Hypocrisy as Art Form

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

The disclosure that Mark Foley was sending perverse messages to Congressional pages, and that Republican leaders had ignored the problem for years, has put the ruling political party in such a pickle that its first response has been to blame the media.

Of course. It's all the media's fault!

The most amusing comment came from Florida Representative Katherine Harris, who said Republicans "didn't know anything" about Foley's activities but that she'd be interested to see what the Democrats and the media knew and didn't tell anybody.

You remember Katherine Harris. She was Florida's top election official in 2000, as well as George Bush's campaign chairman, and she made sure he carried the state. Brian Montopoli reminded us last year on Slate.com that the "nakedly partisan" Harris was "parodied on Saturday Night Live as an ambitious harpy caked in enough makeup to embarrass a drag queen."

Others who pinned blame on the media in the Foley case had more substantive arguments. The gay talk-radio host Michelangelo Signorile wrote in a column in the L.A. Times that the media was "complicit in allowing" Foley "to continue his detrimental behavior."

"By not reporting on Foley's deceitful life for more than 15 years, during which he portrayed himself as a heterosexual politician, the media enabled a man overwhelmed by the destructiveness of the closet to ultimately implode in the halls of Congress," Signorile wrote.

"If a public figure's homosexuality is relevant to a larger story, then the public should know. Foley voted for an anti-gay law, which should have been reason enough for the press corps to expose his hypocrisy."

In the Miami Herald yesterday, Edward Wasserman, a journalism professor at Washington and Lee University, wrote that the media's reluctance to explore Foley's homosexuality is now being used to explain the failure of news organizations to report what they knew over the past year about his pursuit of young pages.

That failure, Wasserman wrote, "stands on its own as an editorial mistake, perhaps born of a disinclination to pursue a sordid, long-shot story."

But, he said, Foley's support in 1994 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unintelligible unless you knew that he was trying to hide his homosexuality by advocating anti-gay positions. By declining to tell the background of that story, Wasserman wrote, "the media failed the public, and endorsed a principle of timidity that's sure to fail the public in the future as well."

The Foley case has also prompted duplicity within the news media. The watchdog group Media Matters for America reported that Fox News anchor Eric Burns made much of the fact that although the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald had copies of the Foley messages, the two papers had failed to run stories about them. But Burns neglected to mention that Fox also had the Foley e-mails, and likewise kept quiet about them until after ABC News had broken the story.

On CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, the conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan said the Foley case had opened his eyes to "massive hypocrisy among Republicans."

"The Republican Party has based its campaigns on terrifying people that gay commitment ceremonies will destroy the world, and yet they acknowledge them in private," said Sullivan, a former Bush supporter who is gay himself.

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online, countered that reporters hyped the Foley case because "it's a fun story, especially around election time."

Goldberg, without citing evidence, said, "There is no sex in this scandal," contrary to the cases long ago of Democratic congressmen Mel Reynolds and Gerry Studds. Foley, he said, has committed "no crime whatsoever."

Sullivan was unconvinced.

"There is a story here," he said, "and it's worth pursuing."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan