalist is now semi-retired, and dabbles in a number of occupations. He is no great worshipper of government, titles or institutions. Last year he broke the news that Governor Granholm had awarded a huge tax break to a convicted embezzler whose business was entirely fiction.

Yet he is now outraged about a story he sees as totally irresponsible, and so am I. Yesterday, media throughout the state began reporting allegations that longtime Flint area congressman Dale Kildee improperly touched a young male second cousin of his more than half a century ago. The 82-year-old congressman, indignantly denied the allegations, and noted that the man making them had a long history of mental illness.

There has never previously been any hint of scandal involving Congressman Kildee, who has a wife, three children and announced months ago that he intended to retire after this term.

These stories bothered me when I saw them, because they contained absolutely no evidence or shred of proof. And because I know that any time anyone is accused of something like this, the accusation sticks to them through life, even if later exposed as totally false. What I didn’t know was that it had been checked out.

Pat Clawson contacted me last night and said that he and another well-known investigative journalist, a man instrumental in exposing Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick became aware of these allegations more than a year ago.

Clawson told me they both checked them out, and, “We each, separately and independently, came to the same conclusion. These allegations could not be substantiated in any way and were most likely false.” He notes the accuser has a record of drug abuse and a history of hospitalizations for mental illness.

“The real story here is how incompetent journalists and partisan political opponents smeared a very good and decent man,” Clawson said.  Incidentally, Clawson is not a political supporter of the liberal Democratic congressman. He ran for office as a libertarian last year. He’s just in favor of fairness. And the more I looked into the story, the more uneasy I became. It first appeared in the right-wing Washington Times after it was reported by a blogger, Susan Bradford, who later urged caution, saying she is now uncomfortable with the story, said it might be part of a blackmail attempt, and added “I don‘t know if the allegations were true or not … I am urging the members of the press and public to withhold judgment till all the facts are in.” Well, that’s a little late.

She criticized the paper for doing an ambush video interview with Kildee, but added “let’s be honest, (the congressman) fits the ’profile’ of a pedophile as defined by Hollywood,” because he was a former priest. Well, that’s not true either. Dale Kildee was never a priest.

None of this stopped a Flint TV station from airing a graphic interview with his accuser last night. Clawson told me he thinks he would have been fired if he had done something like this when he was a broadcast reporter, but added, “journalistic standards have changed over the years, and I am afraid for the worse.”

I am afraid I have to agree.