The Foley Scandal: Debunking the Right Wing Spin
Special Report: Top Foley Scandal Myths and Falsehoods
Media Matters for America: Republicans/Conservatives Continue to Float Baseless Assertions Throughout Media, Go Largely Unchallenged
Washington, DC – Today, Media Matters for America released a special report chronicling the growing wave of misinformation floating throughout the media since the Foley scandal broke almost two weeks ago. The report provides the top myths, falsehoods and baseless assertions surrounding the controversy, touching on everything from the media’s failure to challenge the Republican House leadership’s excuses to the media uncritically reporting on Hastert’s ever-changing story.
“Despite the complete saturation of coverage on this scandal there is still an enormous amount of misinformation floating throughout the media,” said David Brock, President and CEO of Media Matters for America. “Time and again these assertions have been proven inaccurate yet the media has failed to effectively challenge those who insist on spreading these falsehoods. As a result the American people remain uninformed when it comes to the true facts of this case. This report sheds light on the more persistent examples of conservative misinformation surrounding this story so the media and those who rely on the media http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifto report the facts can see the truth for themselves.”
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The scandal surrounding the sexually explicit electronic communications then-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.
The following is a brief summary of what the report entails:
Democrats and Their Allies Orchestrated the Foley Scandal as a Political Dirty Trick
Many media outlets, without any basis whatsoever, have repeated the charge by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and others that Democrats or liberals are behind the Foley scandal. But these various charges, including claiming that Democrats or their allies knew about the emails and instant messages long ago and, purposefully and in a coordinated fashion, released them to the media in a way designed for maximum political advantage, have no basis. In fact, several media reports have contradicted such charges.
Hastert Didn’t Learn About Foley’s Behavior Until September 29
Several media accounts have reported, without challenge, Hastert’s initial claim that he learned of the concerns regarding Foley’s behavior only on September 29, the day that Foley resigned. But, Hastert later said he would not dispute the contention by Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY) that Reynolds had brought the issue to his attention in the spring of 2006 (though he claimed not to remember the discussion), and conceded that his aides had learned of it in late 2005. Further, several outlets entirely ignored House Majority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) conflicting statements regarding whether he discussed the problem with Hastert.
Emails which House GOP Had Were Merely “Over-Friendly”
Many media reports have uncritically repeated Hastert’s characterization of alleged emails between Foley and the former congressional page as “overly friendly,” in order to justify the House Republican leadership’s failure to investigate Foley's behavior when it was first informed of the alleged emails. However, The Los Angeles Times reported that experts in psychiatry and sexual misconduct have suggested that Foley's alleged emails go well beyond “overly friendly”; for example, one psychiatry expert told the Times that “they do in fact raise a red flag.” In one of the emails, Foley allegedly wrote of an underage male page: “[H]es [sic] in really great shape.”
Foley Scandal Hasn’t Affected Voters or Congressional Races
Some media outlets, such as CNN, the The New York Times, and The Washington Post, have recently reported without challenge Republican claims that the Foley scandal has not affected voters or congressional races. In fact, several public opinion polls indicate that the Foley scandal could be hurting Republicans. The AP/Ipsos poll conducted October 2-4 found that 66 percent of respondents said that the “recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress” would be at least “moderately important” to their “vote in November,” with 48 percent indicating it would be “very” or “extremely” important. The AP poll had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
Hastert and the GOP Leadership Forced Foley to Resign
Several media figures have falsely claimed or uncritically reported that Hastert and the GOP leadership forced Foley to resign from Congress after they heard of his alleged sexually explicit instant messages with underage pages. For example, in an October 3 entry on the National Review Online's weblog The Corner, National Review White House correspondent Byron York uncritically noted that Hastert, while discussing the Foley scandal during the October 3 broadcast of the nationally syndicated The Rush Limbaugh Show, claimed that “[w]e took care of Mr. Foley” and that “[w]e ... asked him to resign.” But when asked in a press conference the day before taking credit for Foley’s resignation “whether the leadership asked Foley to resign,” Hastert had 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.”
Gay Men are More Likely Than Heterosexual Men to Sexually Abuse Children
During his appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins used the Foley scandal to promote a falsehood about gay men--that they are more likely than straight men to sexually abuse children--based on the claim that gay men are overrepresented in child sex abuse cases. In fact, a 1995 study released by the American Psychological Association found that “gay men are no more likely than heterosexual men to perpetrate child sexual abuse.
Fordham’s Claim That Hastert’s Office Was Told About Foley Before ‘05 is Uncorroborated
Recently, former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham asserted that he told Hastert of Foley’s behavior long before 2005, an accusation denied by Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer. Some media reports have presented Fordham’s accusation and Palmer’s denial as a “he said, she said,” such as an October 16 article in Time magazine. But an unnamed current Republican congressional staffer recently came forth to corroborate Fordham's account according to October 7 reports by various news outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Speaker Hastert “Took Responsibility” for the Foley Scandal
Numerous media outlets have reported that, at his October 5 press conference, Hastert “took responsibility” for the Foley scandal even though, Hastert also stated at the same press conference that “I haven't done anything wrong, obviously.”
Conservative Evangelical Voters are Particularly Outraged by the Foley Scandal.
Many media reports have suggested that conservative Christians are likely to be particularly outraged by the Foley scandal. This suggestion is based on a dubious assumption: that conservative Christian voters—so-called “family values” voters—are more concerned than others with protecting children, and therefore, they will condemn more harshly than others allegations of a cover-up of alleged predatory behavior toward children. Even veteran Republican pollster Matthew Dowd has stated that “[i]t's not just the voters who care about ‘family values’ who might be driven away” by the Foley scandal.
Upon Learning of Foley’s Emails, House Republican Leadership and Rep. Shimkus told Him to End All Contact with Pages
Media reports have also falsely claimed that House Republicans privately told Foley in the spring of 2006 to stop all contact with congressional pages. For example, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com assistant editor Brendan Miniter falsely asserted in his October 3 column that upon “look[ing] at the few emails” Foley had written to one page, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the House Page Board, decided “to confront Mr. Foley and tell him to cut off all direct contact with underage pages.” Shimkus limited his warning to Foley only to the specific page in question, telling Foley “to cease all contact with this former House Page,” according to a statement published on Shimkus's website.
CREW Withheld Emails and Other Information from FBI Investigators and Congressional Leaders
Citizens Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-partisan and non-profit organization, was recently accused of withholding information from the FBI in order to preserve the scandal until closer to the midterm elections. The accusation arose out of reports that CREW sent copies of the alleged Foley emails to the FBI in July. Anonymous Justice Department sources claimed that the copies of the emails CREW sent to the FBI were incomplete and heavily redacted; that CREW refused to comply with requests for further information; and that the FBI did investigate the emails, but determined that there was not enough evidence suggesting a criminal act. The FBI has contradicted itself on these allegations, claiming that it did not pursue the Foley case after receiving the emails because CREW refused to provide enough information. However, the FBI also claimed that it did investigate the emails and found that they did not indicate that a crime had been committed.
A “Velvet Mafia” on Capitol Hill Knew of Foley’s Behavior and Protected Him from Public Exposure
Media accounts have also suggested that a cadre of gay congressional staffers protected Foley from exposure. For example, writing in the October 16 issue of Time Magazine, national political correspondent Karen Tumulty uncritically reported that according to “a whisper campaign [that] has been launched in Washington,” former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham may have been one of the “gay staff members” belonging to “a ‘velvet mafia’ at the upper levels of G.O.P. leadership” which sought to protect Foley. But, Fordham has claimed that, at least three years ago, he sought to alert Hastert's office to Foley's behavior, and an unnamed current Republican congressional staffer recently came forth to corroborate Fordham's account.
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