What I didn't see coming was the way it would be played on the Internet. The column was posted on at least 20 websites, from giant general news sources such as InsideAmerica.com to tiny weblogs like one by John Kusch, who describes himself, in all caps, as a "FAT HAIRY GAY ATHEIST RADIOACTIVE LIBERAL WHINER."
In a tour of those sites -- from Shattered Buddha to Gregunderwater to American Dissent -- I found instruction and dysfunction, benignity and bombast, intelligence and indulgence, decency and dirt. The postings on Foley ran the political spectrum from left-wing claptrap to the heart of right-wing darkness. Taken together, the postings formed more than just a decent debate on the Foley outing -- they reflected America itself. And it seems to have also driven one mainstream outlet, the Sun-Sentinel, to finally bring the Foley issue out of the closet.
Some websites offered straight political analysis. For instance, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD.com (which stands for "My Due Diligence") predicted that the Foley outing will cause an "implosion" in the Florida GOP. We'll see.
A blogger at Howard Dean 2004, which is dedicated to the Democratic presidential hopeful from Vermont, posited that there would likely be a "gay-rights showdown" in the Florida primary between Foley and fellow GOP candidate Bill McCollum and wondered, "How does [President] Bush pander to the bigots in Florida without destroying his Senate candidate?"
A good portion of the discourse involved whether it was journalistically sound to report Foley's sexuality in the first place. Most people, like "Don Quixote" of Red Alert, seemed to agree with me: "This fact better explains his voting record than any of Foley's public reasons. And if his personal orientation is impacting public policy, the public has a right to know."
After the column was posted on a site called Metafilter, someone using the name "quonsar" alluded to Foley's being a Republican: "I cannot imagine the twisted, sick, self-loathing that leads a homosexual to associate himself with those who would destroy him."
The next comment came from Prince Valium: "I cannot imagine the twisted, sick, self-importance that leads a journalist to publish a news article based on innuendo and unsubstantiated rumor."
So I had my detractors. Although the column was actually based on substantiated rumor (from a former Foley family friend), I have to admire such ferocity from someone named after a sedative that's popular in the suburbs. A guy calling himself "Rcade" countered: "At some point, doesn't the press have a responsibility to share a fact that's known to hundreds of politicians, policymakers, activists, and reporters? It seems odd -- and hilariously futile -- to demand that the press respect the public's right not to know." He later weighed in: "Odd. The Republican establishment would prefer he remain in the closet, while Democrats and homosexual rights groups would like him to openly accept his sexuality."
True it is. The gay community, for the most part, seemed to favor the outing. Or maybe the ones who favored it were just louder. Michelangelo Signorile, a gay columnist for the New York Press, invited me onto his national Sirius satellite radio show May 9 and couldn't have been more supportive. But then, Signorile is a rather famous pioneer of outing gay celebrities and politicians, so that was probably to be expected.
A reporter with Window Media Publications -- the nation's largest gay newspaper company -- also called and interviewed me for a lengthy news story that ran May 16 in the Washington Blade, the New York Blade News, Atlanta's Southern Voice, and the Houston Voice. The story was well-balanced, with voices from the gay community both supportive (U.S. Rep. Barney Frank chief among them) and against (an organization called the Victory Fund). It also included a claim by Foley's chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, that my story was a Democratic political stunt. Considering the journalistic assaults I've unleashed on Robert Wexler, Peter Deutsch, and Bob Graham -- all Democrats -- that charge is ridiculous.
But conservative websites like Free Republic and the Constitution Club were enamored of the idea. To find the column on Free Republic, all you had to do was type in keyword "homosexualagenda."
"They must be afraid of Foley if they have to out him 18 months before the election," wrote someone called Pubbie. "I'll bet you the Democrats did some polling and found Foley was beating the tar out of 'Whiny' Wexler, and Peter 'DeutchLand' Deutch [sic], so they want to sink him in the Primary."
Other "freepers," as they call themselves, really let their homophobic flag fly. "There's reason to be concerned about the leadership of someone who identifies himself as an unrepentant, intending-to-stick-with-it thief, adulterer, drunk, homosexual, etc.," wrote one. "If it's true, I hope they find a substitute not so seriously messed up. And I hope [Foley] gets the help, the deliverance, he needs."
"If the rumors are true, he's not GAY," another spewed. "He's a SODOMITE. A HOMOSEXUAL. He's not gay. Gay has been kidnapped into the PC speak world of the liars."
The Constitution Club, a communications center for a few maladjusted, homophobic, racist misogynists, was much worse. Listen to this snippet of educated banter:
"The problem with gay people is that the minute they are outed they suddenly become activists for the homo cause. The moment that article came out, Foley became a lot more liberal. Mark my words."
"The homos have to justify their gayness once everyone knows they're fudgepackers."
The level of discourse didn't rise. Soon they began discussing the prospect that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice might run for president: "The White House would become the Black House. The Oval Office... Da Watermelon Room. The flag would be red, black, and blue. Arlington's headstones would be painted black. The national anthem would be turned into an LL Kool J version."
As distasteful as it is, we should know that such adolescent idiots, undoubtedly Fox News Channel devotees, suck air on this planet.
Those who tread only in the corporate media wasteland wouldn't even have known Foley was outed. The closest it came to the center of the stream was a mention in the Hotline, a well-read, inside-the-beltway news bulletin. I've heard it was heavily faxed and e-mailed among Washington politicians.
But as this column went to press, the mainstream newspapers, including the Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, hadn't touched it. Which isn't surprising. They generally have policies against outing politicians, even when, as is the case with Foley, the politician's voting record on gay rights has become controversial.
The Sun-Sentinel, in fact, first wrote about the controversy last month, when columnist Buddy Nevins conjectured that Foley's pro-gay record in the House might kill his chances in next year's Republican Senate primary. Nevins called me early this week with a few questions. He was doing a piece about my outing of Foley and the attention it has received. So the story has come full circle. I don't know when it will appear in the Sun-Sentinel.
It looks like another example of the Internet's helping to drive mainstream news, just as it did last year when Trent Lott spoke at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. Nobody paid much attention to Lott's comments until they electrified the World Wide Web. Countless other legitimate stories remain too uncomfortable for official media types. But that's OK -- there's plenty of room in cyberspace to fill the void.