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?
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!"
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.
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."
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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.