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During a panel discussion about the role of teenage congressional pages in the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) on the October 14 edition of Fox News Watch, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas declared that congressional pages "have been painted as some kind of virginal, hermetically sealed young people" by "the media," when if "[y]ou talk to the Capitol Police, as I do," the "untold story" is "there are a lot of these kids, including female pages, who undress in front of windows with the shades up and who -- who cavort in the pool topless and naked." Thomas added: "[T]here's been no media reporting on who all of these pages are."
When media writer Neal Gabler asked Thomas if he was "blam[ing] the victim," Thomas replied: "No. No. No. No. It's true. No. No." When pressed, Thomas added: "I'm just saying that -- that the way the media have portrayed the pages is that they're all little virginal, innocent people. That's not necessarily the case." Thomas later added: "I'm not excusing Foley. He was wrong. He was right to resign."
Thomas's assertions about the behavior of congressional pages recall an October 11 NewsMax.com article by Ronald Kessler. In that article, Kessler quoted former Capitol Police officers who claimed that pages had undressed in front of windows and gone swimming in the nude. However, those officers were recounting incidents that supposedly occurred before a 1983 scandal that led to changes in the congressional page program; those anecdotes did not involve current pages, as Thomas suggested. From the NewsMax.com article:
Media accounts of Foley's sordid instant messages inevitably have recounted the previous 1983 scandals involving Rep. Daniel B. Crane, R-Ill. and a 17-year-old female page, and Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass. and a 17-year-old male page.
But the stories rarely mention the reforms instituted after the 1983 scandals. Before the scandals, Congress appointed 14- and 15-year-olds and let them run loose in Washington without any supervision. Pages had no dormitory and no curfews. As long as the pages brought them coffee and delivered their messages, members of Congress did not seem to care if minors entrusted to them became corrupted.
For my book "Inside Congress," I interviewed Capitol Police officers, pages, and congressional staffers who described conditions back then. Most of the female pages lived in a four-story brick building that was formerly the Young Woman's Christian Home. It became known as "virgin village."
At the beginning of their shifts, Capitol Police officers would make it a practice to "stake out" the building at 235 2nd Street NE.
"It was nicknamed 'virgin village' because female pages undressed there without putting down their blinds," Terry Coons, a former Capitol Police officer, told me. "It was a gathering place for officers for the first hour."
"They left their blinds open, and undressed," said Wayne Beckett, another former Capitol Police officer. "The officers watched. They [the female pages] were teases. They knew what they were doing. We would shine flashlights at them, and they would leave the blinds open . . . They totally undressed and pranced around."
Another favorite pastime was swimming in the nude.
"In the fountains on the House side, you'd catch the pages, females and males, swimming bare-a**," said former Capitol Police officer George L. Holmes.
From the October 14 edition of Fox News Watch, during a panel discussion featuring Thomas, Gabler, Fox News Watch host Eric Burns, and Jane Hall, assistant professor in the school of communication at American University:
BURNS: Surely, Neal, there are other reasons than Mark Foley to decide what party you're going to vote for this November.
GABLER: Yeah, but you reap what you sow. I mean, after spending two years of attacking Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades, now the Republicans are in high dudgeon, because, you know, the -- the media wants to deal with another sexual situation.
THOMAS: Well, the guy resigned.
GABLER: This time a Republican.
THOMAS: He did resign. But look --
THOMAS: -- here's the untold story that the media haven't covered. The pages have been painted as some kind of virginal, hermetically sealed young people. You talk to the Capitol Police, as I do, there are a lot of these kids, including female pages who undress in front of windows with the shades up and who -- who cavort in the pool --
GABLER: Is this known as Republican spin?
THOMAS: -- topless and naked.
GABLER: To blame the victim?
THOMAS: No. No. No. No. It's true. No. No.
GABLER: That's what we're getting here?
THOMAS: I -- I'm just saying that -- that the way the media have portrayed the pages is that they're all little virginal, innocent people. That's not necessarily the case --
GABLER: He got entrapped [unintelligible] --
THOMAS: No, I'm not saying that.
BURNS: It has nothing to do -- it also has nothing to do with what Foley himself did in these emails.
THOMAS: No, but the -- the setup of the story is that here is the predatory male -- the particular guy that they're after is 21, so we can get into --
HALL: Oh, Cal. Cal.
THOMAS: -- the whole consensual -- age of consent. I'm not excusing Foley. He was wrong. He was right to resign. If he hadn't been, he should have been thrown out. But I'm just saying that there's been no media reporting on who all of these pages are.
HALL: OK. Well I'm going to -- I don't think that's worthy -- worthy of discussing. I mean, to blame other pages --
THOMAS: I'm not blaming.
HALL: -- and say they were undressing. We need to be focused on -- I mean, we're talking about the election. There are races where this may be a factor. There are stories about individual races which are showing that there's outrage among some people. There's some concern among the Republicans that they may lose control over this. And there's a lot of spinning backwards. It's a legitimate story.