The more I think about this Mark Foley deal, the more angry I get.
I'm not upset at the Republican hypocrisy of this sleazy situation; that's to be expected. Anybody who really believes the GOP has a claim to the moral high ground is a fool or a Bush voter. Republicans have somehow managed to tap into the notion that they are God-fearing elected officials who, if nothing else, can be trusted not to be sending page boys instant messages about how much they like 7-and-a-half-inch cocks. Whoops, there goes another carefully crafted illusion about the Grand Old Party.
And I'm not bothered by the Republicans who knew about Foley's predatory behavior and did nothing, because that goes right back to point No. 1. These are politicians and you should expect nothing less than self-interest and self-preservation. (I was going to say "naked" self-interest, but that brought up the image of Foley sitting at his computer with his lotion and towel … and I just don't want to go there.) If House Speaker Dennis Hastert gets the boot for this, great. One less pious pol in a position of authority. But had Foley been a Democrat, party officials would have acted in exactly the same way.
What I'm angry at is the way the media let this one go. Once again, if it hadn't been for a blogger, this story might never have come out, despite the fact that two Florida newspapers had the story; two good (or formerly good, in the case of the Miami Herald) newspapers.
The St. Petersburg Times got a hard copy of the e-mails between Foley and an unnamed teenager in November 2005. They later found the boy, who acknowledged the exchanges with Foley but wouldn't go on record, so they didn't run the story. The Herald got the same information, but it's not clear exactly when. They considered the messages "too ambiguous" to do a story. Apparently they didn't even bother to check the story out, at least not to the extent that the Times did, before killing it.
Note that nobody then, or now, questioned the veracity of the teenager. Times reporters knew who he was, knew he was a page and knew he was corresponding with Foley, because the congressman confirmed it. They did find another page who wasn't upset by Foley's attentions, so that was good enough. Instead of looking into the story further, they dropped it. This lazy journalism is serving as a perfect cover for Hastert, who is actually using the Times' refusal to run the piece as justification for his own stone-walling.
As we all know by now, it took ABC News to finally run the story, after the e-mails were posted on a blog. Then came the explosive instant messages about hand jobs, lotion and hard-ons that prompted Foley to suddenly quit. So it appears the Times gave up the story a bit prematurely.
To indulge in a little idle speculation, I'll bet the Orlando Sentinel wouldn't have run the story either, if they'd had it. They're too busy sending reporters out on meaty assignments about vicious squirrels and homeowners who bury statues of St. Joseph in their yards to help sell their houses to actually run down leads about congressional members preying on underage children. The Sentinel is owned by the Tribune Corp., and the only thing that company makes headlines for is cutting staff to maintain 20 percent—plus profit margins.
(Clarification: The Tribune Corp. actually has been in the news for something else lately — the refusal of Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeffrey Johnson to go along with a corporate edict to lop off even more heads at that once-proud newspaper. Right now the situation is in a standoff, but the smart money is on the Tribune Corp. firing these two rebels and putting people in charge who will do what corporate says, kind of like the way it works at the Sentinel.)
I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that this Sunday's Sentinel, the Oct. 8 issue, will include some pedantic mumblings from Sentinel ombudsman Manning Pynn about how the Times and the Herald were right in holding back on the story, the justification being that both of them did and hey, two newspapers can't be wrong. He'll throw in a homily or two about journalistic standards not applying to bloggers and then dance around the issue that this story is just more evidence that his newspaper, and all those run like it, is increasingly email@example.com
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