Wall Street Journal story on Hastert retirement left out his role in Mark Foley scandal

In reports about former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2008, The Wall Street Journal did not mention the controversy over Hastert's handling of the House page scandal, in contrast with The Washington Post and The New York Times, which did note that Hastert was involved, but glossed over pertinent details.

In an August 15 article (subscription required) on Rep. J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) expected retirement announcement, The Wall Street Journal did not mention the controversy over Hastert's handling of the House page scandal in 2006. As The Washington Post noted on August 15, the “former speaker's reputation was damaged” after a House Ethics Committee report on the scandal “detailed how his senior staff appeared to hide allegations that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had made inappropriate advances toward male House pages.” The report also found, contrary to Hastert's initial statements regarding his knowledge of Foley's behavior, that “the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the emails [Foley had sent to a 16-year-old page] by both Majority Leader [John] Boehner [R-OH] and Rep. [Tom] Reynolds [R-NY] in spring 2006.”

However, while the Post did observe that Hastert's “reputation was damaged” by the scandal, and that his colleagues “alerted Hastert about the allegations against Foley months before they became public,” it did not note that this finding by the committee contradicted what Hastert aides told the Chicago Tribune when the scandal broke in September 2006: that he “was not aware until last week of [Foley's] inappropriate behavior.”

In its August 15 report on Hastert's impending announcement, The New York Times also noted Hastert's involvement in the House page scandal, but it uncritically reported Hastert's assertion that, as the Times put it, “he had been unaware of Mr. Foley's activities”:

Mr. Hastert faced criticism before the 2006 elections that he and his top aides had failed to respond to warnings about the behavior of Representative Mark Foley of Florida, whose sexually explicit electronic messages to former Congressional pages sparked a scandal that figured in Republican election losses. Mr. Hastert said he had been unaware of Mr. Foley's activities but still felt the bruises of the election.

“That was a tough year,” Mr. Hastert said.

As Media Matters for America noted at the time, numerous media outlets ignored the contradictions and changes in Hastert's account of his involvement. While he originally claimed to have learned of the concerns regarding Foley in September 2006, Reynolds subsequently disclosed that he had notified Hastert of Foley's behavior in the spring of 2006. In a September 30, 2006, statement, Hastert claimed not to “recall” the conversation with Reynolds, but added that he had “no reason to dispute Congressman Reynold's [sic] recollection that he reported to him on the problem.” In the statement, Hastert also conceded that his aides had learned of the Foley emails in late 2005.

The House Ethics Committee report concluded:

Like too many others, neither the Majority Leader nor Rep. Reynolds showed any curiosity regarding why a young former page would have been made uncomfortable by emails from Rep. Foley. Neither the Majority Leader nor Rep. Reynolds asked the Speaker to take any action in response to the information each provided to him, and there is no evidence that the Speaker took any action.

The Speaker's reported statement in response to Majority Leader Boehner that the matter “has been taken care of” is some evidence that the Speaker was aware of some concern regarding Rep. Foley's conduct prior to his conversation with the Majority Leader in spring 2006. Although the Speaker testified that he does not recall ever hearing about the e-mails prior to Foley's resignation in late September, he may have been aware of the matter and believed it had been taken care of prior to spring 2006, given the involvement of his office by Ted Van Der Meid, Mike Stokke, and Tim Kennedy in November 2005. The Subcommittee notes, however, that each of those witnesses has testified under oath that they did not tell the Speaker or anyone else in the office about their knowledge of the Foley e-mails until after Rep. Foley's resignation on September 29, 2006.

Additionally, as Media Matters noted, while discussing the scandal surrounding Foley during the October 3, 2006, broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert claimed that "[w]e took care of Mr. Foley" and that "[w]e ... asked him to resign." But when asked in a press conference the previous day “whether the leadership asked Foley to resign,” Hastert had responded: “I think Foley resigned almost immediately upon the outbreak of this information, and so we really didn't have a chance to ask him to resign.”