Media reported Hastert took "responsibility," ignored his later denial that he had "done anything wrong"

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Following House Speaker Dennis Hastert's press conference, numerous media outlets trumpeted the news that Hastert took "responsibility" for the Mark Foley scandal but ignored his later statement, during that same press conference, that "I haven't done anything wrong."

Reporting on House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) October 5 press conference, numerous media outlets trumpeted the news that Hastert took "responsibility" for the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). During the press conference, Hastert said, "The bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here." But in simply asserting that Hastert accepted responsibility for the House leadership's handling of the Foley matter when the leadership was first told of the alleged emails with underage former congressional pages, these outlets ignored Hastert's subsequent statement, during that same press conference, that "I haven't done anything wrong, obviously."

At the October 5 press conference in Batavia, Illinois, Hastert expressed regret that the scandal had occurred and stated generally, "[W]e're taking responsibility." From his remarks:

HASTERT: I'm sorry -- you know, when you talk about the page issue and what's happened in the Congress, I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

During the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, however, Hastert went on to assert that he did nothing wrong:

HASTERT: [U]ltimately, any time that a person has to, as a leader, be on the hot seat and he is a detriment to the party, you know, there ought to be a change. I became speaker in a situation like that. I don't think that's the case. I said I haven't done anything wrong, obviously. And we need to come back.

But in their subsequent coverage of Hastert's press conference, numerous media outlets focused only on Hastert's initial statement of responsibility, while omitting any mention of his assertion that he "hasn't done anything wrong."

For instance, on the October 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, congressional correspondent Dana Bash reported that Hastert took "full responsibility for the Foley scandal" and aired the clip of him stating, "[W]e're taking responsibility" and "the buck stops here":

BASH: Well Wolf, it's a time-tested political tactic. When you're in trouble, you do something dramatic, try to change the storyline. Well, today, Dennis Hastert called a news conference and said he's not resigning, but he is taking full responsibility for the Foley scandal.

HASTERT [video clip]: I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

BASH: But the House speaker did not get all of the bang for the buck here he had hoped for. He had planned to announce former FBI director Louis Freeh would head a security review of the page program but didn't, a GOP aide says, because Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi [CA] told him what she thought he was asking for wasn't necessary.

In the segment that followed, CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch reinforced the perception that Hastert unequivocally assumed responsibility for the handling of the Foley matter:

KOCH: [White House] Spokesperson Dana Perino says the call came within the last hour, that President Bush placed the call to Speaker Hastert, that the two men spoke for a couple of minutes, and that, first of all, that the president expressed his support for Speaker Hastert. Perino says he thanked him for coming out and making a, quote, "clear public statement" today, in which he and the House leadership took responsibility and said that they are accountable to the American people.

On the October 5 edition of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson introduced a report by ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper by noting that Hastert "did take responsibility for the congressional page scandal, saying the buck stops with him." Tapper then reported that Hastert had "mixed defiance ... with remorse," but aired only the clip of him saying he was "deeply sorry" -- omitting Hastert's later assertion that he did nothing wrong:

GIBSON: But in the news today, the speaker of the House did take responsibility for the congressional page scandal, saying the buck stops with him. Despite that, Dennis Hastert said he's not going to resign and reiterated that, no matter what others may be saying, he was not aware years ago of Congressman Mark Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages. The speaker's remarks were an effort at damage control. This issue of "What did he know and when did he know it" has been pitting one Republican leader against another for days now. So, we turn to our senior national correspondent, Jake Tapper.

TAPPER:In Batavia, Illinois, this afternoon, the embattled speaker mixed defiance -- insisting he will not step down -- with remorse.

HASTERT [video clip]: I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably, yes.

TAPPER: Hastert said he could not say whether anyone on his staff had heard earlier warnings about Congressman Foley's inappropriate behavior.

Following Tapper's report, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos stated that Hastert had been "pretty effective" and that he had laid "the groundwork for a political defense" by "apologizing, accepting responsibility":

GIBSON: And we're gonna bring in now our chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos. George, I used the phrase that the speaker was working at damage control. So, there's been a lot of damage this week. Did he control it?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he was pretty effective today, Charlie, and I guess President Bush must have thought so, too, because he called him for the first time. By apologizing, accepting responsibility, getting statements of support from his fellow leaders and promising to fix the problem, he lays the groundwork for a political defense, and that ethics committee investigation gives all other Republicans a reason to say Hastert can stay for now, they can wait until the investigation is done.

Similarly, on the October 6 edition of CBS' The Early Show, co-host Hannah Storm informed viewers that Hastert had apologized for the scandal, while Gloria Borger, CBS News national political correspondent and U.S. News and World Report contributing editor, reported that, following "a week of finger-pointing," Hastert "finally pointed a finger at himself":

STORM: Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is apologizing for the handling of the congressional page scandal, but both Congress and the Justice Department are investigating the matter. CBS News political correspondent Gloria Borger is live in Washington with more. Good morning, Gloria.

BORGER: Good morning, Hannah. After a week of finger-pointing among House Republicans, Speaker Dennis Hastert Thursday finally pointed another finger at himself.

HASTERT [video clip]: I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

BORGER: Privately, Republicans say that Hastert's mea culpa was the very least he could do, but they're far from sure it will be enough.

National Public Radio's coverage of the press conference similarly reported Hastert as having unequivocally accepted blame for the Foley scandal. For instance, on the October 5 edition of All Things Considered, co-host Michele Norris stated that Hastert "said today he takes responsibility." In the report that followed, NPR Capitol Hill correspondent Brian Naylor failed to note Hastert's denial that he did anything wrong:

NORRIS: House Speaker Dennis Hastert said today that he takes responsibility for the scandal involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley and teenage male pages. But he says that he has no intention of giving up his leadership post. Hastert spoke from outside his district office in Illinois. Minutes before, leaders at the House ethics committee in Washington said that they are prepared to subpoena members of Congress and staffers. NPR's Brain Naylor reports.

NAYLOR: Hastert has been under fire from critics, many of them fellow Republicans, who say he and his office mishandled the Foley scandal. As he stood before microphones outside his Batavia, Illinois, office, Hastert's first words were apologetic.

HASTERT [audio clip]: I'm sorry -- you know, when you talk about the page issue and what's happened in the Congress, I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

NAYLOR: Hastert has been criticized for not acting more decisively when the first reports came to his office that Foley had sent emails that troubled a former page from Louisiana and his parents in August 2005. But Hastert reiterated what he said in numerous interviews -- that he has no intention of stepping down.

Further, on the October 5 edition of Day to Day, host Madeleine Brand and NPR reporter David Schaper, in their discussion of Hastert's press conference, similarly framed Hastert's remarks. Schaper described the speaker as "very contrite and ... sorrowful":

BRAND: Hastert today says he's keeping his job and now says he takes full responsibility for the scandal.

HASTERT [audio clip]: I'm sorry -- you know, when you talk about the page issue and what's happened in the Congress, I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

BRAND: NPR's David Schaper was at Hastert's press conference in Illinois, and he joins us now. And David, it seems like this is quite a change in rhetoric from his blaming the Democrats and the news media earlier. What else did Hastert say today?

SCHAPER: Well, he certainly did tone it down. And his tone was very contrite and very -- much more sorrowful than it has been in the past. He did say, as you just heard, that he takes responsibility for this and what that means is that there's gonna be some changes in Congress in terms of the page program, that they are going to be doing everything they possibly can to protect the safety of the children who serve in that program.

Additionally, in an October 6 Los Angeles Times article, staff writers Janet Hook and Richard Simon reported that, while Hastert had "accept[ed] responsibility" and "offered a note of contrition," Republicans continued to suggest "that Democrats were behind the timing of the scandal's emergence." But Hook and Simon ignored Hastert's denial of wrongdoing:

Hastert, at a news conference in his home district, rejected calls that he resign as speaker in the face of criticism that his office reacted too slowly to the problem. He also tried to quell the controversy with a pointed statement accepting responsibility for the handling of the matter, capped by revelations that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had sent sexually explicit instant messages to teens who had served as House pages.

"I am deeply sorry that this has happened," Hastert said. "Ultimately, as someone said in Washington before, the buck stops here."

Foley resigned Friday after ABC News asked him about two sets of explicit messages.

Even as Hastert offered a note of contrition and the political parties joined in the ethics investigation, partisan sparks continued to crackle.

Republicans implied that Democrats were behind the timing of the scandal's emergence and accused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) of blocking a plan by Hastert to appoint former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to review the page program.

By contrast, an October 6 Washington Post article by staff writer Charles Babington juxtaposed Hastert's seemingly contradictory statements:

Hastert, addressing reporters in Batavia, Ill., reasserted that he knew nothing of complaints about Foley's behavior until the day the Floridian resigned last week. The speaker rejected calls for his resignation by a handful of conservative groups, saying: "I haven't done anything wrong, obviously. And we need to come back." At the same time, he said, "We're taking responsibility, because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here."

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