CNN continued to uncritically report the assertion that Democratic operatives knew "all along" of Rep. Mark Foley's alleged communications with former congressional pages. As Media Matters for America has noted, that notion is contradicted by other media reports.
On the October 5 editions of The Situation Room and CNN Newsroom, CNN continued to report uncritically the assertion that Democratic operatives knew "all along" of Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) alleged communications with former congressional pages and are "behind the spreading scandal," ignoring a report in The Hill newspaper that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media and a statement by ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross that the sources for his initial Foley report -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans.
On The Situation Room, correspondent Mary Snow reported on comments by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) during an October 5 press conference, as well as in an October 4 interview with the Chicago Tribune. During the press conference, Hastert asserted, "Our friends on the other side of the aisle really don't have a story to tell, and maybe they're resolving to -- another way to -- to another political tactic." In the Tribune interview, Hastert pushed the theory that Democrats "knew about this all along." (During an October 3 appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert also entertained the theory that Democrats were behind the Foley scandal, alleging that they "put this thing forward to try to block" the Republican agenda, as Media Matters for America noted.) Snow's report included statements from Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) executive director Melanie Sloan disputing Hastert's claims, but in doing so presented the issue as a partisan dispute. In fact, Ross himself has rebutted Hastert's allegation that Democrats were behind the leak of the alleged communications from Foley. An October 3 New York Times article quoted Ross responding to such theories by saying that disclosures from Republicans had led to the Foley scandal. An October 5 article in The Hill appears to substantiate Ross's account -- and undermine Hastert's assertion. The Hill reported that the source for ABC News' original report on Foley was a Republican congressional staffer.
CNN Newsroom also re-aired a report by congressional correspondent Joe Johns that uncritically reported a similar assertion by conservative activist Manuel Miranda, who echoed Hastert's claims. During the report, Johns asserted that Republicans, "especially conservatives," normally "like campaigns to be run on higher ground," then aired a clip of Miranda who said, "[I]f Democrats were holding back information of this sort, they could also be held liable under criminal law for endangering the welfare of minors." Johns failed to challenge Miranda's assertion or note reports contradicting the claim. As Media Matters noted, Johns's report also aired during the October 5 edition of CNN's American Morning.
From the October 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Some Republicans, including Hastert, are going on the offensive, saying Democrats and the news media are behind the spreading scandal. Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York. She's watching this part of the story. Mary?
SNOW: Well, Wolf, the House speaker is pointing fingers at Democrats over the scandal, suggesting the news was politically timed to coincide with November's elections. And those who are being blamed are now firing back. As pressure builds around House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Republican leader is blaming political opponents for the widening scandal surrounding Mark Foley. He tells the Chicago Tribune, "The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives. People funded by George Soros." In the same interview, Hastert said political operatives aligned with former President Clinton are also behind the Foley story getting out. But at a press conference today, Hastert stuck to generalities.
HASTERT: Our friends on the other side of the aisle really don't have a story to tell, and maybe they're resolving to -- another way to -- to another political tactic.
SNOW: Democrats fired back. [Democratic National] Committee chairman Howard Dean told CNN, "This is a Republican lie. They are blaming everyone but themselves for what happened." Liberal political activist and billionaire George Soros told us, "The charge that I had something to do with the Foley scandal is laughable. Dennis Hastert cannot divert attention from his responsibility by trying to drag my name into the affair." But last year, Soros donated $100,000 to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group that turned over a Mark Foley email exchange with a page to the FBI this past July. The advocacy group says it's independent.
SLOAN [video clip]: George Soros has no control over what we do on a day-to-day basis. I don't think George Soros even knew that we were involved in this matter until yesterday or the day before, when it started making big news.
SNOW: As for blaming Democrats, some observers say Hastert's strategy could backfire without substantial proof.
DAVID GERGEN (former presidential adviser) [video clip]: Absent hard evidence, the Republicans look like they're flailing around, and they're only going to make it worse. They're going to make it -- they're going to be seen as being even clumsier in responding to this.
SNOW: Now, in the Chicago Tribune, Hastert specifically mentions Dick Morris as one of Bill Clinton's advisers, who claims Democrats knew about the Foley allegations beforehand. Now, many point out that Morris has been highly critical of the Clintons. And in addition, Bill Clinton's spokesman had no response to Hastert's comments. Wolf?
BLITZER: That's to put it mildly -- "highly critical." They don't like this guy at all. Thanks very much for that. Mary Snow reporting.
From the 3 p.m. ET hour of the October 5 edition of CNN Newsroom:
JOHNS: For Republicans -- especially conservatives, who like campaigns to be run on higher ground -- this kind of scandal is especially hard.
MIRANDA [video clip]: There's no doubt that Republicans are associated with moral values and legislation that reflects moral values. So it's perfectly understandable that supporters of Republicans would hold them to a high standard.
JOHNS: But the counterattack that they continue to search for is something that shows Democrats planned all this as an October surprise.
MIRANDA [video clip]: Sure, you know, there's another side to this, of course, which is that this seems to be a fairly well-orchestrated war room tactic -- to go after a congressman like this, just short of an election. And if Democrats were holding back information of this sort, they could also be held liable under criminal law for endangering the welfare of minors.