Media cite GOP excuses for Foley scandal that, if true, would change nothing


The media have helped advance a number of excuses and explanations offered up by conservatives and the GOP for Republican House leaders' handling of information about alleged misconduct by then-Rep. Mark Foley that, even if true, would have no bearing on the underlying issues raised by the scandal.

As Media Matters for America has documented, the media have helped advance a number of excuses and explanations offered up by conservatives and the GOP for the handling by Republican House leaders of information regarding alleged misconduct toward underage former pages by then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). These excuses generally have little or no factual support, and, indeed, in some cases have been shown to be false. Yet, major media outlets have repeated them as though they have credibility. More significantly, the media repeat them as though, even if true, they would have any bearing on the underlying issues raised by the scandal. In fact, whether a 16-year-old goaded Foley into engaging in a sexually explicit instant-message exchange; whether liberals and the media had the information before the scandal broke and sat on it until a month before the midterm elections; and whether the House leadership forced Foley to resign upon learning of the sexually explicit instant messages have no bearing on whether the House leadership covered up Foley's alleged conduct rather than fully investigating and ensuring it would not continue.

The pages did it

A number of conservative media figures have claimed that the former pages with whom Foley was allegedly in contact somehow set up the congressman. On the October 2 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Internet gossip Matt Drudge claimed that the pages, whom he referred to as "beasts," were "egging the congressman on" during their alleged conversations, claiming that "[t]hese kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth." Drudge later elaborated on this charge, claiming that a series of salacious online conversations allegedly between Foley and a former page "were part of an online prank that by mistake got into the hands of enemy political operatives." Similarly, Michael Savage, on the October 3 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, accused a former page of "gay-baiting" and claimed that "the kid was leading him on." Savage called the page a "sleazeball" and further stated: "He went to Washington to get ahead. So he's a greedy, aggressive child" who "knew how to play a congressman who was gay."

Even if Drudge and Savage's unsupported -- and rebutted -- claims are correct, the actions of the underage former pages would have no bearing on whether House leaders covered up the Foley matter, putting their own political interest over their responsibility to protect minors in their charge.

Democrats, liberal groups were responsible for release of the emails

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other Republicans have repeatedly accused Democrats and others of complicity in the Foley scandal, and these charges have been uncritically repeated in the media numerous times despite the weight of evidence to the contrary. Additionally, as Media Matters noted, Savage, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin have also suggested that Democrats orchestrated the Foley scandal -- specifically, they accused Democrats of sitting on the alleged emails and instant messages, and then releasing them when they would inflict the most damage politically on Republicans. Limbaugh went a step further, hypothesizing that the Democrats may have coerced a page -- either with money or threats -- into "titillat[ing]" Foley.

ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross has debunked this claim, noting that his sources for the story, to the extent that they had partisan affiliations, were Republicans. None of the conservatives making this allegation has offered any indication as to when the Democrats supposedly obtained the emails, and indeed after making the allegation, Hastert acknowledged he had no evidence. The only specific allegations have been levied against Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization that says it received copies of the emails in July and immediately sent them to the FBI. Hannity and U.S. News & World Report senior writer Michael Barone suggested that CREW withheld the emails from the House leadership and timed their release "for maximum political advantage." In fact, as Media Matters noted, CREW sent the emails to the FBI on July 21, and the House GOP leadership knew of the emails by winter 2005 at the very latest -- long before CREW obtained them -- but failed to notify the Democrats on the congressional Page Board. Therefore, if one were to assume -- against all the evidence to the contrary -- that Hastert, Savage, Limbaugh, Hannity, Barone, and Malkin are correct, and Democrats or CREW had advance knowledge of the Foley emails but sat on them until they could be used for maximum political benefit, that would not change the fact that the House leadership, with responsibility over the pages and in the best position to investigate further, knew of emails at least as early as late 2005 and did not share them with the full Page Board, nor did it undertake a full investigation of the matter.

GOP leadership saw only the emails

A number of media outlets have uncritically repeated claims by House GOP leaders that they saw only the alleged email exchange Foley had with a former page in 2005, not the reportedly more salacious instant messages that were later revealed, and that they determined the emails were merely "over friendly." But even if true, according to the Los Angeles Times, experts on sexual misconduct say the emails alone -- even without the more explicit instant messages -- "were classic examples of the tactics predatory adults use to approach young people and called for close and immediate examination." Dr. Paul Appelbaum, the director of the Psychiatry, Law and Ethics division in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, was quoted in the Times article as saying that the emails "do in fact raise a red flag." Moreover as Media Matters has noted, numerous conservatives and Republicans have said that the emails alone should have triggered immediate, forthright action by the House leadership.

House leaders secured Foley's resignation

On the October 3 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert claimed that "we took care of Mr. Foley. We found out about it, asked him to resign. He did resign. He's gone. We asked for an investigation. We've done that." As Media Matters noted, that statement contradicted Hastert's statement from a press conference the day before, during which he claimed that "we really didn't have a chance to ask him to resign." Nevertheless, Hastert's claim that the GOP forced Foley out was repeated uncritically in the media. But assuming that his claim is true, the fact remains that Foley resigned only after ABC News obtained the sexually explicit instant messages and informed Foley that it was going to make them public. Even after the House leadership learned of the alleged emails, the House leadership allowed Foley to stay in Congress and remain as co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Moreover, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee reportedly persuaded Foley to seek re-election.

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