Out with the Truth, the Epilogue

The mainstream media ruin a perfectly good debate

But the Sun-Sentinel's reporting on the issue was more thorough and aggressive than that of, say, Foley's hometown newspaper, the Palm Beach Post. The best S-S quote came from John Parsons, the Republican committeeman from Palm Beach County, who stated outright that he would never vote for a gay candidate. The point was clear: Foley has a lot more to worry about from fellow Republicans than supposed Democratic operatives.

Meanwhile, the Post had, at the time this went to press, run only one small AP story about the matter. Talk about homophobic.

Perhaps it's all for the better. Most of the newspapers that tried to write serious stories wound up with terribly shallow stuff. Many fed from Foley's hand. To give you an example close to my heart, several newspapers allowed Foley to freely -- and falsely -- claim that my column (or "rumor," as it was sometimes called in the media) was prompted by Democratic activists.

Fred Harper

That's right. I was being portrayed as a mole in the dark recesses of the donkey's slime machine, a tiny vessel in the vast left-wing conspiracy. Now there was a hell of a rumor, but only the Miami Herald, above all others in the mainstream press, bothered to call me. Other newspapers around the state and country just let Foley's silly conspiracy charge go unchecked.

Take this paragraph from the Orlando Sentinel: "Foley, denouncing the rumors as 'revolting,' blamed unnamed Democratic activists for stirring a recent report that he is gay in the New Times, an alternative newspaper in Broward and Palm Beach counties."

I called the author, columnist Mark Silva, on the phone but couldn't get through. Then I e-mailed him, asking why he didn't contact me for a response. His reply: "It is the rumors that he called revolting, not your reporting. Yes, I read your reports. I hope you're proud of them."

Ah, a sign of life from Mr. Silva, some attitude that's hard to detect in his columns. I wrote him back: "Listen you no-talent piss-ant son of a... "

No, that wouldn't do. One must take the high road in professional matters. So I deleted those words and wrote something about how I disagreed and let it go.

OK, I'm sure that ye of little faith suspect I was fishing for attention. But it's not true. This wasn't about credit, which I received anyway and which should really go to gay publications, like the Advocate and the Express, that raised this issue years before I did. To risk sounding pious, this was about the truth.

Which brings us back to Fox and, specifically, Bill O'Reilly, who aired a segment about Foley on May 27 on The Factor. It was during a part of the show called "Personal Story," a very bad sign. He had on two guests, Patrick Guerriero and Chuck Wolfe, the executive directors of the Log Cabin Republicans and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, respectively. But it was O'Reilly who did most of the talking: "I always advise famous people, whether they're public servants or movie stars or -- I just had this conversation with Geraldo last week -- not to say anything about their private lives in any way, least of all their sexual lives," the host said. "I say it's nobody's business, doesn't impact on the job -- the questions are inappropriate, as Congressman Foley said."

Imagine that: O'Reilly and Geraldo head-to-head, the media's version of Godzilla vs. Mothra. Run, townspeople, run!

Wolfe criticized Foley's conference call, saying that the congressman had advanced the "perception that gays and lesbians should not be at the table of public policy."

Guerriero, though, was in lock step with O'Reilly, until he opined that voters don't care about a candidate's sexuality.

"Well, I don't know about that, Mr. Guerriero," O'Reilly interjected. "I'm not -- you know, I know Florida pretty well, and there's a hardcore right-wing constituency there that -- if you're a homosexual running in that state and they know that, that's going to enter into their thinking."

So it's a political issue after all. But O'Reilly wouldn't let his own logic get in the way of his conclusion that the issue was an "outrage."

And there it was, the Tower of Babel on prime-time TV. I mean, what good is making a splash in the public consciousness if your ideas are bastardized by politicians and media drones? The debate has been reduced to a realpolitikal show, a grand distraction. In other words, it appears that Foley's conference call fulfilled its despicable mission. In the long run, the reactionary babble will give way to decent discussion. Solid and thoughtful pieces on the debate have been published, most recently this past weekend in the St. Petersburg Times. And politically speaking, Foley's hiding from the truth. His taunting of fellow gays and lesbians will haunt him. Only it will be his friends in the Republican Party -- not dastardly Democratic operatives -- who ultimately do in his Senate campaign.

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