The Fix: Matt Drudge is promoting a conspiracy theory that he helped debunk 17 years ago

On Jan. 9, 1999, Matt Drudge had another big scoop about Bill Clinton: The president, it turned out, was not the father of a boy born to a former prostitute in Arkansas.

A year earlier, it had been Drudge who broke the story of Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Drudge’s credibility was at an all-time high, and he wasn’t about to throw it away on some wild claim about a love child that had just been debunked through DNA testing.

Seventeen years later, as his news aggregation site relentlessly promotes the presidential ambitions of Donald Trump and fuels conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, Drudge has decided to propagate the idea that perhaps this boy — now a 30-year-old man named Danney Williams — is Bill Clinton’s son after all.

In the past two weeks, articles about Williams have often featured prominently on the Drudge Report. On Wednesday afternoon, the website went quasi-Droste effect, posting a picture of Williams standing next to a screen displaying an image of himself that had appeared in another Drudge Report banner earlier in the day.

Drudge has sought to explain his newfound interest in Williams — who claims with certainty that he is Clinton’s son — by suggesting that new information has come to light.

This is a grotesque twisting of history. It is based on a report in World Net Daily that “that no blood sample was obtained from Clinton.” This supposedly shocking revelation comes from the former editor of Star Magazine, Phil Bunton, who said in 1999 that his tabloid had commissioned a DNA test and concluded that Williams is not Clinton’s son. Drudge learned of the negative result and published the news before Star or anyone else.

But if Bunton now admits that he never got a blood sample from Clinton, then there must not have been a real test, Drudge is saying. Which means Williams could be legit!

In reality, the tabloid never claimed to have obtained a blood sample from Clinton. It didn’t need one because a partial analysis of Clinton’s blood was available in the public record, thanks to Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Lewinsky affair. So it is neither new nor relevant that Star Magazine did not possess a vial of Clinton’s blood. The tabloid needed only a sample of Williams’s blood, which Williams provided, to compare with Clinton’s readily available genetic markers.

Nannygate, Travelgate, Whitewater, Filegate: it’s tough to remember all the scandals that plagued then-President Bill and Hillary Clinton through the ’90s. For millennials — here’s what you missed. For everyone else, here’s a refresher. (Sarah Parnass,Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Williams has another argument, which Drudge also has amplified: The test conducted by Star Magazine was not precise enough to be conclusive. Williams presented his case on the conspiracy theory website Infowars last week.

An accurate DNA test to determine paternity requires two different DNA tests to determine paternity, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the refraction fragmented length polymorphism (RFLP). The Starr Report included only the PCR data, thus any paternity test using the incomplete report would have to be inconclusive.

Dr. Henry Lee, one of the world’s foremost forensic scientists told the New York Daily News, “You would need to put President Clinton’s [DNA] side by side, using RFLP,” to determine paternity.

Slate reported, “The FBI performed two genetic fingerprinting tests on the president’s DNA. The Starr Report, for unexplained reasons, gives data only for the less specific of the two tests. In fact, this test is imprecise enough that it would probably not be persuasive to a judge [to determine paternity].

It is true that there are two types of DNA tests. It also is true that the Starr Report made public only the results of Clinton’s less-specific, PCR test. Starr used the results of Clinton’s more-specific, RFLP test to definitively match the president to a semen stain on Lewinsky’s famous blue dress but did not make the results of that test public.

However, Williams took excerpts of the New York Daily News and Slate articles out of context to make his bogus case appear convincing. In fact, he left out the most important quote from Lee in the Daily News article: “You can use the PCR test to exclude President Clinton” (emphasis added).

Both articles, published before Star Magazine performed testing in 1999, explained that Clinton’s publicly available DNA data could not be used to prove that Williams is the president’s son. But it could be used to prove that Williams is not Clinton’s son.

Think of it this way: If you are at a party, and someone tells you there is a car that looks like yours with its lights on, you could ask a couple of questions to help figure out whether the vehicle is actually yours. “Which state is on the license plates?” Or, “What is the license plate number?”

If the answer to the first, less-specific question is “Kentucky,” and you’re from Kentucky, then the odds that the car is yours just went up. But you don’t know for sure because other people from Kentucky drive the same kind of vehicle you do. So you need to ask the second, more-specific question about the plate number to determine ownership.

If, however, the answer to the first question is “Vermont,” then you can rule out the possibility that the car is yours. You don’t need to ask the second question.

The kind of test performed 17 years ago by Star Magazine would not have been enough to prove that Williams is Clinton’s son. Had there been a match, Salon explained in 1999, it would have meant “that President Clinton is only 20 to 30 times more likely than a random Caucasian male to be [Danney] Williams’s father.”

But there was not a match. “Not even close,” Star said at the time. The first test rendered a second unnecessary.

Drudge knows this — or did.

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