ABC on Gerry Studds: Only 'A Strong Sense of Loyalty' And Forgiveness From Voters

When the story broke in July of 1983 on the sexual affairs with House pages by Reps. Daniel Crane and Gerry Studds, ABC did not fuel days of speculation about whether Speaker Tip O’Neill would resign. (Fun fact: when Studds was censured, Speaker O’Neill did not cast a vote. Three Democrats voted against Studds being censured.) By the time Studds ran in a primary re-election campaign in September 1984, ABC aired a report telling the nation that Studds faced only "a strong sense of loyalty" and forgiveness from the voters in Massachusetts. On July 14, 1983, ABC reporter Charles Gibson reported:

"In both cases, the relationships were voluntary, there was no favoritism granted to the pages. Thus it was the recommendation of the committee's special counsel, Joseph Califano, that the Congressmen not be expelled or censured, simply reprimanded and by an eleven to one vote, the Ethics Committee agreed." Gibson added that "Studds dramatically took the floor of the House to talk of the conflicts between public office and private life."Studds: "These challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as am I, both an elected public official and gay. In my judgement the mutually voluntary private relationships between adults which occurred ten years ago should not by any conceivable standard of fairness, rationality, rule or law warrant the attention or action of the House of Representatives of the United States."Gibson: "Studds said he felt the Committee exceded its authority, but he accepted its findings to protect others involved. And Studds was congratulated by fellow members as he left the floor, but he and Crane could face formal reprimand from the full House as early as next week. One House employee, a former page supervisor was also accused of having relations with a seventeen year old female page. But Califano says the surprising thing he found in his investigation that covered a ten year period was that just three cases of sexual misconduct were confirmed in this age of sexual awakening and human fraility. Charles Gibson, ABC News, Capitol Hill."

Peter Jennings then added this knife-twisting note to the hypocritical conservative Crane: "One historical note. Back in 1981 when the House was debating a District of Columbia bill that would have legalized most sexual acts between consenting adults, Congressman Daniel Crane was one of those who spoke out forcefully against it. ‘We have lost sight of the moral codes,’ he said, ‘the time has come for all God fearing people to stand up and be counted.’"Six days later, on July 20, 1983, when Crane and Studds were censured, Gibson sympathetically concluded: "Later in a statement, Studds said all congressmen are in need of a humbling experience now and then. Members on the floor had called it not humbling, but humiliating. Charles Gibson, ABC News, Capitol Hill."The next fall, as Massachusetts voters prepared to cast ballots in a statewide primary election, ABC aired a story by John McKenzie on September 18, 1984, suggesting all was well with Congressman Studds, despite the sex with the teenage page:

McKenzie: "Gerry Studds has been the Congressman from southeastern Massachusetts for 11 years. People here know Studds, at least they thought they did until last year."Tip O’Neill: "Resolved, one the Representative Gerry E. Studds be censured."McKenzie: "He was rebuked by his peers after it was learned that during his first year in Congress Studds had had a homosexual affair with a 17 year old page. Now, openly acknowledging his gay lifestyle, Studds is campaigning for a seventh term. But it's that one affair that continues to plague him, as he was reminded on this radio talk show.Woman on talk radio: "You have abused your power in Washington. It is a violation of trust. It makes me nauseous. It's embarrassing."Studds: "Well, I'm certainly sorry to have you so upset. I don't know what else I can say. Let me say something ma'am. Something happened 11 years ago, 11 years ago. It was an incredibly stupid thing that ought not to have happened."Peter Flynn: "My response has always been it was a morally reprehensible thing to do."McKenzie: "Plymouth County sheriff Peter Flynn, admits the only reason he's running against Studds in the Democratic primary is because the censure issue has made Studds vulnerable. But here in New Bedford and fishing towns up and down the coast, there is still a strong sense of loyalty to Studds.Man: "You've got to judge him by what he does in office. What he does on the other side, hey, you just can't throw a guy down a river."Woman: "We feel like he let us down. But at the same time we do have to forgive each other."McKenzie: "Although early opinion polls show Studds leading in this race many people here have been undecided, many waiting until today before weighing Studds' personal past against his political future. John McKenzie, ABC News, New Bedford, Massachusetts."

In 1984 and beyond, Studds then went back to appearing on ABC in his usual capacity: arguing against any money for the Nicaraguan freedom fighters.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis