The scandal surrounding the sexually explicit electronic communications former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) allegedly sent to underage former congressional pages -- and the House Republican leadership's alleged cover-up of Foley's behavior -- have produced a wave of misinformation. To aid members of the media in covering the scandal, Media Matters for America has compiled a list of the top myths, falsehoods, and baseless assertions surrounding the controversy.
In a weblog post, ABC News' Jake Tapper reported that two Republican senators told Sen. Joseph Biden that they plan to "break with the White House Iraq strategy," but only after the midterm elections. Only three other media outlets have reported the disclosure.
The News York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN uncritically reported Republican claims that the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley has had little effect on potential voters. None of the three noted that recent, nonpartisan, publicly available polls contradict Republican claims that voters do not appear concerned about the scandal.
In reporting on House ethics committee chairman Doc Hastings's announcement that the committee would investigate the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley, numerous media outlets ignored questions regarding Hastings's appointment as chairman in February 2005 and his conduct since taking over the post.
In reporting on the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley, a number of media outlets have reported simply that the House Republican leadership claims to have been aware only of "over friendly" emails Foley sent in 2005, without noting that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert appeared to have made no effort to determine the actual content of the emails -- including one in which Foley wrote of an underage male page: "[H]es [sic] in really great shape."
Numerous print media outlets reported Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert's most recent explanation of when he learned that former Rep. Mark Foley had engaged in inappropriate email correspondences with former congressional pages. But these outlets ignored the shifts in Hastert's account since the story broke, as well as House Majority Leader John Boehner's conflicting statements regarding whether he discussed the problem with Hastert.
In their coverage of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, only a few major media outlets have noted that Foley is the third Republican congressman to leave office in scandal within the past year. A fourth Republican congressman, Rep. Bob Ney, has pleaded guilty to corruption charges but not resigned his seat.
In a New York Times article, Jim Rutenberg characterized the White House's ploy of using flatly false, straw-man arguments and the Democrats' reaction to it as a difference of perception, rather than as Democrats accurately accusing the Bush administration of misrepresenting their arguments. Additionally, Rutenberg forwarded a second Republican rhetorical deception -- distancing the party from terminology it coined, "stay the course," later found to be troublesome.
At a White House press conference, President Bush described Americans who think the Iraq war has made the country less safe as "naïve" and rebutted claims that the conflict has contributed to the growing terrorist threat by repeating his illogical argument that "[w]e weren't in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th." But reporters failed to challenge his non-responsive remarks, and several print outlets uncritically reported them shortly thereafter.
The New York Times and The Washington Post highlighted President Bush's recent attack on the Clinton administration's tax increases and his touting of the tax cuts he passed in his first term, but did not compare the effects of these policies. In fact, after President Bill Clinton's 1993 tax bill passed, deficits declined and budgets were in surplus within five years, while the federal budgets approved under Bush have produced record deficits.
A New York Times article contrasted anti-war Democrats' "pragmati[c]" decision to "spare" Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) -- despite her support of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- with the recent defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut. But the Times overlooked key differences between the two races: Unlike Cantwell, Lieberman has attacked Democrats for criticizing the administration in its conduct of the war and opposed Democratic legislation calling for the United States to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq.
In reports on the Meet the Press debate between Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb, the Associated Press and The New York Times noted Tim Russert's questioning of Webb about his position in 1979 that "[t]here is a place for women in the military, but not in combat." However, both failed to mention that Allen also faced questions about his far more recent statements opposing the presence of women in combat.
Numerous print and television outlets uncritically reported President Bush's response to a reporter's question about a letter by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in which Powell argued that "[t]he world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." Bush stated: "If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic. I simply can't accept that." In fact, neither the question nor Powell's letter made any such comparison.