When journalists write about incidents that occurred long ago, especially serious allegations such as sexual misconduct, a key goal is to find people who will say that they heard about the incident at the time.
Such contemporaneous accounts are essential to establishing the credibility of the allegation because they reduce the chances that a person is making up a story for political purposes. In the case of sexual allegations, such accounts can help bolster the credibility of the “she said” side of the equation. Often, a sexual assault will happen behind closed doors. The contemporary corroborators can explain what they heard at the time and whether the story being told now is consistent with how the story was told years earlier. This does not necessarily mean the allegation is true, but it does give a journalistic organization more confidence to report on the allegation.
Few may recall that the first detailed article about Paula Jones’s allegations against then-President Bill Clinton appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. A key factor in giving the article such prominence was that reporters were able to locate people who said they had heard about Clinton’s alleged advances at the time — long before he became president.
One of the first major articles about Juanita Broaddrick, who says Clinton raped her in 1978, also appeared in The Post. Again, it was essential to locate people who said they heard about the incident at the time.
Similarly, a number of women who have accused Donald Trump have provided corroborators who heard about the alleged behavior at the time it happened, or shortly thereafter. Here’s a sampling of the cases against Clinton and Trump, and the corroborators who have emerged. Trump has adamantly denied the women’s claims; Clinton settled a sexual harassment suit with Jones without admitting guilt and his attorney denied Broaddrick’s allegation.
Her allegation: In 1991, while she was working at a state-sponsored conference, a state trooper asked her to meet with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in his hotel room. When she arrived, she says, Clinton tried to kiss her and then dropped his pants and underwear and asked her to “kiss it.” She refused, and quickly left the hotel room.
Pamela Blackard, state employee sitting at the registration desk with Jones. She said she noticed Clinton staring intently at Jones and witnessed a state trooper asking Jones to go to Clinton’s hotel room. She recalled that about 10 minutes later, Jones returned, “shaking,” and she told Blackard in detail about Clinton’s actions. Blackard told her to tell no one, as she was afraid they would lose their jobs.
Debra Ballentine, a friend of Jones. She said Jones that afternoon told her about Clinton’s request for oral sex.
Steve Jones, then her boyfriend, later her husband. He said she told him about the incident.
Lydia Cathey, her older sister. She said that Jones told her about the encounter while crying.
Charlotte Brown, another sister. She said that Jones was “matter of fact” about the encounter.
Her allegation: Clinton invited her to a hotel room in 1978, supposedly to talk about his campaign for governor, and starting kissing her. When she resisted, she says, he raped her, in the process bruising her lip.
Norma Rogers, an employee and friend who traveled with her to the conference. She said that she returned to the hotel room that day to find Broaddrick badly shaken, in a “state of shock,” and her lip swollen.
Susan Rogers, a friend. She said Broaddrick told her at the time what had happened.
Dave Broaddrick, her lover and later her husband. (Both were married to other people at the time.) He said he was told about the encounter a few days after it happened.
Her allegation: While at a Manhattan nightclub in the early 1990s, Trump slid his fingers under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh and touched her vagina through her underwear.
Kelly Stedman, a friend. She said she was told about the incident at a women’s brunch a few days later. The women found themselves “laughing at how pathetic it was” on Trump’s part.
Brad Trent, a New York photographer. He says he heard the story from Anderson at a dinner in 2007. “It was just girls saying stories about how they got hit on by creepy old guys,” Trent said of the conversation around the table.
Her allegation: While interviewing Trump in 2005 for an article for People magazine about the first anniversary of his third marriage, Trump lured her into a room at Mar-a-Lago and abruptly kissed her, forcing his tongue down her throat. He then said they were going to have an affair.
Marina Grasic, who has known Stoynoff for more than 25 years. She said she got a call from her friend the day after the attack, detailing exactly how Trump pushed Stoynoff against a wall.
Liz McNeil, at the time a reporter for People (she is now an editor). She said that she heard about the incident the day after Stoynoff returned from her assignment. “She was very upset and told me how he shoved her against a wall,” she said.
Mary Green, another People reporter (now editor) who had just returned to New York. “In an early conversation we had in her office, she told me about what happened with Donald Trump,” Green said. “She was shaky, sitting at her desk, relaying that, ‘He took me to this other room, and when we stepped inside, he pushed me against a wall and stuck his tongue down my throat. Melania was upstairs and could have walked in at any time.’”
Liza Hamm, part of a “tight-knit’ group of friends. “Natasha has always been a vivacious person who wants to believe in the best of people, and this experience definitely messed with that outlook,” she said.
Paul McLaughlin, Stoynoff’s former journalism professor. He said Stoynoff called her at the time of the alleged incident seeking advice on how to handle it: “She didn’t know what to do, she was very conflicted, she was angry, she was really confused about how to deal with this.” After a discussion, he said, Stoynoff decided it would be best if she kept the incident to herself.
Her allegation: Trump in 2005 kissed her directly on the lips after she introduced herself and said she was a receptionist who worked for a company that did business with Trump.
Brianne Webb, her sister. She said Crooks called her immediately about the incident as soon as she returned to her desk. “Being from a town of 1,600 people, being naive, I was like, ‘Are you sure he didn’t just miss trying to kiss you on the cheek?’ She said, ‘No, he kissed me on the mouth.’ I was like, ‘That is not normal.’ ”
Clint Hackenburg, her boyfriend at the time. After he asked her that evening how her day had gone, “she paused for a second, and then started hysterically crying.”
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Check out our guide to all Trump and Clinton fact checks
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter