A Washington Post article uncritically quoted former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie assailing Democratic leaders' handling of the 1983 sex scandal surrounding then-Rep. Gerry Studds, which Gillespie contrasted with the Republican leadership's handling of Foley.
In an October 11 article, Washington Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza reported that Republican leaders, in an effort to contain the damage from the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), seek to highlight the Democrats' handling of a similar controversy more than 20 years ago. That scandal involved former Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA) who, as the Post reported, "was censured by the House in 1983 after admitting to sexual contact with a male page a decade earlier." The article quoted former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie assailing Democratic leaders for allowing Studds to remain in office, in "contrast" with the Republican leadership's handling of Foley. But VandeHei and Cillizza -- who quoted no Democrats in the article -- omitted two key facts undermining Gillespie's assertion: first, Congress also censured then-Rep. Daniel Crane (R-IL) in 1983 for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page, and he was not forced to resign either; second, contrary to Gillespie's suggestion that the House Republican leadership acted forcefully when it learned of Foley's alleged misconduct, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) himself has said that he and the House leadership played no role in Foley's resignation.
Moreover, the House leadership had evidence of Foley's alleged misconduct months and possibly even years before ABC News broke the story of an alleged email exchange between Foley and an underage former page. Yet, House leaders allowed him to remain on the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, encouraged him to seek re-election, and accepted $100,000 in contributions from Foley to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
The Post article focused on how "sustained violence in Iraq and the page scandal" have negatively affected Republican prospects in the upcoming midterm elections. Early in the piece, VandeHei and Cillizza noted that Republican leaders hope to "mitigate the Foley controversy by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize it." Later, they explained how "the Republican National Committee is seeking to convince conservatives that the debate is fundamentally centered on politics, not values." From the article:
The GOP's emerging strategy on the Foley scandal is to try to limit losses among conservative voters who are expressing alarm about the scandal and about the apparent failure of GOP leaders to act on early warnings about Foley's behavior.
As part of that strategy, the Republican National Committee is seeking to convince conservatives that the debate is fundamentally centered on politics, not values. The RNC is shipping reams of information to conservative radio hosts, television commentators and bloggers. Those GOP talking points detail the Democratic connections of groups including the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and American Family Voices, which are working to turn the scandal into an issue with national implications.
The NRCC is highlighting Democratic leaders who supported former representative Gerry E. Studds (Mass.), who was censured by the House in 1983 after admitting to sexual contact with a male page a decade earlier; Studds went on to serve in Congress until 1997. "It is important to contrast how Republican leadership is handling the situation with problems with one of its own, and how Democrats did," said former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a close White House ally.
Still, the "Foley factor" has made GOP strategists nervous. Several officials said it has dramatically undermined the reelection prospects of several incumbents, including Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), who was criticized by Democrats for not doing enough to stop Foley's advances on young male pages after learning about them this spring.
While VandeHei and Cillizza went on to highlight a Democratic ad targeting Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-NY) for his involvement in the scandal, they quoted no Democrats responding to Gillespie's highly misleading attack.
The premise of Reynolds's argument is that Democrats allowed Studds to stay in office for more than a decade after his conduct was revealed in 1983. But this criticism entirely ignores the fact that Crane -- a Republican lawmaker -- was also found to have engaged in a sexual relationship with an underage page that year and he, too, remained in office after being censured by Congress. Crane went on to run for re-election in 1984 and lost to Democratic challenger Terry Bruce*.
Moreover, there is ample evidence contradicting Reynolds's suggestion that the Republican leadership has handled the Foley "situation" adequately. As Media Matters for America has noted, Hastert first stated that he and other Republican leaders were not involved in Foley's resignation (although he later took credit for it). When asked in an October 2 press conference "whether the leadership asked Foley to resign," Hastert responded, "I think Foley resigned almost immediately upon the outbreak of this information, and so we really didn't have a chance to ask him to resign." Further, Hastert has affirmed that his staff learned of Foley's alleged behavior toward former pages in late 2005 and has not disputed a statement by Reynolds that he brought the issue to his attention in the spring of 2006. Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, has also stated that he alerted Hastert's office of the problem in 2003 -- a claim corroborated by a second congressional staffer.
Although they apparently possessed evidence of Foley's alleged misconduct as early as 2003, Republican leaders nonetheless allowed Foley to remain a member of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus and was instrumental in the passage of legislation that included provisions related to the use of the Internet by child sexual predators. Additionally, several reports have noted that Reynolds, chairman of the NRCC, accepted a $100,000 contribution from Foley's PAC in the summer of 2006 and reportedly even encouraged Foley to run for re-election.
Correction: This item originally stated that Crane lost his 1984 re-election bid in the Republican primary. In fact, Crane won the GOP primary that year and lost to Democratic challenger Terry Bruce in the general election. Media Matters for America regrets the error.