Media suggested conservative Christians are particularly outraged by Foley scandal

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In their coverage of the Foley scandal's political effects, numerous media figures have suggested that conservative Christians are most likely to react negatively to the Foley scandal. In doing so, they presume that so-called "values voters" are more concerned than others with protecting children.

In the week following reports that former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) had allegedly sent sexually explicit messages to former congressional pages, numerous media figures have suggested that conservative Christians are most likely to react negatively to the scandal. Embedded in those claims is the assumption that so-called "values voters" are more concerned than others with protecting children and condemn more harshly than others allegations of a cover-up of alleged predatory behavior toward children.

In his October 7 column, headlined " 'Family Values' for All of Us," Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne took issue with this assumption. Noting that "the widespread reaction to the Foley episode was that it would hurt the Republicans with their 'base' of Christian and moral conservatives," Dionne wrote:

[T]he implication here is that those of us who are not conservatives might somehow be less affected by what Foley did. Excuse me, but I am a married father of three, and that's more important to me than the fact that I am a liberal. Our kids matter infinitely more to my wife and me than the results of an election, even an election we both care a lot about.

[...]

"Family values" is more than a political slogan to be pulled off the shelf at election time. Republicans and conservatives do not have a monopoly on the commitments behind the phrase.

On the October 8 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, NBC News chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell responded similarly when asked by host Chris Matthews whether the Foley scandal would cause a rupture between "traditional values" conservatives and "regular Republicans." "No," O'Donnell said in response, "because I think this is an issue about bad behavior." She went on to state that "this issue is, in effect, about an abusive man" and about the House leadership's alleged failure to take "action against someone who was potentially abusing children."

Further, in an article in the October 8 issue of Newsweek, assistant managing editor Evan Thomas quoted veteran Republican pollster Matt Dowd dismissing the idea that the scandal would have a disproportionate effect on "family values" voters. From the article:

It's not just the voters who care about "family values" who might be driven away, said Matt Dowd, Bush's longtime pollster. The brouhaha on the Hill threatens what Dowd calls "the gut values" relationship between voters and politicians they trust. "Values always determine elections," says Dowd. "Deep gut values, like 'Do I trust someone?' "

The above statements followed more than a week of widespread coverage of the Foley scandal, during which the idea rebutted by Dionne, O'Donnell, and Dowd -- that conservative Christians would naturally have a particularly negative response to the story -- was repeatedly advanced by media figures:

  • Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman stated that the "Foley story is aimed right at" those "evangelical Bible-believing Christians" who have strongly supported Republicans in the past. (MSNBC's Countdown, 10/3/06)
  • MSNBC anchor Amy Robach reported that "the big concern among the GOP right now is that this latest scandal, the Mark Foley scandal, might cause those conservative Christians, that moral-voter voting bloc, to not head out to the polls." (MSNBC's Countdown, 10/3/06)
  • CNN host Paula Zahn said that, as a result of the Foley scandal, "Republicans are getting hit where it really hurts, among values voters." (CNN's Paula Zahn Now, 10/3/06)
  • NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams stated, "[O]ne of the big questions for Republicans with just 34 days until the election is whether the Foley scandal specifically will keep social conservatives from showing up at the polls." (NBC's Nightly News, 10/4/06)
  • CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash noted that "Republicans are really counting on every vote they can get" and added that their current concern is "that these conservatives already were mad. Fiscal conservatives because they feel spending has gone way up. Now it's the social conservatives who these House members have been trying to appeal to, but not anymore" -- as if fiscal conservatives would not also be outraged by alleged efforts to cover up predatory behavior toward children. (CNN's Paula Zahn Now, 10/6/06)
  • Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke stated, "[W]hat the Republicans rely on for their base is morality voters, values voters, married women with children, and evangelicals, and those people are dismayed by this whole thing." (Fox News' Special Report, 10/6/06)
  • CNN national correspondent Keith Oppenheim reported, "One voter I spoke with said that he believes other voters will be much more influenced by other issues, like the war in Iraq, than by the Foley scandal. It's a fair point. But still, the question, in close races: Will social conservatives be so turned off that they will turn away at the polls at the risk of losing some Republican control in Congress?" (CNN Saturday Morning News, 10/7/06)
  • CNN national correspondent Sumi Das reported that "at stake" in the GOP response to the Foley scandal is the support of "voters key to the Republican base, social and religious conservatives." (CNN Sunday Morning, 10/8/06)
  • CNN anchor Carol Lin reported that the "scandal is infuriating religious conservatives. But will they express that anger with their vote 30 days from now?" (CNN Newsroom, 10/8/06)

From the October 8 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: We know there is a rupture here between the traditional conservatives and the establishment types who have been apparently covering this thing up. Is this divorce for real? Is there really going to be a breakup now permanently? You write about this, Andrew. Is there going to be a breakup now between the traditional values people who say, "I'm against gay marriage. I'm against gay teachers having my kids in the classroom. That's why I believe in home schooling and all that stuff. I'm so against this secularism." Will that break that away -- that crowd away from the regular Republicans? Norah, you want to go first?

O'DONNELL: No, because I think this is an issue about bad behavior. I mean, and this is a -- what Democrats will argue is that this is an issue about competence and power and did the leadership cover up -- or were there aides who covered up for their leaders -- in not taking action against someone who was potentially abusing children. And that's a larger issue.

MATTHEWS: You mean, they don't share -- they don't share the values of the liberals.

O'DONNELL: I think if the Republicans lose both houses of Congress, then inevitably that will cause the Republican Party to have some soul-searching that goes on. But this issue, in effect, is about an abusive man.

From the October 3 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

AMY ROBACH (guest host): Howard, obviously the big concern among the GOP right now is that this latest scandal, the Mark Foley scandal, might cause those conservative Christians, that moral-voter voting bloc, to not head out to the polls. And then you've got the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] reports and the [Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob] Woodward book that might actually convince moderates and independents to vote in this election. Any sense of who may decide who takes control of Congress?

FINEMAN: Well, I think the moderates and independents are arguably less important than those evangelical Bible-believing Christians. The Republican Party has been built, especially in recent years, on very heavy turnout by those folks. They also man the machinery of the Republican Party. They do the phone calls, they lick the envelopes, they are the foot soldiers.

If they don't show up, both as volunteers and as voters, the Republicans are going to lose this time around. And the Foley story is aimed right at those people and depressing that turnout.

From the October 3 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

ZAHN: It is being called the political perfect storm: the Foley scandal, Bob Woodward's new book on the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq on top of a year's worth of other scandals. It all may add up to a Republican disaster on Election Day, just five weeks away. That is tonight's top story in politics right now. Republicans are getting hit where it really hurts, among values voters and voters who think Republicans are tougher on national security.

From the October 4 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

WILLIAMS: And beyond politics, one of the big questions for Republicans with just 34 days until the election is whether the Foley scandal specifically will keep social conservatives from showing up at the polls. Many were already disillusioned with the way things have been going, and it may again come down to turnout this November.

From the October 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

KONDRACKE: Now, what are they going to change the subject to? They don't -- you know, they're not going to want to talk about Iraq. I guess they want to go back to terrorism. I don't think that arguing over [former Rep.] Gerry Studds [D-MA] or [Rep.] Barney Frank [D-MA] is going to really change the subject, it's just going to rivet attention back on this. Because look, what the Republicans rely on for their base is morality voters, values voters, married women with children, and evangelicals, and those people are dismayed by this whole thing.

From the October 6 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

BASH: Talk to Republicans, they say, look, if a certain number of conservatives decide, you know, we're just not going to go vote, we're so angry, in some of these really tight races, where Republicans are really counting on every vote they can get, that could really tip the balance of control of Congress.

And that is their big concern right now, that these conservatives already were mad. Fiscal conservatives because they feel like the spending has gone way up. Now it's the social conservatives who these House members have been trying to appeal to, but not anymore.

From the 8 a.m. ET hour of the October 7 edition of CNN Saturday Morning News:

OPPENHEIM: One voter I spoke with said that he believes other voters will be much more influenced by other issues, like the war in Iraq, than by the Foley scandal. It's a fair point. But still, the question, in close races: Will social conservatives be so turned off that they will turn away at the polls at the risk of losing some Republican control in Congress?

From the 7 a.m. ET hour of the October 8 edition of CNN Sunday Morning:

DAS: Hastert has dismissed calls for his resignation. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal agrees, saying it would be a disservice to send voters to the polls amid tumult over Mark Foley, citing more pressing issues like national security. With midterm elections nearing, time is of the essence. At stake, voters key to the Republican base, social and religious conservatives.

From the October 8 edition of CNN Newsroom:

LIN: And an unnamed U.S. soldier in Iraq talked to the FBI about Foley. Turns out he served as a page on Capitol Hill. The scandal is infuriating religious conservatives. But will they express that anger with their vote 30 days from now?

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