Sean Hannity advanced Fox News' witch hunt against Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools director Kevin Jennings by calling for his firing after claiming, despite evidence to the contrary, that Jennings failed to report "statutory rape" in 1988. But following the revelation that then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert had likely been aware of emails between then-Rep Mark Foley (R-FL) and a congressional page, Hannity and other Fox News personalities defended Hastert, with Hannity, for instance, suggesting that Republican leaders were "innocent people" who were being "smeared."
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Hannity uses dubious claim to call for Jennings' firing
Despite evidence to contrary, Hannity cited Wash. Times editorial to claim, " 'At the very least, statutory rape occurred,' and [Jennings] didn't report it." On the September 30 edition of his Fox News program, Hannity claimed that Jennings failed to report a "statutory rape" by not telling authorities about a 1988 conversation in which a high school student told him about the student's involvement with an older man. In fact, Jennings' attorney wrote in a 2004 letter that the student was 16 years old, which is -- and was at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.
Hannity: "I want him fired." Hannity went on to state: "I want him [Jennings] fired. I think he's inappropriate. I think anybody that has that kind of judgment does not belong to be the safe school czar."
The Fox Nation: Jennings "Cover[ed] Up Statutory Rape." The Fox News website TheFoxNation.com posted the following headline on September 30:
In 2006, Hannity and other Fox News figures defended Hastert's role in Foley scandal
Hannity defends Hastert: "The only thing that Hastert knew about was that there was an e-mail."
FLEMING: Yeah, it's clear that Hastert knew over a year ago, and maybe even longer, that this was going on, and he did absolutely nothing about it. And we have to ask: Why did he do nothing about it?
It seems to us that he was covering it up, hoping that it would go away. When it didn't go away, then they had Foley resign, and they still haven't done a full investigation about --
HANNITY: Hey, Jane, Jane --
HANNITY: Let me stop you right here.
FLEMING: Go ahead.
HANNITY: There is no evidence, none that you can cite to our audience --
FLEMING: Yes, there is.
HANNITY: -- wait a minute, wait a minute -- that Dennis Hastert knew anything about the sexual, salacious nature of the instant messages.
HANNITY: The only thing that Hastert knew about was that there was an email. Now, I spoke to Hastert. He didn't even know about the request for a picture. All he knew was the parents wanted the emails to stop --
HANNITY: -- and the parents' request was answered. He didn't know about this, and there's no proof, in spite of liberals screaming it, they can't cite any evidence that Hastert knew.
COULTER: No, of course not.
HANNITY: But here's what we do know. Here's what we do know. The George Soros-funded group, for example, got hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Open Society that gives money to this group, CREW, well, they knew about this -- and I'm reading from The Hill -- quote, "when CREW received copies of Foley's e-mails earlier this summer." So apparently, now there's even discussion that they may have been in contact with Democrats. [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 10/4/06]
Hannity said there's "no evidence" GOP leaders knew Foley was "going after pages," demanded CREW "phone records."
HANNITY: Let me go back to Michael Barone here for just a second. Michael, this is an important point you were raising here. And I want a full investigation. Democrats are calling for it, but interestingly, I think, you know, I'd like to see -- for example, we know that this website, CREW, funded by George Soros, had these emails now and were bragging on their website as early as July 21.
Now, that raises the questions, because a lot of these CREW members previously worked on Capitol Hill for prominent Democrats. I'd like to see emails, I'd like to see phone records, I'd like to know if there was any contact regarding these things. In other words, what did they know and when did they know it? Because what you're pointing out here, they would have put the safety and security of children, you know --
BARONE: At risk.
HANNITY: -- prioritize partisan politics over the safety and security of children.
HATTAWAY: That's exactly what the Republican leadership did. They -- the point you're missing, Sean, I think, is wherever these explicit emails showed up -- I don't know what the leadership knew about those -- they knew that this guy was going after pages --
HANNITY: There's no evidence of that at all.
HATTAWAY: -- they did nothing about it.
COLMES: And thank you very much, Mr. Liddy, Mr. Hattaway, and Mr. Barone. Thank you. [Hannity & Colmes, 10/5/06]
Hannity: "no evidence" Hastert knew, suggested Republican leadership are "innocent people" being "smeared."
HANNITY: Well, it's taken on a very different dynamic though tonight, and that is that Democrats are saying -- I was watching The FoxReport with Shep tonight, and there's Nancy Pelosi out there campaigning today, saying with just 100 percent certainty that Dennis Hastert knew.
Now, I interviewed Dennis Hastert. I've interviewed John Boehner. They both deny -- and there's absolutely no evidence to corroborate this. Now, we're also getting information tonight that there are Democratically funded websites, by people like Soros, that had knowledge of this long before this was made public.
I'm wondering if we're now moving into a different arena here, where this is so politicized that this is going to backfire against the people trying to make hay out of what is a sexual scandal of one man. Your thoughts?
HANNITY: All right, perhaps, but we'll examine that in the next segment. But I think more importantly here there's some fundamental, I think, fairness issues here.
Everybody that I know is glad Foley is gone, but there seems to be an issue here to purposefully politicize this issue, and I find that equally repugnant to me. And, more importantly, I think this takes on a whole new dimension, and this is it, that, if in the pursuit of political power you are going to falsely accuse individuals of knowing things about horrible scandals like this, you better have evidence, because we live in America, and those American people you're describing are fair-minded.
MORRIS: And that's going to backfire.
HANNITY: And when innocent people are smeared, Dick, I've got to believe that people would tend to side with the people that are being smeared. And I see that this is happening more and more in this scandal. [Hannity & Colmes, 10/3/06]
Brit Hume: "[I]'s always easy to say what [Hastert] should've done, but when you start thinking about the things he could've done, there's not much there."
HUME: Well, I think that toward the end of the week it did begin to look a little brighter. I don't think the weekend revelations, Chris, are particularly important.
The former page of whom you speak was an adult, 21 years old, at the time, and was long out of the House page program. And it appears that Foley's pattern was that he would flirt with these pages, and sometimes in quite a lurid and disgusting way, but nothing ever happened physically until after they were out of the program. And heaven knows how many more will turn up to say that, yes, they, too, carried on with him after they were out of the program, so I -- and besides that, Foley's gone, in disgrace, finished. So how much more of the scandal can be fed by revelations about what he did is questionable.
As for what Hastert knew or didn't know, we probably won't know what the facts are on that until this investigation is concluded. However, let's look back at this a moment.
Let's assume that Hastert did know or that he decided he wanted to do more than simply issue a stern warning when he discovered these overly friendly but not X-rated emails. I think the defense that he makes, or that some make of him, that if he tried to do something really strong, he would have been accused of gay-bashing, there would have been charges that the Republicans were trying to out one of their own members solely because he was gay. It would not have been a pretty sight.
So history doesn't disclose its alternatives, but I think we can pretty well see what that one would have been. And it gives you an idea of -- it's always easy to say what he should've done, but when you start thinking about the things he could've done, there's not much there. [Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, 10/8/06]
Bill Kristol: "I think there's no evidence that Hastert did anything wrong, in my view."
KRISTOL: Well, one would think, if one were Foley's chief staff and thought one's boss was doing something really wrong and immoral, one might not just be quiet for the next three years, if Hastert's chief of staff didn't act appropriately. Maybe they thought they had talked to Hastert and to Foley and things -- and he had subsided. Maybe there's some self-serving recollection going on here.
I think there's no evidence that Hastert did anything wrong, in my view. And this is -- I do honestly believe now the media is trying to stampede the social -- you know, they're treating social conservatives like idiots, for one thing, like children. "Oh my God, one of 230 House members was gay and a real creep, and, you know, and therefore we're not going to vote on the issues we care about, therefore we're going to abandon every position we have. We're going to retreat in shudder from the -- retreat in horror from the polls in November and let the Democrats win a majority."
It's not going to happen. The polls have not moved all week. That is the big fact that's going on. The media is trying to stampede the elections, confirm the Democratic victory, and it's not working. [Fox News Sunday, 10/8/06]
Kristol: "No one has really proven or even plausibly suggested what [Hastert] should have done that he didn't do."
GIBSON: With me now is Fox News political analyst Bill Kristol, who is the editor of The Weekly Standard. He actually spoke to Dennis Hastert just a short time ago.
Bill, what does Dennis Hastert say about this call for him to step town?
KRISTOL: Well, first, he's really repulsed, I think, by Foley's behavior. You know, Denny Hastert was a high school teacher and a high school coach, and this kind of attempt to exploit young boys, I mean, he -- it's just -- he seems really sickened by it.
He's angry at Foley for betraying his trust, his colleagues' trust, the voters of Florida's trust, these page -- pages' trust. He's also angry at the Democrats for making -- trying to make this a big political issue to divert attention from the real issues that should be debated in this congressional election, and I think he's disappointed in some of these few conservatives who I think foolishly have somehow lashed out at Denny Hastert.
The speaker seems to have done what he could have done given what knowledge he had at the time. No one has really proven or even plausibly suggested what he should have done that he didn't do. And I think he's -- he says he's going to, you know, he's not resigning, and he's going to try to get the debate back to the issues. [Fox News' The Big Story, 10/3/06]
Mort Kondracke: "Hastert's position is completely defensible."
KONDRACKE: Look, I completely agree with what Jim Baker said, and Jim Baker is a very wise politician, that you give the -- you give the enemy one of your people, and they'll just be chomping after more. Look, I agree that Hastert's position is completely defensible, and what the Republicans need to do is to change the subject.
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 Jerry Studds or Barney Frank is gonna -- is gonna 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. [Fox News' Special Report, 10/6/06]
Bill O'Reilly: "Hastert's you know, being witch hunted down."
O'REILLY: And in the "Impact" segment tonight, the Foley controversy continues to dominate the media. The question now is there anything more here? And is the far left involved in exposing Congressman Foley?
Joining us now from the ABC News studio in New York City, the man who broke much of the story, investigative reporter Brian Ross.
Now we are hearing that the roof is going to fall in on Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Hastert's guy issued us a statement just seconds ago, saying, look, Hastert didn't know anything about this. He heard a couple of inappropriate emails were sent. Nothing was sexual. Hastert's, you know, being witch hunted down. What do you have? What do you know? And is Hastert in trouble in your opinion?
O'REILLY: Whatever. But the fact remains that you tried to get a hold of Speaker Hastert. And so did I today. We both did. He will not talk to you. He will not talk to me. I think that's foolish. I think he has to go out and defend himself.
Because at this point, the heavy odds are that he's going to have to resign for the good of the Republican Party. Am I wrong?
ROSS: Hard for me to judge on the politics of it, but I can give you the facts. And that is that he has given inconsistent statements and actually forgot apparently that he was told about Foley earlier this year by Congressman Tom Reynolds, who today reasserted, "I told the Speaker. Maybe he forgot, but I did tell him."
O'REILLY: But what did he tell him? What did he tell him? You see, here's the real crux of this matter.
ROSS: Right, right.
O'REILLY: Did he tell him this guy is just flirting with these guys, and it is ridiculous, and it's embarrassing, and he's got to stop? Or did he tell him the guy's having a sexual deal on the Internet? See, that --
ROSS: No, he didn't tell him that.
O'REILLY: -- that is what it is.
ROSS: And, look, I know what happened here in terms of the timeline. Those sexually explicit instant messages were not really in anybody's possession outside of a handful of pages until last week --
O'REILLY: All right.
ROSS: -- when we got them from some former pages.
O'REILLY: So it's very possible that Hastert didn't know anything other than the guy's an idiot. He's just doing things that are just immature and ridiculous.
ROSS: Well, a hair more than that, according to Fordham. That this was -- because it was no secret among that group that Foley was likely gay, and that his attention to the young male pages, in particular, troubled a number of staff members.
O'REILLY: All right, so they did raise a red flag --
ROSS: They did.
O'REILLY: -- and apparently Hastert did not act upon. I think that's fair. Is that a fair statement?
ROSS: Well, he -- Scott Palmer, according to Fordham, at least, went and met with Foley. And then others also went there.
O'REILLY: OK, so I think it's a fair statement.
Now the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a far-left group. George Soros gives a lot of money to it through his Open Society Institute. They apparently are the ones that drove this thing behind the scenes. Is that what you're hearing?
ROSS: I'm not familiar with them. They didn't drive us, but I've since seen they have posted some of those original emails on their website. I don't think they had the ones that really are the ones as you say correctly are in contention.
O'REILLY: OK. Because we're trying to figure out who is driving this, who went to The St. Petersburg Times, The Miami Herald, Fox News in Washington and got a hold of some emails.
The emails that we got a hold of were innocuous. There weren't any smoking gun. But we now believe, and The Wall Street Journal believes as well, that a George Soros-funded group drove this story. That could be an interesting wrinkle here. [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, 10/4/06]
Hannity attacks part of Fox News' witch hunt against Jennings
Fox News targets Jennings. In its Glenn Beck-driven witch hunt for "czars" in the Obama administration, Fox News has turned its attention to attacking Jennings, with Hannity and Fox & Friends asking whether Jennings should be "fired" and whether he is "the guy for the job." In pressing for Jennings to be fired and misconstruing Jennings past comments, Fox News continues its pattern of using gross distortions to attack President Obama's advisers.