Sadness, Cries of Hypocrisy Greet Jackson’s Disclosure About Child
It was a stunning revelation from a man who has made the cause of civil rights and social justice a moral crusade.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson announced Thursday that he recently had fathered a child out of wedlock. He said he would withdraw temporarily from public life--even as details about his extramarital affair became the talk of the country, blanketing the airwaves and the Internet and dominating water-cooler conversations.
“This is no time for evasions, denials or alibis,” Jackson said in his early-morning statement. “I fully accept responsibility and I am truly sorry for my actions.” He said that he will participate in raising his daughter but declined further comment.
A New York spokesman said Jackson made the announcement to preempt tabloid reports about the child, a girl now 20 months old. The girl’s mother worked in the Washington office of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and first met Jackson, friends say, when she wrote a 1997 book about the civil rights leader.
The National Enquirer published the story about Jackson’s affair with Karin Stanford, 39, who now lives in Los Angeles, in editions that were on the newsstands Thursday. A version on the tabloid’s Web site ran with the headline “Jesse Jackson’s Love Child.”
Jackson, 59, has been married for 38 years.
The revelation--yet another episode in the unbreakable union of sex and politics--provoked a wide range of reactions. Jackson’s supporters said they were saddened. His detractors called him a hypocrite.
“It’s very ironic that this . . . man who has complained bitterly and repeatedly about black poverty is, in his personal life, contributing to the major cause of black child poverty in the U.S.,” said Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation, referring to the problems associated with children born to unwed mothers.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), however, said she hoped the affair would not detract from Jackson’s accomplishments as a civil rights leader.
“Our prayers go out to [the Jackson family] during this trying time,” she said. “We are confident that through God’s grace and their tremendous faith, they will overcome.
Like other Washington scandals, the Jackson saga had its own tawdry elements: The Enquirer even published a photograph said to be of Jackson and his pregnant mistress posing with President Clinton in the White House.
It appeared that the child was born during the time that Jackson served as “spiritual advisor” to Clinton, who was under fire for his tryst with Monica S. Lewinsky.
On the eve of Clinton’s televised confession to the affair, Chelsea Clinton asked that Jackson meet with the family. He spent half an hour with them at the White House.
The next evening, back in Chicago, Jackson sat in a television studio and watched somberly. “He did very well,” Jackson said of the confession. “He was very explicit and took responsibility for his actions. It was wrong. The burden is on his shoulders.”
“[Jackson] should have brought up [his affair] when he was counseling President Clinton,” said Armstrong Williams, a black conservative commentator and columnist. “That was the time he could have come clean, saying: “I can sympathize with the president because I have a child out of wedlock.’ ”
One question many were asking Thursday was: What does Jackson’s self-imposed hiatus really mean? Many who know him predict any break will be short. After all, he has been all but sprinting from speech to speech, march to march, for nearly four decades.
More seriously affected will be Jackson’s role as a political leader with a religious standing, the sort of speaker who sprinkles biblical references into his oratory.
Williams predicted that the affair will cost Jackson support among African Americans old enough to remember the days when he first emerged on the civil rights scene as an aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The older generation, they’ll be devastated,” he said. “Younger people, this is their world. Look at Jesse Jackson. Look at the president of the United States. Who are our role models anymore?”
The Rev. Robert Schuller, minister of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, called Jackson’s infidelity a “terribly serious sin.”
But the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, pointed out that Jackson wasn’t the first national figure to be felled by a sex scandal--nor would he be the last. “It has nothing to do with ideology or anything. It’s human nature.
National Enquirer Editor Steve Coz said that disillusioned members of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition played a role in the tabloid’s expose.
Those employees confirmed an initial “tip” about the affair, he said. The employees, Coz said, were concerned about the source of the money Jackson used to buy the woman a Los Angeles home.
“There’s some turmoil in the Rainbow Coalition over the fact that Jesse had gotten this top aide pregnant,” Coz added.
The National Enquirer reported that Jackson bought Stanford a $365,000 house, provided a $40,000 relocation payment and $10,000 a month in child support. (Jackson’s spokesman told Associated Press that those figures were inflated.)
“People in the coalition knew about [the money] and were upset,” Coz said. It remained unclear Thursday where the funds came from.
Coz added that, in reporting the story, the tabloid refrained from its oft-used practice of paying sources.
Several people who know Jackson confirmed Thursday that rumors had been circulating for months that his affair had resulted in the birth of a child. The story spread among black leaders in Chicago and in Washington civil rights circles.
One friend who asked not to be identified said that Jackson’s family had known about the relationship and the child for some time--perhaps as long as a year.
“I’m sure they have reached some plateau as to family healing already,” the friend said.
A steady stream of supporters filed past a phalanx of television crews at Jackson’s Chicago home Thursday to pay their respects to the civil rights leader. Some carried Bibles. The visitors included Jackson’s son, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.). At the Rainbow/PUSH headquarters on the city’s South Side--a famously insular organization despite the loquaciousness of its founder--staffers hunkered behind closed doors, declining comment.
And in Los Angeles, no one answered the door at Stanford’s home east of the Baldwin Hills area.
Stanford once taught political science at the University of Georgia. Her book, “Beyond the Boundaries: Reverend Jesse Jackson in International Affairs,” is a somewhat flattering portrait of Jackson and his practice of what she calls “citizen diplomacy.”
Chicago talk-radio host Cliff Kelley, who has known Jackson for years, said Jackson may have a more difficult time restoring his authority among white supporters than blacks.
“He won’t have a problem with the African American community--we forgive everybody,” Kelley said. “I think he’ll have a harder time with some other communities.”
At one leading feminist organization, people were unwilling to criticize Jackson publicly--he has been a loyal ally. But privately, many said they were dismayed.
“Jesse Jackson has been a longtime friend and advocate for us,” said one prominent feminist who asked not to be identified. Nevertheless, she called Jackson’s affair an example of “toxic” gender roles. “We are facing this crisis. How are we going to align our political stance with our private behaviors?”
The scandal broke just as Jackson was planning to attend a rally in Tallahassee, Fla., to protest Saturday’s inauguration of George W. Bush. Jackson had played a prominent role in organizing opposition to Bush during the presidential recount drama in Florida.
It remained unclear if Jackson would attend Saturday’s protest.
Jackson ran for president twice, in 1984 and 1988. He often told reporters he was proud of the fact that he drew large crowds of white people to his campaign rallies.
But in the years since, Jackson has scaled back his personal political ambitions, becoming instead one of the Democratic Party’s most outspoken members of its liberal wing.
Jim Margolis, a Democratic political consultant, said he didn’t think Jackson’s latter-day role as a liberal standard bearer would be affected much by the scandal.
“I would be shocked if two years from know we don’t look and see Jesse Jackson on the radar screen,” Margolis said.
Tobar reported from Los Angeles and Slater from Chicago. Times staff writers Lynn Smith, Ann O’Neill and Nora Zamichow in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
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