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THE BROCK ADAMS SCANDAL RAISES SERIOUS QUESTIONS

Serious questions are raised by the scandal that led to Sen. Brock Adams' recent decision to drop out his race for re-election in the state of Washington.

They are questions that go far beyond his guilt or innocence of sexual harassment and rape, questions that center on fair play and the responsibilities of a free press.After three years of investigation, the Seattle Times published a story this past weekend in which seven women accused the Democratic senator of sexual harassment and another accused him of raping her 20 years ago. Though the Times insists it tried repeatedly to obtain permission to identify the women on the grounds it would enhance the credibility of their charges, they refused. But the women did sign affidavits attesting to the veracity of their accusations. They also agreed to be called as witnesses if Sen. Adams sues the Times.

Rather than fight on, through a campaign to clear his name that was bound to be nasty and extremely costly, the 65-year-old senator decided to leave office when his term expires next January. But that isn't good enough for some feminists, who insist that Adams ought to step down immediately.

Never mind that Adams has flatly denied the accusations. Never mind that he has long been a leading advocate of women's issues. Never mind that women now on his staff give no credence to the accusations. Never mind that the publication of anonymous accusations gives more ammunition to those who accuse the press of bias and sloppy reporting. Never mind that letting a U.S. Senate race be controlled by eight anonymous accusers warps the democratic process. When it comes to sexual harassment, the idea seems to be that where there's smoke there must be a libidinous fire.

But if Adams is really guilty as accused, he deserves to be put on trial - not just sent home from the Senate. Meanwhile, whatever happened to the principle that an accused person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?

The so-called court of public opinion is not the proper forum in which to test allegations of criminal conduct. As it is now, both Adams' accusers and the Seattle Times have bypassed some important machinery provided by law and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It's machinery for winnowing false, vindicative claims from those with reasonable veracity.

Anonymous accusation do not serve the best interests of the women's movement either. As one woman put it, "Just because someone makes a charge does not mean you're guilty. I don't want feminism to be tagged with taking away civil rights."

Though it's not easy to take the flak that can be incurred by coming out into the open, Sen. Brock Adams' accusers should be told to put up or shut up. And other publications should be wise enough not to repeat anything like the Seattle Times' lamentable lapse in judgment.