Media outlets that uncritically reported House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) recent claims -- that Democratic operatives knew "all along" of Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) alleged behavior toward underage congressional pages and have orchestrated the ongoing scandal -- ignored media reports that the source for Foley's emails was a Republican.
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On October 5, numerous media outlets -- including CNN, NBC, and the Associated Press -- uncritically reported House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) recent claims that Democratic operatives knew "all along" of Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) alleged behavior toward underage congressional pages and have orchestrated the ongoing scandal. But these outlets ignored a new report in The Hill that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media. And they overlooked a recent 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.
During an October 3 appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert 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. In an October 4 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Hastert continued to push the theory that Democrats "knew about this all along." From the October 5 Tribune article:
In an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday night, Hastert said he had no thoughts of resigning and he blamed ABC News and Democratic operatives for the mushrooming scandal that threatens his tenure as speaker and Republicans' hold on power in the House.
When asked about a groundswell of discontent among the GOP's conservative base over his handling of the issue, Hastert said in the phone interview: "I think the base has to realize after a while, who knew about it? Who knew what, when? When the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by [liberal activist] George Soros."
He went on to suggest that operatives aligned with former President Bill Clinton knew about the allegations and were perhaps behind the disclosures in the closing weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections, but he offered no hard proof.
"All I know is what I hear and what I see," the speaker said. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser, Richard Morris, was saying these guys knew about this all along. If somebody had this info, when they had it, we could have dealt with it then."
But Hastert's allegation that Democrats were behind the leak of the alleged Foley communications has been rebutted by Ross himself. An October 3 New York Times article quoted him responding to such theories by saying that disclosures from Republicans had led to the Foley scandal:
Mr. Ross dismissed suggestions by some Republicans that the news was disseminated as part of a smear campaign against Mr. Foley.
"I hate to give up sources, but to the extent that I know the political parties of any of the people who helped us, it would be the same party," Mr. Ross said, referring to Republicans.
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. From the article:
The source who in July gave news media Rep. Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) suspect e-mails to a former House page says the documents came to him from a House GOP aide.
That aide has been a registered Republican since becoming eligible to vote, said the source, who showed The Hill public records supporting his claim.
The same source, who acted as an intermediary between the aide-turned-whistleblower and several news outlets, says the person who shared the documents is no longer employed in the House.
But the whistleblower was a paid GOP staffer when the documents were first given to the media.
Nonetheless, on CNN's American Morning, congressional correspondent Joe Johns -- after asserting without elaboration that Republicans, "especially conservatives," normally "like campaigns to be run on higher ground" -- aired a clip of conservative activist Manuel Miranda echoing Hastert's claim. Miranda 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." From the October 5 edition of American Morning:
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.
During the same broadcast, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash uncritically reported that Hastert had claimed "that his opponents, funded by George Soros, even aligned with Bill Clinton, held on to this to make a bigger splash right before the election," as Media Matters noted.
On NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer also repeated Hastert's comments to the Tribune -- describing the theory as "the Republicans' version of the 'vast right-wing conspiracy' " -- but made no mention of Ross's recent statement or the new Hill report. Neither did his guest, NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, who said, "[M]ight a Democratic congressman or more Republican congressmen be caught up in this investigation? Sure." From the October 5 edition of Today:
LAUER: The speaker gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune last night. Here's what he had to say about this unfolding scandal and how the base might react to his handling of it. He said, quote, "When the base finds out who is feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives -- people funded by George Soros." This is the Republicans' version of that "vast right-wing conspiracy." Is it going to work?
RUSSERT: It's pretty difficult, Matt, because it seems to have a whole set of facts that are so obvious to people in terms of the way this situation was handled. Now, might an investigation reveal as to who put out these emails? Or might a Democratic congressman or more Republican congressmen be caught up in an FBI investigation? Sure. We still have a month to go. But as for now, what is front and center to the American people is that inappropriate messages were sent to young boys and it appears the House leadership looked the other way.
Additionally, an October 5 article by AP staff writer Larry Margasak reported Hastert's claims without challenge:
Hastert told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday night that he has no thoughts of resigning. He blamed ABC News, which broke the Foley e-mail story, and Democratic operatives for the mushrooming scandal.