Media failed to note Hastert's evolving explanations in Foley scandal

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Numerous print media outlets reported Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert's most recent explanation of when he learned that former Rep. Mark Foley had engaged in inappropriate email correspondences with former congressional pages. But these outlets ignored the shifts in Hastert's account since the story broke, as well as House Majority Leader John Boehner's conflicting statements regarding whether he discussed the problem with Hastert.

In their October 2 coverage of the emerging scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), numerous print media outlets reported Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) most recent explanation of when he learned that Foley had engaged in inappropriate email correspondences with former congressional pages. But these outlets ignored the shifts in Hastert's account since the story broke: While he originally claimed to have learned only last week of the concerns regarding Foley, Hastert later conceded that Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY) had brought the issue to his attention in the spring of 2006 and that his aides had learned of it in late 2005. Further, several outlets entirely ignored House Majority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) conflicting statements regarding whether he discussed the problem with Hastert.

On September 29, Foley resigned from Congress after ABC News reported that he had engaged in sexually inappropriate email and instant message conversations with underage male pages. Following this news, the House Republican leadership offered an evolving series of accounts of what Hastert knew and when he knew it, as Media Matters documents below:

  • On September 29, following the news of Foley's resignation, aides to Hastert told the Chicago Tribune that the speaker "was not aware until last week of [Foley's] inappropriate behavior."
  • That same evening, Washington Post staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington reported that Boehner said he had "learned this spring of some 'contact' between Foley and a 16-year-old page," and had told Hastert, who "assured him 'we're taking care of it.' "
  • Meanwhile, an article posted that evening on the Roll Call website reported that "Boehner strongly denied media reports late Friday night that he had informed Hastert of the allegations, saying 'That is not true.' "
  • According to the September 30 print version of the Post article, Boehner called Weisman and Babington back after the original version of the article appeared on the Post's website and claimed "he could not remember" whether he had, in fact, discussed the matter with Hastert. A September 30 Roll Call article further reported that "Boehner now denies telling the Post of such a conversation between Hastert and himself, and his aides said on Saturday that he 'cannot recall' informing anyone other than [Paula] Nowakowski, his top aide, of the matter."
  • On September 30, Reynolds disclosed that he -- like Boehner -- had learned of the Foley emails "months ago" from Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), who had sponsored the 16-year-old page in question. Reynolds said that he then "told the speaker of the conversation Mr. Alexander had with me."
  • After Reynolds's account surfaced, Hastert issued a statement asserting that Alexander had notified his aides of the Foley emails in late 2005. Hastert further conceded that Reynolds had informed him of the issue in the spring of 2006, though he claimed not to remember the discussion. The statement read: "While the Speaker does not explicitly recall this conversation, he has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold's [sic] recollection that he reported to him on the problem."

In their October 1 coverage, several news outlets reported that Hastert had changed his story following Reynolds's statement. The Post reported that Reynolds's account "contradict[ed] the speaker's assertions that he learned of concerns about Foley only last week." Meanwhile, the Associated Press noted that Hastert "earlier said he'd learned about the e-mails only last week."

The October 1 New York Times article, however, noted Hastert's statement that he had "no reason to dispute" Reynolds's account, but made no mention of his earlier claim that he had only learned of the Foley emails the prior week. Further, the Times reported that Boehner had been notified of the concerns surrounding Foley last spring, but entirely ignored his various reported claims on September 29 that he had informed Hastert of the issue in the spring of 2006, that he had done no such thing, and that he could not remember if he had or had not.

The Post's October 2 article on the emerging scandal again noted Hastert's conflicting accounts:

As the scandal broke, Hastert contended he learned of concerns about Foley only last week. But after Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said Saturday that he had notified Hastert months ago of Foley's e-mails to a 16-year-old boy, the speaker did not dispute his colleague, and Hastert's office acknowledged that some aides knew last year that Foley had been ordered to cease contact with the youth.

But in their October 2 coverage, other print media simply reported Hastert's most recent explanation while ignoring his earlier contradictory account. Times reporters Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny noted that "Reynolds said he had also told Mr. Hastert, though Mr. Hastert said he did not remember the conversation." The article by AP staff writer Lara Jakes Jordan reported Reynolds's statement that he "told Hastert months ago about the allegations involving a 16-year-old boy from Louisiana." And Los Angeles Times staff writers Noam N. Levey and Chuck Neubauer wrote that Reynolds "said that he discussed it with Hastert, though the House speaker has said he has no recollection of the conversation but has no reason to doubt Reynolds."

Further, none of the above outlets reported Boehner's varying claims regarding whether he had discussed the issue with Hastert after learning about it in early 2006. The AP article additionally failed to note that Boehner had been notified of the Foley emails last spring.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times
Stories/Interests
Mark Foley Scandal
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