Media continue to uncritically report Hastert's baseless charge that Dems are behind Foley scandal

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Reports on National Public Radio and NBC's Today uncritically repeated House Speaker Dennis Hastert's false claims that Democrats generated the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley. Similarly, an October 6 Washington Post article also failed to note reports that directly contradict Hastert's claims.

On October 5 and 6, news accounts on National Public Radio and NBC's Today uncritically reported baseless accusations by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and others that Democrats are behind the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). None of these accounts noted a report in The Hill newspaper that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media or a statement by ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross that the sources for his initial Foley report -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans, as Media Matters for America has noted.

On the October 5 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, host Melissa Block interviewed former House ethics committee chair Joel Hefley (R-CO) about the Foley scandal. After Hefley said the ethics committee should look at whether House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's (CA) office was involved in the scandal, Block asked whether Hefley agreed that there was merit to Hastert's accusations that "these revelations are the work of Democratic operatives." She did not mention the news reports that have contradicted Hastert; Hefley admitted that while he "can't say" that the charges are true, he "think[s] it's a possibility." From All Things Considered:

BLOCK: Congressman, do you think that Dennis Hastert should step down?

HEFLEY: No, I don't. I think we should let the normal course of things go. I think the cry for him to step down is more or less a political ploy right now. You know, my sense with him is that he has high ethical standards, but did he know about any of this in advance? I don't know. Did his staff know and not pass it on to him?

I mean, that's a question too. These are the kind of questions that need to be looked into. Did Nancy Pelosi know? Did their office know? And then there's the wait until just before the election to blow the whistle. I mean, who knows?

BLOCK: Do you think, I mean, these charges had been raised, including by Speaker Hastert, that these revelations are the work of Democratic operatives? Do you really think that's the case?

HEFLEY: I do not know. I can't say. I think it is a possibility and it's something that does need to be looked into. But I simply don't know and that's why I say it needs to be taken out of the realm of politics.

And I think -- I had been opposed to special counsels most of the time in the past, because I think we can do the job internally. I'm wondering with this one. It's so big, it involves the top leadership, and so forth. I'm wondering if some kind of a special counselor or maybe a special task force of former members with good reputations and so forth might restore confidence that there really is an effort to get to the bottom of it.

Similarly, on the October 6 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, national reporter Cheryl Corley uncritically reported former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) "suggest[ion]" that "Democrats, and the media, had a hand in the controversy, since Foley's text messages to an underage page were made public just weeks before the November election." She aired a clip of Gingrich wondering if "this entire thing was rigged by liberals and Democrats," and suggesting that it might be "the equivalent of a large dirty trick":

CAROL VAN DAM (newscaster): Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the congressional page scandal plaguing Republicans looks as if it was rigged to embarrass current speaker Dennis Hastert and the Republican-led Congress. NPR's Cheryl Corley has this report:

CORLEY: Before addressing a fundraiser, Newt Gingrich quickly came to the support of Dennis Hastert. He said the speaker had taken the right steps in calling for the FBI to investigate the Mark Foley scandal. But Gingrich also suggested that Democrats, and the media, had a hand in the controversy, since Foley's text messages to an underage page, were made public just weeks before the November election. Gingrich said he's not sure what impact the scandal will have to retain a majority in Congress:

GINGRICH: What if it does turn out that, in fact, this entire thing was rigged by liberals and Democrats, that this entire thing was done deliberately and methodically, and in fact, it is the equivalent of a large dirty trick.

CORLEY: Gingrich says if Mark Foley had not resigned, he's certain Speaker Hastert would have worked to expel him. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

Similarly, on the October 6 broadcast of NBC's Today, chief White House correspondent David Gregory reported, without challenge, that "Hastert is attacking Democrats, backed, he says, by liberal financier George Soros, as well as the news media for fueling the story." He also reported that "Speaker Hastert is still on the offensive, accusing his Democratic opponents of knowing about these inappropriate electronic messages, sitting on the information so that this could be revealed as an October surprise, he said, in an attempt to hurt Republicans":

GREGORY: A criminal investigation is also under way. Top Republicans have distanced themselves from Speaker Hastert amid suggestions he failed to respond to warnings about Foley's conduct more than two years ago.

HASTERT [video clip]: The fact is that I don't know who knew what, when.

GREGORY: Seeking to deflect some of the political blame, Hastert is attacking Democrats, backed, he says, by liberal financier George Soros as well as the news media for fueling the story. Hastert appeared on conservative talk radio Thursday, explaining his refusal to resign.

HASTERT [audio clip]: Then, you know, where does that leave us? It lets the Democrats sweep and then we have no ability to fight back, and get our message out.

GREGORY: Here at the White House, this unfolding scandal has become such a distraction, the president's spokesman admitted he would dodge questions about House leaders.

[...]

GREGORY: Late Thursday, the president called Speaker Hastert to reiterate his support for him, doesn't want him to resign; also thanked him for what he said was a strong statement of public responsibility. At the same time, Speaker Hastert is still on the offensive, accusing his Democratic opponents of knowing about these inappropriate electronic messages, sitting on the information so that this could be revealed as an October surprise, he said, in an attempt to hurt Republicans.

Beyond ignoring the disclosures from The Hill and Ross that the leaked emails came from Republicans, Block and Gregory repeated Hastert's charge despite a Chicago Tribune report from that morning that "[s]enior Republican officials contacted Hastert's office before his news conference Thursday to urge that he not repeat the charges, and he backed away from them in his news conference," as the weblog TPMmuckraker.com noted.

By contrast, after Gregory's report, host Meredith Vieira brought up Hastert's charges with NBC News senior vice president and Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. In response, Russert mentioned The Hill's report that a House Republican aide was "one of the primary sources" for the story:

VIEIRA: Hastert has also gone on the offensive here. He accused the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of knowing about these emails before they were released to the public, and he called it, quote, "sort of an October surprise, releasing it now." Any evidence that the Democrats did know about this and sat on it until right before the midterm elections?

RUSSERT: Well, there is evidence that it did appear on the Internet in various places, but no one yet has been able to demonstrate it came from Republicans [sic]. In fact, The Hill newspaper yesterday pointed to a Republican House aide as one of the primary sources. But, Meredith, the simple point is we know by their own admission in the fall of 2005, aides to Speaker Hastert were aware of some of this information. And that is something that he has to deal with no matter who else knew it.

In addition, an October 6 article in The Washington Post reported Hastert's charges and his stated lack of evidence for them, but also failed to note the aforementioned Hill and ABC News reports, which actually provide evidence that directly contradicts Hastert's speculation. From the October 6 Washington Post article, titled "Inquiry To Look At House, Not Foley":

Hastert suggested that Democrats may have known about the lewd instant messages and leaked them for partisan advantage, but he said he had no evidence.

[...]

Hastert was feistier in a Chicago Tribune interview published yesterday. "The people who want to see this thing blow up," he said, "are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," a major contributor to liberal causes. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser Richard Morris was saying these guys knew about this all along."

Morris is a former Clinton consultant who was been sharply at odds with the former president for years. Hastert offered no proof for his assertions, and Democrats called them absurd and laughable.

Network/Outlet
NBC, NPR
Person
David Gregory
Show/Publication
Today Show, All Things Considered
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Mark Foley Scandal
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