NY Times uncritically reported Hastert statement about ethics committee report

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

A New York Times article uncritically reported Dennis Hastert's statement that the ethics committee's investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley's conduct toward congressional pages "found no evidence that anyone knew about the sexually charged instant messages that led to Mr. Foley's resignation." However, it did not report evidence found by the committee that, in 2001, a former page provided Rep. Jim Kolbe with sexually explicit IMs allegedly written by Foley.

A December 9 New York Times article uncritically reported House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) statement that the House ethics committee's investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley's (R-AZ) conduct toward congressional pages "found no evidence that anyone knew about the sexually charged instant messages that led to Mr. Foley's resignation." Hastert's statement is technically true -- the committee's report did not find any evidence that House members or staff knew of the sexually explicit IMs Foley allegedly sent a former page in 2003 and that ABC News obtained in late September, leading Foley to resign. But while the Times reported Hastert's statement about the lack of awareness regarding the 2003 IMs, the article ignored evidence separately found by the committee that, in 2001, a former page provided Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) with sexually explicit IMs allegedly written by Foley.

In its "narrative summary" of the Foley scandal, the ethics committee found that, prior to ABC News' September 29 and 30 reports, no one on Capitol Hill had known of the sexually explicit messages Foley had allegedly sent several former pages in 2003. From the report:

ABC News included a "tip line" on its website, and on the evening of September 28 a former page ("Former Page X") contacted ABC News and reported that he had information regarding Rep. Foley's interaction with former pages.250 In 2003, Former Page X had received copies of multiple sexually explicit IM conversations from Rep. Foley to two other former pages. ... Former Page X did not forward the IMs to anyone or take any other action when he first received them in 2003, but he stored the IMs on his computer where they remained until September 28, 2006.

[...]

On the evening of September 28, Former Page X was alerted to the ABC story by another former page, and he remembered the IMs that he had received in 2003. ... Former Page X contacted ABC through the tip line, and he forwarded the IMs on the evening of September 28 and the morning of September 29.

[...]

Prior to September 28 and 29, 2006 the IMs were apparently known to a number of pages and close friends of the IM recipients.

[...]

The Investigative Subcommittee uncovered no evidence that the IMs were provided to, or were possessed by, any House Member, officer or employee, the press, or any political organization prior to September 28 and 29, 2006.

In his December 8 statement responding to the ethics committee's report, Hastert quoted the section bolded above, noting that the committee had "confirmed" what he had "said at the time" of the controversy:

I asked the Committee to do this tough job promptly, and they have. I want to thank them for their diligent and hard work in preparing a thorough and final report. My staff and I voluntarily and fully cooperated with this investigation. I am glad the Committee made clear that there was no violation of any House Rules by any Member or staff. As I said at the time -- and the Committee has now confirmed --.

"The Investigative Subcommittee uncovered no evidence that the IMs were provided to, or were possessed by, any House member, officer, or employee, the press, or any political organization prior to September 28 and 29, 2006." (Report, page 63)

In its December 9 article, the Times reported the content of Hastert's statement:

In a written statement on Friday, Mr. Hastert noted that the investigation found no evidence that anyone knew about the sexually charged instant messages that led to Mr. Foley's resignation. "I am glad the committee made clear that there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff," he added.

But while the Times highlighted Hastert's statement -- which referred to the part of the ethics committee report that focused specifically on the 2003 messages published by ABC News -- the article ignored that the committee also uncovered evidence that a former page had provided Kolbe with a separate set of sexually explicit IMs allegedly written by Foley in 2001.

Indeed, the committee found that, in late 2001, one of Kolbe's former pages received an IM allegedly written by Foley that "made reference to the size of his penis." According to the former page's testimony, the page subsequently sent Kolbe an email about the "inappropriate" message and "forwarded Foley's IM as an attachment." From the report:

In approximately October 2001, while he was a freshman in college, the former Kolbe page told Rep. Foley in an IM conversation that his girlfriend was coming to visit him. While the former page cannot recall the precise wording of the IM he received in response, he recalls that Rep. Foley made reference to the size of his penis.74According to the former Kolbe page, after consulting with his parents, he forwarded Foley's IM as an attachment to an e-mail directly to Rep. Kolbe through Rep. Kolbe's personal e-mail account. In his e-mail to Rep. Kolbe, the former Kolbe page explained that Rep. Foley had said something inappropriate to him and asked Rep. Kolbe to "take care of it." The former Kolbe page did not request any particular resolution, believing that such a request would be "presumptuous."

In his testimony before the committee, Kolbe disputed having received such an IM. The committee reported that Kolbe "recalls having been contacted by his former page about Rep. Foley, but denies having seen the actual IM."

Furthermore, the former page testified that after ABC News reported on the 2003 IMs, Kolbe tried to convince the former page to keep quiet about the sexually explicit messages he had received in 2001, as a December 9 Washington Post article noted:

[A]fter the Foley matter exploded in the media, the former page contacted Kolbe again to ask whether he should divulge the instant message. He testified that Kolbe responded: "It is best that you don't even bring this up with anybody. ... There is no good that can come from it if you actually talk about this."

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Stories/Interests
Mark Foley Scandal
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