The scandal surrounding the sexually explicit electronic communications former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) allegedly sent to underage former congressional pages -- and the House Republican leadership's alleged cover-up of Foley's behavior -- have produced a wave of misinformation. To aid members of the media in covering the scandal, Media Matters for America has compiled a list of the top myths, falsehoods, and baseless assertions surrounding the controversy.
Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos advanced the baseless claim that Democrats are behind the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), asking their Democratic guests to respond to the accusations despite ample evidence that they are false.
Following House Speaker Dennis Hastert's press conference, numerous media outlets trumpeted the news that Hastert took "responsibility" for the Mark Foley scandal but ignored his later statement, during that same press conference, that "I haven't done anything wrong."
Evening newscasts on ABC and NBC uncritically aired President Bush's nonsensical non-responses to questions about declassified portions of a National Intelligence Estimate; NBC and CBS presented misleading reports on the NIE's conclusions, both asserting that the declassified portion of the report at least in part backs up Bush.
A Media Matters review of major media outlets found that only The Washington Post highlighted the major differences between remarks by Republican Sens. John McCain and Bill Frist on separate Sunday morning news shows on August 24. While McCain stated that "waterboarding and other extreme measures such as extreme deprivation -- sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and others" could be illegal under new rules for U.S. interrogations of terrorism suspects, Frist asserted that "no responsible person" is going to "comment on individual techniques" that would or would not be permitted under the new law, because doing so "helps the terrorists."
Media outlets have uncritically reported the comments of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who, during interviews, have asserted that U.S. laws on detaining suspected terrorists should be modeled after British laws that allow the United Kingdom to detain a suspected terrorist for up to 28 days without charges. However, none of the media outlets noted the administration's expanded use of material witness warrants to detain people for indefinite periods.
In the wake of the recent thwarting of an alleged terrorist plot in Britain, numerous media outlets have posed the question of whether news of the event would benefit President Bush, often letting conservatives or Republican officials spin the news in favor of the administration. Many of the reports neglected to consider whether the news could actually hurt Bush politically.
On NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory failed to question Michael Chertoff about an August 12 report by Gregory's own network that, while British officials had intended to continue surveillance on the suspects of the foiled British terror plot, U.S. authorities had pressured them to arrest the suspected plotters sooner. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos noted this report, but left the false impression that the allegations were the product of the "blogosphere."
ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, among others, repeated, without challenge, the false attacks from Tony Snow, Ken Mehlman, and Dick Cheney that Democrats "purged" Sen. Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party and that Ned Lamont's primary victory over Lieberman represents a takeover of the Democratic Party by the far left.
Members of the media, including Tucker Carlson, Fred Barnes, Juan Williams, and George Stephanopoulos, have continued to suggest that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's criticism of Donald Rumsfeld during a recent Senate committee hearing was motivated solely by politics.
On ABC's This Week, Cokie Roberts asserted that it would be "a disaster for the Democratic Party" and would lead to "chaos" if businessman Ned Lamont were to defeat Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary on August 8, thereby "pushing the party to the left" and sending a message to other senators that "[t]he only smart thing to do here is play to your base." However, as Sam Donaldson noted, opposition to the war is not simply playing to the base, "it's playing to the country," since the majority of the American public opposes the war in Iraq.
In their recent coverage of three major national security developments, various media outlets have portrayed the events as "victories" for President Bush and Republicans or losses for Democrats, with little or no discussion of how these events could be seen as bad for the White House and the GOP.
On ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Charles Gibson cited a poll showing that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of President Bush's handling of the economy and asked chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos to explain the "disconnect" between this disapproval rating and the fact that that "economic numbers are pretty good." Stephanopoulos responded by quoting unnamed "Republican strategists" who attributed the low poll numbers solely to high gas prices. No perspective was offered from Democrats, who might have noted that wage increases are barely keeping pace with inflation.
On ABC's World News Tonight, George Stephanopoulos falsely claimed that 33 members of Congress "got campaign contributions from [former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff" and "wrote letters to the interior secretary" that were helpful to Abramoff's clients. In addition, by not noting that all the members of Congress who received contributions from Abramoff were Republicans, Stephanopoulos misleadingly implied that Abramoff gave money to members of both parties. In fact, Democrats received contributions from Abramoff's clients and associates but none from Abramoff directly.
In airing an interview with former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), ABC's This Week omitted a key segment in which Edwards provided context for remarks he made in the 2004 vice-presidential debate. During the debate, Edwards commended Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, for their response to their daughter Mary Cheney's coming out as a lesbian.