U.S. News & World Report senior writer Michael Barone claimed that the St. Petersburg Times concluded that emails then-Rep. Mark Foley allegedly sent to a former page in 2005 "were so innocuous as to be unworthy of publication." Contrary to Barone's claim, the Times stated that it assigned two reporters to the story and decided not to publish the emails not because they were "innocuous" but because the family of the former page did not want the matter explored further.
In his column for the October 16 edition of U.S. News & World Report, senior writer Michael Barone claimed that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) "was right just to warn" then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) about his alleged communications with underage former congressional pages because The Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times "independently concluded" that the emails Foley allegedly sent to a former page in 2005 "were so innocuous as to be unworthy of publication." The Herald and the Times acknowledged receiving copies of the emails before the scandal broke on September 29, but in "A Note From the Editors," the Times -- contrary to Barone's claim -- stated that it assigned two reporters to the story but decided not to publish the emails because the family of the former page did not want the matter explored further. Specifically, the St. Petersburg Times, in an article about the scandal, quoted managing editor Stephen Buckley explaining the paper's decision:
"We didn't publish because the Louisiana teenager's parents did not want to pursue the issue, and because, despite our best efforts, we weren't able to track down any pages who had received inappropriate e-mails from the congressman. We didn't know about any sexually explicit exchanges between Rep. Foley and any former pages until the instant messages became public on Friday."
As Media Matters for America noted, the Herald's executive editor and an October 3 Herald editorial described the emails as "innocuous" in explaining why they did not publish them, but neither mentioned an email in which Foley allegedly referred to another page as being "in really great shape."
From Barone's column in the October 16 edition of U.S. News & World Report:
It is time to take seriously the possibility that the Democrats will assume control of the House of Representatives in the elections next month. The breaking of the Mark Foley scandal on the last day of the congressional session -- Who held on to the incriminating instant messages until this strategic delivery date? -- put the Republican leadership on the defensive and changed the political landscape. Speaker Dennis Hastert was right just to warn Foley off communicating with former pages when informed in 2005 of the "over friendly" E-mails that the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald independently concluded were so innocuous as to be unworthy of publication.