Editorial pages offer variety of takes on Foley scandal

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

Newspaper editorial boards have responded with a variety of opinions to the Mark Foley scandal, from calling for -- or opposing -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert's resignation to noting the "rank hypocrisy" of Republican leaders to referring to the Republicans' attempt to use a "gay scapegoat."

In the days following the resignation of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), during which news accounts of the emerging scandal have been rife with falsehoods and Republican talking points, editorial boards have responded with a variety of opinions. A Media Matters for America review* of the newspapers in the Nexis database found that since House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) held an October 5 press conference in Batavia, Illinois, to say that he is "taking responsibility" for the scandal -- while also denying that he had done anything wrong -- 33 editorials have been published in 29 different newspapers. While the conservative Washington Times first called for Hastert's resignation prior to Hastert's press conference, several papers called for Hastert's resignation following the press conference, while the two major newspapers in Chicago, the largest city in Hastert's home state, have asserted that it is too soon to call for Hastert's ouster. The opinions of the editorial boards have varied from citing the "rank hypocrisy" within the Republican Party, to referring to the Republicans' attempt to use a "gay scapegoat," to simply calling for a thorough investigation. Of the 33 editorials, all but one were at least partially critical of the Republican leadership's handling of the Foley scandal.

Calls for resignation

The first paper to call for Hastert's resignation was The Washington Times, which stated on October 3 that Hastert "must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once." The day after Hastert's October 5 press conference, six other papers "join[ed] the growing chorus," as the Hartford Courant wrote on October 6. That day, the Courant, The Birmingham News (Alabama), the Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) all called for Hastert's ouster.

In Hastert's home state, the Chicago Tribune asked, "Should Hastert also resign as speaker? Based on what we know now, the answer is no." However, the Tribune did add that "Hastert seems not to comprehend how lamely he or his staff responded to one warning or another." Similarly, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an editorial titled "It's too soon to demand Hastert quit as speaker" but added that while they didn't think Hastert should resign, "[w]e're not absolving Hastert from responsibility for the failures in the Foley case." Of newspapers located in Hastert's congressional district, an October 5 editorial in the Beacon News, a suburban Chicago newspaper owned by the Sun-Times News Group, wrote that Hastert should "[a]bsolutely not" resign; an October 8 editorial in the DeKalb Daily Chronicle said that "we expect more of our leaders" and "of the wrestling coach," and said the onus is on Hastert to "fix the problems better than anyone."

"Rank hypocrisy" and "[a]rrogance perfected"

Seven editorials since Hastert's press conference have focused on what the Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania) on October 6 called the "rank hypocrisy" of "GOP leaders" in a scandal that has served as a "hard lesson for a party in which 'family values' has been a political mantra." In an October 7 editorial titled "Arrogance Perfected," the Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont) wrote that "Republicans who control Congress, folks who are quick to play the moral values card, have been exposed as knowing what Foley was doing and looking the other way." Editorials in the October 7 Buffalo News (New York), the October 7 Winston-Salem Journal (North Carolina), the October 6 Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), the October 6 Philadelphia Inquirer and the October 6 Dubuque Telegraph Herald (Iowa; not available online) wrote similar editorials criticizing the Republican leadership's hypocrisy.

Two additional editorials, by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stated that the fallout from the scandal marked just the latest instance of reprehensible leadership from the Republican-controlled Congress. The Post-Intelligencer wrote on October 8 that the scandal, which surfaced just over a month before the midterm election, is another in "a remarkable string of disgraces and departures by fellow Republicans." An October 8 editorial in the Post-Dispatch similarly stated:

It does not diminish the seriousness of the Foley affair to say that the 109th Congress has done far worse things to America than send dirty instant messages:

The Patriot Act. The Military Commissions Act. The "K Street Project" of Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and lobbyist pals like Jack Abramoff. Earmarked pork for bridges to nowhere and reducing the estate tax despite $300 billion deficits. Giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry. Weeks debating gay marriage and the Pledge of Allegiance and failing to pass an immigration bill.

"Gay Scapegoat"

As Media Matters has noted, some conservative media figures have excused the House Republican leadership's inaction upon learning of emails Foley allegedly to underage congressional pages, based on the purported fear of being labeled "gay-bashers." In response, five editorials wrote about what an October 6 Roanoke Times (Virginia) editorial labeled the "Gay Scapegoat," including the previously noted October 6 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, which asserted that "the claim by some apologists that the GOP leadership didn't investigate Foley earlier because they feared accusations of gay-bashing" came despite the fact that "[s]uch 'fears' have never stopped these same leaders from using anti-gay rhetoric to push a constitutional amendment to block gay marriages." An October 7 editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer and an October 6 editorial in The Buffalo News echoed the sentiment of The Roanoke Times and the Inquirer. An October 7 editorial in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel accused Foley of "hypocrisy" for using the fact that "he is gay" as an excuse for his behavior.

Calls for a thorough investigation

The most common conclusion to which newspaper editorial boards came was that the House ethics committee investigation should be "thorough, that it must not play favorites, and that all findings must be made public," as stated by The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina) on October 7. Overall, 10 editorials focused on the investigation. October 6 editorials in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian of Portland, The Sun (Lowell, Massachusetts), and the Boston Herald appeared to agree with The News & Observer that Hastert may not have done enough before the alleged emails came to light, and that an investigation is necessary. But five separate editorials said that "[t]he ethics process is broken and needs to be reinforced by an independent office of investigation," as The Boston Globe claimed in an October 7 editorial. An October 8 editorial in the Lebanon Daily News and October 6 editorials in Newsday, The Washington Post, and The Palm Beach Post (Florida) agreed with the Globe, claiming, as The Palm Beach Post wrote, that "A better idea would have been to have an impartial outside investigation."

Hastert's "denial," needed reforms

Two editorials about the Foley fallout did not fit into the above categories. An October 6 editorial in the Rocky Mountain News (Denver) characterized Hastert's press conference as an "attempt to change the subject" and nothing more than "a form of denial." An October 6 editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal stated that "new rules and procedures are needed to make" pages safer.

The outlier

One editorial echoed attempts by Republicans and conservatives in recent days to blame Democrats for the scandal, despite the weight of evidence to the contrary. An October 6 editorial in Investor's Business Daily claimed that even if Hastert could "have prevented Foley's wrongdoings," that fact would not be "more obscene than letting an obscure congressman's depravity bring the incompetent Democrats back into power." Further, the editorial repeated baseless rumors circulated by Internet gossip Matt Drudge that "at least one of Foley's IM exchanges may have actually been a prank gone out of control, with the damning messages landing in the hands of Democratic political operatives."

*Media Matters conducted a "News all" Nexis search for "Foley AND section (editorial OR opinion)" on 10/06/06 and 10/09/06.

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