Kurtz ignored Silverstein, Wash. Post's own reporting, to put forth Silverstein's account as evidence of "partisan aspect" to Foley scandal

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

CNN host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz suggested that an account of the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley on Harper's magazine's website is evidence that "Democratic operatives" were "involved in spreading the story to the press" and may have had "partisan" reasons for doing so. But Kurtz ignored the evidence in the Harper's article leading to its author's conclusion with "absolute certainty" that "there was never a plan to undermine the G.O.P. or to destroy [House Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert personally," as well as ignoring a report by his own newspaper, The Washington Post.

During the October 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, CNN host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz suggested that "Democratic operatives" were "involved in spreading the story [of the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL)] to the press," and may have had "partisan" reasons for doing so. Introducing the show, Kurtz asked, "[W]ere Democratic operatives involved in spreading the story to the press?" Later, during a discussion with conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan and National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg, Kurtz noted that "Ken Silverstein of Harper's magazine reported this week that a Democratic Party operative offered him the early Foley emails last May," and asked, "So, is there a partisan, a more partisan aspect here than the press has lead us to believe?" But in suggesting that Silverstein's October 10 account on Harper's magazine's website is evidence of a "partisan aspect" to the Foley scandal, Kurtz ignored the evidence Silverstein cited in reaching the conclusion with "absolute certainty" that "there was never a plan to undermine the G.O.P. or to destroy [House Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert [R-IL] personally," as well as an October 11 report by his own newspaper, The Washington Post, which noted similar evidence.

While Silverstein did say that a "Democratic operative" offered him copies of emails that Foley allegedly sent to underage congressional pages, Kurtz neglected to mention that Silverstein asserted his "source was not working in concert with the national Democratic Party," or that Silverstein determined the source was motivated to provide the emails because he was "genuinely disgusted by Foley's behavior ... and concerned that Foley might still be seeking contact with pages." Silverstein added: "The source who brought me the story didn't see it as a grand piece of electioneering. He viewed it as a story about one individual, Mark Foley, and his inappropriate and disturbing behavior with teenagers." Responding to Republican charges that the release of the alleged emails was timed to influence the midterm elections, Silverstein noted that the emails had also been given to several Florida newspapers in 2005, and asked:

If this was all a plot to hurt the G.O.P.'s chances in the midterm elections, why did the original source for the story begin approaching media outlets a full year ago? If either of the Florida papers had gone to press with the story last year, or if Harper's had published this spring, as the source hoped, the Foley scandal would have died down long ago.

Moreover, according to Silverstein, "comments" the source "made and common sense strongly suggest they [the emails] were originally leaked by a Republican office;" Silverstein also reported that his source had not provided the alleged email exchanges to ABC News -- the first media outlet to report on the emails -- and stated: "The network obtained the emails from a person who is scrupulously non-partisan." As Media Matters for America has previously noted, ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross stated the sources for his initial Foley report -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans, and The Hill also reported that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media.

Further, The Washington Post, for which Kurtz writes as a media critic, reported on October 11 that "[t]he timing of the e-mails' release appears to be more of a coincidence," noting that "[i]t took more than a year for the e-mails to be published because one publication after another decided not to print them."

From the October 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Turning ugly. Are the media going too far in pumping up the Mark Foley sex scandal? Is there really an effort to out gay Republicans? And were Democratic operatives involved in spreading the story to the press?

[...]

KURTZ: Joining us now are two conservatives with very different views on the scandal and just about everything else: Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online, and Andrew Sullivan, who blogs at Time.com's The Daily Dish and is the author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, and [sic] How To Get It Back [HarperCollins, October 2006].

Andrew Sullivan, are journalists pushing the Foley scandal because they enjoy embarrassing Republicans, because it involves gay sex, or because it's just a juicy story?

SULLIVAN: All three, I would say. Wouldn't you? It is a good story. It's something people can easily understand, And I think it also reveals, obviously, massive hypocrisy among Republicans.

I mean, there was a fascinating moment this week at the State Department, where Condi Rice and Laura Bush swore in the new global AIDS coordinator, Mark Dybul, with his partner. And Condi Rice refers to his partner's mother as his mother-in-law. So we know that Condi Rice and Laura Bush have no problem with gay marriage.

In fact, most of the elite Republicans on the Hill have no problem with gay marriage, but they use homophobia to win votes at the base. And that is the underlying tectonic problem going on here: hypocrisy.

[...]

KURTZ: The way that this came out -- Ken Silverstein of Harper's magazine reported this week that a Democratic Party operative offered him the early Foley emails last May. This is the non-explicit "Can I have a picture of the 16-year-old" email, not the really raunchy stuff. Same source says Silverstein gave this to the St. Petersburg Times.

He decided not to run with it. So, is there a partisan, more partisan, aspect here than the press has led us to believe?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think that's a very important fact. I mean, I put it on my blog to make sure where this actually came from. However, I think the emails and IM thing is an interesting discrepancy, but what --

KURTZ: But it's true. The story is true. There's no question about that.

SULLIVAN: The story is true. In between, however, for people on the Hill -- not outside journalists or operatives or people in other states -- apparently this behavior was going on in full daylight on the floor of the House, that had become notorious among the pages and among the congressmen, and the leadership didn't know anything or didn't want to know anything.

KURTZ: And Jonah Goldberg, you could hardly call the liberal media reckless, because no one went with the story. The St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Harper's magazine, and others had those emails and they decided not to publish it.

GOLDBERG: No, but you can call them hypocritical. If Harper's, which is basically, you know, the in-house flier for Pacifica Radio, didn't think that somehow -- didn't think that these initial emails were so disturbing that they weren't going go with them, but somehow holds Denny Hastert accountable for seeing the same material and somehow being part of a cover-up, there is a big disconnect there.

SULLIVAN: No, they're holding him accountable because he's on the Hill. They're not. He may have known and should have known about the conduct outside of emails in the actual -- in the actual halls of Congress where this stuff was going on.

I mean, you've heard as many stories as I have now. I mean, I didn't know about it, but the speaker of the House's responsibility is to know if his members are misbehaving.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Howard Kurtz
Show/Publication
Reliable Sources
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.