Out with the Truth, the Epilogue

The mainstream media ruin a perfectly good debate

It was like putting a perfectly decent child into the world only to see her pimped out on the street or, worse, soullessly shilling for the man in some sterile corporate suite. I had hoped that my May 8 column on Congressman Mark Foley, which stated that the Lake Worth Republican is gay, would do some good. But things spiraled out of control, hitting a low point May 27, when the issue was discussed in America's gulag for independent thought -- a Fox News channel studio.

More on that later. Of course, a part of me wanted to whip up some good clean controversy, but I wanted it to be constructive, not constrictive. The column was purely political, a look at the motives that drive Foley's voting gay-rights record, which had become controversial in his campaign for the U.S. Senate. I felt that telling the truth about Foley presented a good test for the Republican Party: Is it really -- with its Christian Right/Rick Santorum wing -- as inclusive as it claims to be? Is it ready for an openly gay Senate candidate in Florida?

These seem worthy questions. And there were other reasons for writing the story, some of them possibly more important. For one, his coming out just might help, in a small way, a minority group that is still hated and discriminated against by the ignoranti. Isn't it Foley's duty, as a high-ranking public official, to be truthful about who he is? Doesn't his avoidance only perpetuate the perception that there is something terribly wrong with being gay?

Fred Harper

The column at first sparked a good debate in the gay press and on the Internet. All was well. Then, on May 22, Foley held a conference call with reporters from several large Florida daily newspapers to declare that he would make no declarations about his sexual orientation. And he denounced my story and all "rumors" about him as "revolting and unforgivable." He said he wasn't going to be "dragged into the gutter" by "rumormongers." And he decried it all as the work of evildoing Democratic activists.

Later, Florida Republican Party Chairman Carole Jean Jordan joined in his defense, using the words "revolting" and "sleazy" to describe the "campaign" against Foley. And the congressman was aided by Republican House leader Tom Delay of Texas, who called the accusation against his colleague "despicable."

Interesting use of vocabulary. You'd think he had been accused of banging baby goats at the petting zoo.

Whatever support Foley had from the gay community outside the Log Cabin Republicans was washed away by those nasty words. The Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, for instance, had criticized my story as "dirty" in the Washington Blade, an influential gay newspaper. Since the conference call, though, the organization has been defending the right to bring up the issue and chastising Foley for using such loaded language.

But Foley didn't mean to court gays -- the call was clearly aimed at the GOP's right wing, which largely considers his sexual orientation an abomination. Foley's message was this: Whatever I am or am not, I believe that homosexuality is a disgusting practice that is beneath public discussion.

As for the idea that Foley owed it to young gays to come out of the closet, his recent statements have finally made him a role model. For young bigots.

Using Delay to do his dirty work took a lot of chutzpah, though. Consider that the Republican House leader called the recent antigay remarks by Sen. Santorum "courageous" and has long fought against federal laws to protect gays from discrimination. Here's a guy who doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, lets fat-cat lobbyists write important legislation, serves as a frontman for the gambling industry, was once Enron's best friend, and waged a successful crusade to allow slave-labor practices to continue in the Northern Mariana Islands. That's not just despicable -- it's despicalicious.

But Foley and Delay wouldn't be where they are if they didn't have a touch of evil psychopath in them. Don't be too angry with Foley. His camp obviously decided that he had no chance of winning the Senate primary if he came out as gay, so he resorted to this dirty scheme.

What's been angering is the media. After Foley's conference call, just about every major -- and several minor -- daily newspapers in Florida also followed the story, as did Salon.com, the Associated Press, CNN, and selected newspapers around the country like the Las Vegas Sun, the Seattle Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. News sources for D.C. junkies -- including the Hotline, the White House Bulletin, and the Bulletin's Frontrunner -- also ran with the story. And it's reached at least one French website and was posted on uk.gay.com, a British site where Foley denounced "rumours" instead of rumors.

The way the conference call, which brought the issue into the mainstream, materialized is an interesting story unto itself. Sun-Sentinel reporters were working on a story about the issue and Internet attention. Foley held the conference call to preempt the S-S article. But the next day, the Sun-Sentinel quoted Managing Editor Sharon Rosenhause as saying that no decision had been reached on whether to publish the Foley story. Editors had obviously been wringing their hands. The next day, May 24, columnist Buddy Nevins commented how "ironic" it was that Foley had thrust the issue into the news when the S-S hadn't even decided to do an article. His piece should have been headlined: "My paper was too scared to publish this -- thanks, Congressman Foley!"

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