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Foley Disgrace Exposes Newspapers' Flaws

There's a lot to say about the daily newspaper coverage of Mark Foley's disgraceful exit from politics over his instant messages about giving instant massages to underage Congressional pages. Start with Anthony Man, the new political reporter in the downtown Fort Lauderdale office of the Sun-Sentinel.

Man, who I like and respect, has been a disappointment in the job so far. In his Foley story this morning, he reports: "In May 2003, as Foley was seeking his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate, he accused Democrats of trying to damage his campaign by spreading rumors about his sexual orientation. During a news conference, Foley would not say if he was gay, calling the question 'highly inappropriate.'"

This is, at best, some of the sloppiest reporting imaginable. At worst, it's a dishonest

rewrite of history. Of course, Democrats didn't sabotage Foley's Senate run in 2003 anymore than Democrat Tim Mahoney spread the e-mails the Republican had sent to the underage boys (another false accusation made Thursday by the Foley camp). And they weren't "rumors" -- they were news reports. All Man had to do was look at a clip from his own newspaper to see that was bunk. Here's the top of the June 24, 2003 article by Buddy Nevins:

U. S. Rep. Mark Foley accused Democratic activists of spreading rumors last month about his personal life to destroy his bid for U. S. Senate, but on Monday fellow Republican U. S. Rep. Clay Shaw's press secretary conceded that she had helped circulate the rumors.

Press secretary Wendy Rosen's comments came shortly after an article that outlined her role in distributing the allegations about Foley was published in Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

Rosen said she sent an e-mail on May 8 to seven members of Shaw's staff and one former staffer that included an article published in the Broward and Palm Beach County edition of the alternative weekly newspaper New Times that same day. The article stated that Foley is gay.

She said distributing articles appearing in South Florida newspapers to the staff is part of her job and that Shaw, of Fort Lauderdale, expects to be kept abreast of all issues involving Congress that appear in the news media in his district.

"There is nothing unusual about me doing this. I do it with a lot of articles," Rosen said.

She blamed the widespread distribution of the e-mail on someone who received it from her and sent it outside the office "where it took on a life of its own." She said she does not know who did that.

Eric Eikenberg, Shaw's chief of staff, has said he was disappointed Rosen had sent the e-mail and that "she's been talked to."

Eikenberg was reported on vacation Monday.

Two weeks after the New Times article, Foley held a conference call with Florida political reporters about his personal life.

That day, Foley also sent an e-mail to supporters stating "Democratic activists have been feverishly trying to plant stories in various publications repeating second- and third-hand rumors about me."

When asked to name the Democratic activists, Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham named "the liberal gay press."

Several gay newspapers have published articles about Foley's personal life over the years.

You see, Man's own newspaper beautifully debunked Foley's scurrilous accusations. Then, three years later, Man, in the biggest political story he's covered since taking the big job, prints the scurrilous accusations again unchecked, doing a disservice to the newspaper's readers and his own craft. He has a responsibility as a supposed journalist to tell the truth, not a false version of it spread by a sick congressman.

I haven't given up on Man yet, but it's getting to that point with the Palm Beach Post. The newspaper finally broke it's ludicrous and shameful internal policy not to discuss Foley's sexuality in its pages this morning, if ever so curtly. To wit:

"E-mailers flooded blogs and Web sites Friday with allegations that Foley is gay, allegations he has confronted in the past by saying it was no one's business and he would not address it."

How hilarious. You'd think he was being accused of committing a crime. Note to the story's reporters, Brian E. Crowley and Larry Lipman: It's not an allegation, it's a fact.

But the Post has a long-time love affair with Foley and every veteran in that newsroom knows it. With the recent allegations, that hero-worship has blown up in the newspaper's face. Poetic, really. But the Post is still dishonestly reporting in Foley's favor, eating up the congressman's lies. Take this passage (please):

"His biggest setback came in 2003, when Foley abandoned a U.S. Senate race after his father became ill with cancer. Foley's older sister, Donna, his closest confidant and campaign adviser, was being forced to take care of their parents. Brother and sister decided the race could not go on. An uncontrollably sobbing Foley broke the news to a Post reporter."

Oh, that's high drama. You can see it now, Foley getting all worked up and crying like a baby so he can play the Post like a fiddle. Good show for a great Post audience. His father, by the way, had treatable prostate cancer for weeks before the resignation (and he's apparently doing fine today, the disgusting revelations about his son notwithstanding).

It was a political dog-and-pony show and the Post sopped it up like gravy on a plate. Hell, everybody that isn't a Palm Beach reporter knows Foley quit that race because he was paralyzed by the truth, namely that he was a gay Republican hypocrite (and Internet sexual predator, let's not forget). Even the New York Times -- which obviously did a lame clip job based on badly done stories for it's background today -- got that right:

Many believed he had left the race to avoid questions about his sexual orientation.

"There were accusations made that he was gay, and clearly that had an impact on him deciding not to run for Senate," said Jim Kane, the chief pollster for Florida Voter, a nonpartisan polling organization. "He knew the scrutiny was clearly going to be much different once he stepped up a notch."

(I'm not going to get into the problems of citing Jim Kane -- a lobbyist and do-boy for the (Republican) Forman family -- as a "non-partisan" source.)

Foley's disgraceful exit certainly has value (in addition to the fact that it may help end the GOP's disastrous hold on all three branches of the federal government). It's revealing how the Palm Beach Post has skewed the truth for its favorite congressman. So far, it's sticking with the embarrassing gameplan, but hopefully the decision-makers in that newsroom will wake up and do their jobs.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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