In Foley scandal, conservatives find plenty of excuses and plenty of people to blame (other than the GOP)

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & JOSH KALVEN

Seeking to minimize the extent to which the House Republican leadership can be blamed for the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley, several congressional Republicans, media figures, and conservatives have posited various conspiracy theories and placed blame on just about everyone and everything else -- including liberals, Democrats, the media, "politically correct culture," gays in Congress, and congressional pages.

In commenting on the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), who resigned amid allegations he sent sexually explicit messages to underage male congressional pages, several congressional Republicans, media figures, and conservatives have suggested excuses for the House Republican leadership's response upon learning of emails Foley allegedly sent -- including positing various conspiracy theories and placing blame on just about everyone and everything else -- including liberals, Democrats, the media, "politically correct culture," gays in Congress, and the pages themselves.

Several members of the House GOP leadership, including Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), reportedly knew of a series of emails Foley allegedly sent to a 16-year-old former page -- described by some conservatives as "not normal," "not innocent," and having "predator stamped all over it" -- long before Foley resigned Congress on September 29, and allegedly took little or no action against Foley. Both Boehner and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds (R-NY), have said (here and here) that they told Hastert about Foley's alleged emails months before the story broke. Hastert has yet to respond to Boehner's latest claims, but his office issued a statement on September 30 indicating that Hastert does not recall speaking with Reynolds about the matter but "has no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold's [sic] recollection."

Blame the victims

In defense of Foley's alleged actions, several conservative media figures have attempted to shift the blame to the underage pages who communicated electronically with the former congressman. On the October 2 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Internet gossip Matt Drudge stated that Foley's sexually explicit alleged communication with a minor through an instant-messenger program "wasn't coerced." Drudge went on to say that "the kid was having fun with this" because the alleged conversation included "[t]hese LOLs throughout the entire conversation, these 'laugh out louds.' " Drudge even went so far as to accuse the underage former pages -- whom he twice referred to as "beasts" -- of "egging the Congressman on" during their alleged conversations, claiming that "[t]hese kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth," as Media Matters for America noted.

On the October 3 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage echoed Drudge's theory, accusing the former page of "gay baiting" and claiming that "the kid was leading him on." Savage called the page a "sleaze ball" and further stated: "He went to Washington to get ahead. So he's a greedy, aggressive child" who "knew how to play a congressman who was gay." Savage also questioned the validity of the allegations, stating, "I don't know whether the boy exists" and claiming, "Maybe he's a Democrat."

Blame Democrats and liberals

Like Savage, numerous other conservative media figures have in recent days suggested that Democrats had somehow orchestrated the Foley scandal, this despite ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross's disclosure that his sources for the Foley story -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans. For instance, on the October 3 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted that "these emails were planted by a liberal" as part of a "planned, orchestrated release" by the Democrats and the media. In an appearance on the show, Hastert seemed to agree with Limbaugh's theory, stating that his Democratic colleagues "put this thing forward to try to block" the Republican agenda. Later in the show, Limbaugh went a step further, arguing that the Democrats might have coordinated with the underage pages to document Foley's alleged behavior. He said, "[W]hat I'm suggesting here is that a lot of people knew of Foley's proclivities and arranged to amass evidence of it for" political reasons. Limbaugh described a hypothetical scenario in which Democrats might have approached a former page and requested that he "titillate" Foley. "How do you get a kid to do this?" he asked. "You threaten 'em or you pay 'em."

In another example, Fox News host Sean Hannity strongly suggested that Democrats are behind the Foley scandal. As the weblog Think Progress noted, on the October 2 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity repeatedly questioned the proximity of ABC's release of the alleged Foley communications to the midterm elections. "I want to know why these instant messages were held back until now," Hannity said. "Who knew about them? Why did they hold them back? Did they do it for political reasons? In other words, were they held back to maximize the political impact before an election?"

From the October 2 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: All right, but there's a bigger question here. I, these -- apparently some of these instant messages are three years old. So I think we all have to have a question raised here. I want to know why these instant messages were held back until now. Who knew about them? Why did they hold them back? Did they do it for political reasons? In other words, were they held back to maximize the political impact before an election? [Democratic strategist] Bob Beckel, you've been around politics a long time. That would not be beyond the realm of possibility.

[...]

HANNITY: There seems to be a lot of double standards, in my mind. There's a lot of selective moral outrage. We see a lot of things unfolding just before an election. You see that this is just pure politics. Is there any principle left?

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has also attempted to spread the blame for the Foley scandal. In her October 4 column, she wrote that "Republicans who downplay the messages -- and Democrats and journalists who sat on them -- look recklessly flippant about sexual predation. Parents of all political persuasions should be outraged by both."

Blame Florida voters

On Fox News' Big Story, host John Gibson asked his guest, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who is responsible for Foley's alleged behavior and the political fallout from its exposure. Kristol responded, "Well, Foley is responsible for it, and the voters in Florida, I guess, who elected him. Maybe they should have known better."

From the October 3 edition of Fox News' The Big Story:

GIBSON: But, Bill, you know, aside from what Hastert didn't know about Foley and the whole issue of protecting children, there's the exposure that Republicans now have from this scandal and who is responsible for that, if not Hastert?

KRISTOL: Well, Foley is responsible for it, and the voters in Florida, I guess, who elected him. Maybe they should have known better. But, of course, no one knows. These things happen. People turn out to be creeps and they conceal it pretty well, and then they turn out to be creeps and you act against them.

Blame tolerance and diversity

While discussing the Foley scandal on CNN's The Situation Room, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council (FRC), claimed that, while "there's no defense of this behavior ... it shouldn't be totally surprising when we hold up tolerance and diversity as the guidepost for public life." He added, "[T]his is what you end up getting: a congressman chasing 16-year-old boys down the halls of Congress."

From the October 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

PERKINS: Oh, I -- there's no defense of this behavior. It's outrageous; it's shocking. But it shouldn't be totally surprising when we hold up tolerance and diversity as the guidepost for public life. This is what you end up getting: a congressman chasing 16-year-old boys down the halls of Congress. It's a shame. It's a tragedy. And it does need to be addressed, but not just the symptoms here.

Blame our "politically correct culture"

An October 3 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that because Foley is gay, and because of "today's politically correct culture," it is "easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt" Foley's reported claim that the emails were, as the Journal put it, "innocent." From the October 3 Journal editorial:

In our admittedly traditional view, this was odd and suspect behavior, especially because Mr. Foley was well known as a homosexual even if he declined to publicly acknowledge it. And Mr. Hastert was informed that fellow Illinois Republican John Shimkus -- who oversees the page program as part of a six-member board -- spoke privately with Mr. Foley, who explained that the email was innocent.

What next was Mr. Hastert supposed to do with an elected Congressman? Assume that Mr. Foley was a potential sexual predator and bar him from having any private communication with pages? Refer him to the Ethics Committee? In retrospect, barring contact with pages would have been wise.

But in today's politically correct culture, it's easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in emails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert's head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys. Are these Democratic critics of Mr. Hastert saying that they now have more sympathy for the Boy Scouts' decision to ban gay scoutmasters? Where's Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on that one?

Blame the fear of being labeled "gay-bashers"

On the October 1 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co's Fox News Sunday former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) claimed that had the House GOP leadership "overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would also have been accused of gay bashing."

Perkins echoed Gingrich's comments on the October 2 edition of The Situation Room:

PERKINS: Well, I think it's premature to say whether or not the leadership should resign. I think it certainly raises questions about what did the leadership know and when did they know it. We do know that they had indications that there were improper communications between this congressman and pages as long as two or three years ago. But I think there may have been some fear that they had, in pressing it forward, out of fear of being seen as gay-bashing or homophobic because of the orientation of Congressman Foley.

Blame the congressional gay conspiracy

On the October 3 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, CBS national political correspondent Gloria Borger reported that an unnamed senior House Republican suggested to her that "a network of gay staffers and gay members" of Congress had conspired to do Hastert "a disservice."

From the October 3 CBS Evening News:

BORGER: But that's hard, especially when there's a secondary story here, one that rank-and-file Republicans will only talk about privately: that it was common knowledge that former Congressman Foley was gay, and not discreet. One senior House Republican tells CBS that there's a lot of anger at what he describes as "a network of gay staffers and gay members who protect each other and did the speaker a disservice."

Blame the staff

An October 3 Chicago Tribune article quoted Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL) laying the blame for the scandal at the feet of unnamed persons on Hastert's staff who he argued "should have acted more responsively" when they learned of the alleged Foley emails in the fall of 2005. "They should have brought this to the attention of the speaker," LaHood said.

From the Tribune article:

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., predicted Hastert would survive the crisis, drawing on a reservoir of good will and a reputation for integrity that he has accumulated among Republican members of Congress during eight years as the party's leader in the House.

But LaHood was severely critical of the speaker's staff, which, according to a chronology released by Hastert's office, forwarded the fall 2005 complaint about Foley to House Page Board Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., without informing Hastert. The speaker said he does not recall a conversation that Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., said he had with Hastert about an e-mail Foley sent to a 16-year-old former page from Louisiana in late 2005 requesting his picture and asking what he wanted for his birthday.

"The people that should have acted more responsively are actually staff people," LaHood said. "They should have brought this to the attention of the speaker."

From the October 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Drudge Report:

DRUDGE: I'm just saying from reading these instant messages, this wasn't coerced. I mean, this wasn't somebody -- the kid was having fun with this. These LOLs throughout the entire conversation, these "laugh out louds."

[...]

DRUDGE: And if anything, these kids are less innocent, these 16- and 17-year-old beasts. And I've seen what they're doing on YouTube, and I've seen what they're doing all over the Internet. Oh yeah. And you just have to tune into any part of their pop culture. You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies. Have you read the transcripts that ABC posted going into the weekend of these instant messages, back and forth? The kids are egging the congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him. We haven't got the whole story on this.

[...]

DRUDGE: You could say, "Well, Drudge, it's abuse of power. This is a congressman abusing these impressionable, young 17-year-old beasts. Talking about their sex lives with a grown man, on the Internet." Because you have to remember, those of us who have seen some of the transcripts of these nasty instant messages. This was two ways, ladies and gentlemen. These kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth. Oh yeah. Oh, I haven't -- you know, they were talking about how many times they've masturbated, and oh, they didn't do it with their girlfriends this weekend. All this -- all these things and these innocent children. And this poor congressman sitting there typing about, "Oh, am I going to get any?" You know?

From the October 2 edition of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation:

SAVAGE: You know, don't put me in a position of defending him because it's indefensible. He did it to my kid, I guarantee you, when the kid was that age, I would've, I would've been unhappy, let's put it to you that way. OK. But, the kid was leading him on. I mean, this kid was a, was leading him on. You know what I'm saying? You read these things. Who is the kid? Maybe he's a Democrat. Maybe it's a -- I don't know who it is. Is there a real kid? Now, I could argue that the age of consent is 16 in Washington, he really didn't have sex, that it's not illegal to actually have sex with a 16-year-old, but it's illegal to write an email suggesting sex, to show you how crazy America is. I mean, there are other observations to be drawn here. Like, the boy was playing along with Foley, the deviant, and it's all part of the American obsession with sex, which it is.

[...]

SAVAGE: Now, I don't know whether the boy exists. The boy sounds like a sleaze ball to me, by the way, for playing along and -- you know, it's a little bit of gay-baiting, incidentally. You want to get into this, you want to go two ways on this one. I'll go every which way, because I got a kaleidoscopic mind. This kid was baiting him. This kid was playing with him, he's no innocent kid. This kid went to Washington to get ahead, let's be very clear. I'm not going to make dirty jokes now, because I could if I was on the stage, because the audience wants it and I know how to play the audience, but it's radio. He went to Washington to get ahead. So he's a greedy, aggressive child from a family that was pushing him like a stage mother. All right, so he knew how to play a congressman who was gay on the gay theme. Let's be clear, we're grown-ups here. And that has to be discussed. What, all of a sudden 16 is a boy? First of all, boy is not 16.

From the October 3 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Nancy Pelosi knows the person who planted the story about Foley five weeks before the election. "But Rush! But Rush! But Rush! Tell us what you know! How can you be sure she knows?" Well, I can almost guarantee it. She might not know who specifically did it. But she knows where it comes from. All the liberal Democrats do. She knows the person because this -- these emails were held by a liberal, they were planted by a liberal, and they were timed to the 2006 election cycle by a liberal. And liberals know liberals, and so Pelosi knows who Deep IM is. There's a Deep IM here. Not Deep Throat, but there's a Deep IM.

[...]

HASTERT: But, you know, this is a political issue in itself, too, and what we've tried to do as the Republican Party is make a better economy, protect this country against terrorism -- and we've worked at it ever since 9-11, worked with the president on it -- and there are some people that try to tear us down. We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me, it looks like they could affect our election as well.

LIMBAUGH: Well, it's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here in some sort of cooperation with some in the media is to suppress conservative turnout by making it look like you guys knew this all along but because you're so interested in holding the House rather than protecting children that you covered it up.

HASTERT: Yeah.

LIMBAUGH: And I like what you said yesterday, if I may editorialize this way, when you said, "Look, somebody knew this long before we knew it. Somebody knew about those instant messages," and you asked for an investigation into who knew what when. We know that a couple of newspapers in Florida knew a lot more than they were willing to release, and Brian Ross of ABC admitted that he knew about this all the way back in August but he didn't have time for it then because he was worried about the Katrina anniversary and September 11th and so forth.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: What is the battle plan to deal with these continuing allegations and accusations that are going to be designed to depress voter turnout? I'm talking about in the media when you dispatch --

HASTERT: One of the things that we have to do -- we're doing a media outreach, but you understand that a lot of that media is not going to listen to us. Our issue is we have to go back local. That's why we got our folks back home on the campaign trail. I'm going to be in 30-some districts over the break. I'm to leave Monday morning, and we're gonna be continuing on the trail, and we have a story to tell. And the Democrats have -- in my view, have put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on defense. The story is that we have protected this country against terrorism. The story is we have created a good economy in this country, and the story is that we have a plan for energy independence, which we have to do as well. And that's important.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Folks, you don't know the Democrats like I do. Everybody is now comin' out of the closet, if you will, saying they knew Foley was gay. He's in a safe seat. Somebody knew this was going on. Go to one of the kids or go to a couple of pages and say: "Titillate the guy." "Why? Why? Why? I don't want to get in trouble." "You won't get in trouble. You'll be a hero. Nobody'll ever know it's you. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." How do you get a kid to do this? You threaten 'em or you pay 'em. I don't know.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: You know, how do these pages get into the page program? How does this happen? One way is through political connections, political patronage. So who are these pages and who sponsored these kids to become pages and, and for, for what reason? Is there a political party that would stoop this low? Yes, there is. We know that there is a political party that would stoop this low to set somebody up this way.

Now, I know you're saying: "What do you mean 'set him up?' Did it, Rush!" Yeah. I'm not -- again -- you're, you're missin' my point if you're thinking in that regard. I'm not saying that this didn't happen. What, what I'm suggesting here is that a lot of people knew of Foley's proclivities and arranged to amass evidence of it for this very reason, not the protection of the kids. Look how long this is goin' on and nobody did anything to protect the children. Everybody's out there saying: "Now, now we love the children of this country. We're gonna do everything we can to protect the page program. Why, why everything is for the children."

Well, the people involved in this couldn't have cared less about the children. They didn't find the behavior repugnant, but they thought Republican voters would.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: This is, this is so obviously a planned, orchestrated release -- timed release of information that's designed to keep the story going. I know how these people in the drive-by media work. I know how the coordinate with the Democrat [sic] Party. They're all excited.

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