Wash. Post uncritically reported Shays's phony excuse for bringing up Chappaquiddick


The Washington Post uncritically reported Rep. Chris Shays's (R-CT) purported explanation for his reference to Chappaquiddick, claiming that he made his comment in the context of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's appearance with Shays's opponent, Diane Farrell, whose calls for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's resignation over the Mark Foley scandal, Shays said, were made before the evidence of Hastert's "serious mishandling" of the scandal had come out. But Shays himself was one of the first Republicans to comment on evidence that the House leadership knew of some of Foley's alleged communications with pages. He was quoted in The New York Times on October 1 -- two days after the scandal broke -- saying that if any House leaders "knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership."

In an October 14 article by special correspondent Zachary A. Goldfarb, The Washington Post uncritically reported Rep. Chris Shays's (R-CT) explanation for why he recently brought up Chappaquiddick in response to an appearance by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) on behalf of Shays's opponent, Democrat Diane Farrell. Shays declared: "I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day ... Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody." Asked to explain the remark, according to the Post, Shays's campaign manager, Michael Sohn said, "Shays's remarks on Kennedy only reflected the fact that the senator had come to Connecticut a few days earlier for a Farrell fundraiser after she had called for Hastert to step down -- before Hastert was shown to have made serious mistakes in the handling of the page scandal."

In his purported explanation of Shays's remarks, Sohn appears to have taken the position that Farrell's criticism of Hastert, first reported by the Associated Press on October 3, was premature given that evidence of Hastert's "serious mistakes in the handling" of the scandal involving alleged email and instant message communications between then-Rep. Mark Foley and underage former congressional pages didn't come out until later. But the absence of evidence that would later come out -- including before Shays actually made his Chappaquiddick remark -- did not stop Shays himself from asserting shortly after the scandal broke that if any House leaders "knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership." Indeed, Shays's remarks were apparently in response to evidence already public that the House leadership had known for months about emails allegedly sent by Foley, with Hastert contradicting himself -- and other members of the leadership -- on when he first learned of Foley's behavior. As the Chicago Tribune wrote: "In the chaotic hours after news of the scandal broke, GOP leaders offered confusing versions of events about how much they knew, and when." As Media Matters for America has noted, Hastert's staff told the Chicago Tribune on September 29 that he "was not aware until last week of [Foley's alleged] inappropriate behavior." But after House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly stated on September 29 that he had discussed with Hastert Foley's contact with a 16-year-old page months ago (Boehner then disputed media reports that he had discussed Foley with Hastert, and then said he "could not remember" whether he had done so), and Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY) disclosed on September 30 that he had told Hastert about alleged emails between Foley and an underage congressional page earlier in the year, Hastert issued a September 30 statement saying he did not challenge Reynolds's account.

Moreover, by the time Shays brought up Chappaquiddick in an October 6 interview that was published on October 11, Hastert had also contradicted himself on whether he forced Foley to resign from Congress. As Media Matters noted, Hastert initially claimed on October 2 that Foley stepped down without prodding from the Republican leadership, saying that the leadership "really didn't have a chance to ask him to resign." But on the October 3 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert claimed that the leadership had, in fact, intervened, saying "We found out about it, asked him to resign." In addition, by the time Shays brought up Chappaquiddick, more evidence had surfaced contradicting Hastert's claim to have only recently learned of Foley's behavior. On October 5, Kirk Fordham, former chief of staff to both Reynolds and Foley, had asserted that he had approached Hastert's office several years ago to warn Hastert about Foley's behavior, a claim that has since been corroborated by a current Republican staffer.

According to the Hartford Courant, which first reported Shays's remarks about Chappaquiddick on October 11, "Shays, Reps. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, and Nancy L. Johnson, R-5th District, have made carefully worded statements [on the Foley scandal] they hope will portray them as both tough and fair ... They all stopped short of naming names, but Shays went further, drawing a link between Hastert and Kennedy."

Posted In
The Washington Post
Mark Foley Scandal, 2006 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.