NBC Ready to Air 'Jane Doe' Interview
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 1999; Page C1
NBC has decided to broadcast tonight the interview it has been holding for several weeks with an Arkansas woman who accuses President Clinton of sexually assaulting her 21 years ago.
"I kept asking for more information and more cross-checking and more digging, and that takes time," NBC News President Andrew Lack said yesterday. "I felt comfortable this morning that we had dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's." He said he had not been influenced by the end of the president's impeachment trial or the fact that the woman, Juanita Broaddrick, has given her account to the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
The interview will air on "Dateline NBC" at 8 p.m. and run 30 minutes or less. David Kendall, Clinton's attorney, has called Broaddrick's allegation that Clinton assaulted her when he was Arkansas attorney general "absolutely false."
Broaddrick said yesterday that she did the interview with NBC correspondent Lisa Myers "so people can see me and validate the situation. It's important for them to hear it from the person this happened to. It's very emotional to me. It's very real to me. I have no fear of the president, which is probably silly. Some people say they are absolutely in awe that I am so brave. I just did it to protect myself."
The eight-hour session with Myers was "the hardest day of my life since I lost my father in '71," Broaddrick said, but she also called the interview "therapeutic. I felt a weight has been lifted. This is something my husband and I have never been able to talk about."
For Broaddrick to tell her story on national television will likely give added impact and visibility to a difficult, disputed story that many news organizations have shied away from. As Lack put it: "You can see her, you can measure her differently" than in a newspaper interview.
Last March, for example, "60 Minutes" caused a huge stir by airing an interview with Kathleen Willey, although Willey's allegation that the president had groped her in the Oval Office had been published months earlier by Newsweek. Clinton has strongly denied Willey's account.
Since Internet columnist Matt Drudge reported that NBC was holding the Broaddrick interview, the network has received a torrent of calls and e-mail messages from angry viewers demanding that it be broadcast. "These are very serious charges," Lack said. "I was a little surprised that people were not appreciating enough that we were doing our job."
Said Myers: "There was no delay. We used every day of this process to gather information."
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, said that "NBC is now not breaking the story. The story has already broken in the serious press. What NBC is doing is airing their interview with a news source who's already told her story to The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal editorial page."
The fact that the Senate impeachment trial is over "makes a difference," Rosenstiel said. "There's a long tradition in journalism that you don't drop a bomb on the eve of an election or other process where you could change the outcome of the event. The bar on such a story should be very high."
Broaddrick's credibility will undoubtedly be questioned because there are no police or medical records from the 1978 incident she says took place in a Little Rock hotel. Broaddrick was known as "Jane Doe No. 5" when she was subpoenaed in the Paula Jones lawsuit and filed an affidavit denying that such an assault took place. She later recanted with FBI agents working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr, saying she did not want to be drawn into the Jones case. Starr's office found her account inconclusive.
Broaddrick says she's gotten nearly 100 media calls since Journal editorial writer Dorothy Rabinowitz broke the story Friday and The Post published its account Saturday. She said CNN's Bob Franken and Fox News have pressed her for an interview and that she considered talking to Carol Marin of "60 Minutes II." But Broaddrick said she decided to give Myers more time, although she grew "absolutely frustrated" with NBC. She also said she spoke Monday night to David Firestone, a reporter for the New York Times, which as of yesterday had not reported on Broaddrick's account.
Broaddrick expressed unhappiness with New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy, who interviewed her late Friday and quoted her as calling Clinton "a cold bastard." She said Dunleavy called Clinton a "cold bastard" and she agreed, but that "I certainly would not have repeated those words."
Dunleavy called her account "absolutely not true. I didn't feed her the line. She introduced the word. . . . I swear on a stack of Bibles."
On his CNBC show Monday night, Geraldo Rivera said the details of Broaddrick's account were "so flimsy, so uncorroborated and so ancient." He said he spoke to her by phone Monday and "she said she didn't want to talk to me. And I said, 'Why not?' Because, she said, I am too biased. And I said, 'What do you mean too biased?' And she said, 'Too biased in favor of Clinton.' And I said, 'Well, are you only talking to people who are against Clinton?' And that is when she hung up on me." Broaddrick said that Rivera "got me on the phone by trickery" by picking up after she took a call from his producer, and that she considered him "rude."
Having decided to step forward, it was no coincidence that Broaddrick spoke to Myers, Rabinowitz and The Post's Lois Romano. "There's no way I could do this with a man," she said.
Broaddrick, a nursing home operator, says she has been suffering through "sleepless nights" and that "the only reason I did come forward was to protect myself." She was upset, for instance, by a tabloid account suggesting that she and her husband had cut a deal with the White House to remain silent.
Lack has also been bedeviled by rumors of White House pressure. "None. Zero. None at all," he said. He added that White House officials were still answering NBC's questions yesterday and that information developed in the last two days "helped us make our judgment about the story."
While conceding it was "a little weird" to watch NBC's story being debated so widely, Lack said, "I knew we would run it or not run it on our own timetable, the only timetable you can follow in these matters."
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