TV Morning Shows Hail WashTimes Dump-Hastert Editorial, Highlight GOP In 'Crisis'

Network morning shows stayed on the Mark Foley scandal on Tuesday. ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN all harped on the "conservative" Washington Times editorial calling for Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign. (The Times is conservative, but no one expects the networks to describe the liberal newspapers -- or themselves -- with an ideological label.) ABC's Brian Ross came on strong, suggesting the Republican problem was "one of hypocrisy, talking tough about going after pedophiles on the Internet but not doing much about it when it comes to one of their own." CBS's Hannah Storm wondered if the scandal would "take down the Republican leadership in the House." NBC's Tim Russert used a rare P-word quoting a panicked Republican: "If there's a perception that we overlooked perversion in order to hold on to power we are finished." And CNN brought on a braying Paul Begala and found Democrats were "particularly enjoying the fact" that House campaign chairman Thomas Reynolds was ensnared in the controversy.

Here's the rundown from the MRC analyst team:

-- ABC could have been called the Amish Broadcasting Company on Tuesday. They devoted the first 15 minutes of "Good Morning America." to the school shooting in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. When the newscast began, Claire Shipman went right to Foley:

Shipman: "We begin with the latest on the shocking capitol hill email sex scandal. This morning the conservative Washington Times newspaper is calling on House Speaker Dennis Hastert to take Congressman Mark Foley's lead and step down. ABC's Brian Ross is here with the details."

Ross: "Republicans in Congress are in crisis, having a hard time explaining why foley's suspect behavior with pages went unchecked for at least five years. The Speaker of the House says he had no idea how bad it was until he saw Foley's X-rated emails on ABC News."

Since the X (or NC-17) rating at the movies is not usually about sex talk, but the visual presentation of intercourse, it would be hard to describe blocks of text as "X-rated." In fact, if hypocrisy is an issue, we could note that sex talk is quite common on regular broadcast and cable TV, and networks like ABC have a hard time even labeling it on their own screen. ABC even has Foley-style plotlines on Desperate Housewives. But the story continued:

Dennis Hastert: "No one in the Republican leadership saw those messages until last Friday when ABC News released them to the public."

Ross: "Yet there were warnings signs going back at least five years. Even as foley ge this tearful farewell to the page class of 2002."

Foley, choking up at the end: "Cherish your youth, cherish this experience, but above all cherish your families. Let them know how much you appreciate them giving you this chance. And let them know how much you appreciate their love to make you the people you are."

Ross: "Some of the same pages in the chamber that day would later receive x-rated messages from Foley. He now says his lurid messages, full of graphic sexual language, too graphic to be broadcast, was the result of his lifelong battle with alcohol. His lawyer says he is in rehab."

David Roth, Mark Foley’s attorney: "Mark is contrite, remorseful and devastated by the harm he has caused others and takes full responsibility for his actions. Mark blames no one but himself."

Ross: "But the issue for Republicans is becoming one of hypocrisy, talking tough about going after pedophiles on the internet but not doing much about it when it comes to one of their own. Hypocrisy typified by some of Foley's own statements, including one he made to John Walsh of ‘America's Most Wanted,’ now coming back to haunt him."

Foley, in blurry video, perhaps from the Internet: "If I were one of these sickos, I've be nervous with ‘America's Most Wanted’ on my trail.

Ross promised more: "A former top Republican official in Congress says there were other members whose behavior around pages was also suspect, and former pages have been busy providing new leads about just who those members are, Claire."

Shipman: "Alright, Brian, thank you. I don't think this story is going away any time soon. We do want to make clear that for the second day in a row, speaker of house dennis hastert was invited to appear on Good Morning America but he declined our invitation."

-- CBS: MRC’s Mike Rule reported the Early Show had two stories in the first half-hour on Foley, a report by Sharyl Attkisson, and an interview with CBS chief political correspondent Gloria Borger. Julie Chen introduced the Attkisson report by noting: " The FBI says it had copies of inappropriate e-mails former Congressman Mark Foley sent to teenage pages back in July, but there was no investigation because top Republicans said they would handle it. Now the scandal may have far-reaching implications. CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports."

Sharyl Attkisson: "Republicans have their new candidate but a win is a long shot and the focus is elsewhere, on Republican House leaders who knew about Foley's inappropriate contacts with pages more than a year ago. Shelley Capito, who helps oversee the page program, is demanding answers."

Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Representative: "If there was a concerted effort to keep Mr. Foley in Congress for whatever reason, political or otherwise, then I think that will come to light in the FBI investigation."

Sharyl Attkisson: "Under fire from critics in both parties who say it smells like a cover-up, House Speaker Dennis Hastert defended himself saying he didn't know the extent of Foley's contacts with young male former pages."

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House: "Congressman Foley duped a lot of people."

Sharyl Attkisson: "Meantime, Foley checked himself into rehab."

David Roth, Attorney for Former Congressman Mark Foley: "Mark is contrite, remorseful and devastated by the harm he has caused others and takes full responsibility for his actions."

Sharyl Attkisson: "Ironically, Foley could find himself prosecuted under the very law that he helped write. It's called the 'Adam Lost Child Protection Act.' Among other things, the new law makes it harder for sexual predators to reach out to children on the internet. To speak to former pages like Blake Yocum, Foley's interest in the young students was practically legendary, but this story has been a surprise."

Blake Yocum, Former Congressional Page: "I feel my close friends who were pages, you know, suspected that Congressman Foley was homosexual but not necessarily, you know, we never suspected pedophilia out of Congressman Foley."

Sharyl Attkisson: "It'll take time before we know what, if anything, Foley will be charged with. Some of that depends on whether he actually tried to meet up with or solicit the teens he was in contact with. Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News, Capitol Hill."

Co-host Hannah Storm was projecting the thought that the Foley scandal could "take down" the GOP House leadership:

Hannah Storm: "Will the scandal surrounding former Republican Congressman Mark Foley, who faces a criminal probe concerning a sexually suggestive e-mails to teenage pages, take down the Republican leadership in the House? And how will it impact the mid term elections which are just five weeks away? Gloria Borger is CBS News National Political Correspondent. Good morning Gloria."

Gloria Borger: "Good morning Hannah."

Hannah Storm: "Well Gloria, this morning in the conservative Washington Times in an editorial, they're calling for House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign. They're saying that either he was grossly negligent for not seeing the red flags and ordering an immediate investigation or that he deliberately looked the other way, hoping this would go away. So, how much pressure is there on Hastert and other Republican leaders who may have known about this scandal to resign today?"

Gloria Borger: "Well, I think they're feeling an awful lot of pressure from their rank and file. Obviously this editorial by the conservative Washington Times doesn't help it. I think the Republicans in the House are in a pickle here, Hannah, because this is just five weeks before an election. So the question is, do you keep Denny Hastert and his lieutenants in charge because the election is so close and you don't want to shake the boat? Or, on the other hand, do you have to show your base support, those cultural conservative voters, that you hear them, that you hear that they're upset, and force Denny Hastert to step aside? I think that's a decision that the rank and file has to make right now. You know, they've got five weeks, and they've got a 15-seat margin they need to defend. So they've got a lot of work to do."

Hannah Storm: "And, what impact do you think that it will have on the elections? Will this story have legs and could it, perhaps, be the tipping point in the election? Could it cost the Republicans the House?"

Gloria Borger: "You know, as Howard Baker always used to say, overnight is a lifetime in politics, and this sure was a lifetime. Obviously, they believe they've lost the Foley seat. Every seat is gold when you're defending these 15 seats. And now there are some reports and some polls that show that they virtually conceded another four or five of those seats. So they are really, really, really in a tough spot. They're going to have to spend an awful lot of money defending Republicans in tight races. And they don't want to be asked questions about how the party of values and how a party who talks about moral values can have let this issue go on for more than a year without doing anything about it."

Hannah Storm: "Right. Obviously, the Republicans would rather focus on things where they excel, like national security. So, how do we see this impacting, perhaps, the Senate races as well?"

Gloria Borger: "Well, you know, there is going to be a spillover. There could be a sense, if the public gets really disgusted by all of this, they don't trust members of Congress, they think members of Congress are corrupt, and now you have this Mark Foley story, there could be a sense that they're all a bunch of hypocrites and that maybe you ought to throw all the bums out. And that could affect, ironically, some Democrats as well as some Republicans. Right now, obviously, this is focused on the House of Representatives. But you saw even the president's spokesman yesterday calling these e-mails abhorrent, everybody wanting to distance themselves from what Mark Foley did. And, there's one thing we don't know yet, Hannah, and that is whether we're going to discover that there's more to this Mark Foley problem than we knew, whether there are more pages involved, or even more members of Congress. We just don't know yet."

-- NBC: MRC’s Geoff Dickens noticed the show led off again with Foley fallout. Meredith Vieira declared: "Political firestorm. House Speaker Dennis Hastert under scrutiny after a leading conservative newspaper calls for his resignation over his handling of the congressional e-mail scandal."

A few seconds later, Matt Lauer repeated for emphasis: "We're also gonna have the latest on that scandal that seems to be engulfing Washington or at least it's the talk of that town. A former Congressman accused of sexually, or sending sexually explicit emails to teenage male interns. It's already cost him his career but how many other Republicans could be forced out in this growing scandal? And what does it mean for the midterm elections? We'll talk with Tim Russert about that."

When the news break came at 7:11am, anchor Natalie Morales brought in the Times editorial: "More fallout from the investigation into former Congressman Mark Foley and sexually suggestive emails he sent to teenage boys. The conservative paper the Washington Times today is calling on Dennis Hastert to resign as House speaker claiming he was either negligent or looked the other way. We're gonna have more on this in a few minutes."

Four minutes later, more emphasis from Lauer: "Now to those allegations swirling around former Republican Congressman Mark Foley and emails sent to young male congressional pages. This morning a prominent conservative newspaper is calling on House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign, claiming he didn't do enough to investigate Foley. NBC's Chip Reid covers Congress for us." Reid’s report was straightforward, with this conclusion:

Reid: "Many former pages say they're stunned by the Foley scandal because it doesn't reflect their experience at all."

Unidentified former page: "The entire time I was in the page program I never felt threatened. I felt very safe."

Reid: "Now more than 20 years ago Congress revamped the page program after a sex scandal, now they say they'll have to do it again. Matt."

Matt Lauer then turned to Russert to measure the panic meter:

Lauer: "On the political Richter scale what is this story now and what does it have the potential to turn into?"

Russert: "Matt amongst Republicans on Capitol Hill it's 9 heading to 10. They are panicked. As one said to me yesterday, 'If there's a perception that we overlooked perversion in order to hold on to power we are finished.'"

After Russert described how the House leaders say they merely saw e-mails and didn’t see a massive problem, he added: "What Republicans are saying and Democrats are saying is even if you saw just the first e-mail and not the text messages it was enough to say, 'Hold on, this is inappropriate. Let's investigate because other incidences may occur and people may come forward.'" Then the cynicism kicked in:

Lauer: "And so the most cynical scenario, the worst case scenario for Republicans is that they kept this under wraps because Foley's seat was important to holding control of the House at a time when the entire control issues was up for grabs in the midterm elections?"

Russert: "Absolutely and the Democrats are saying, now, 'If we had been brought into this and said this is a problem with the page program, let's look at it in a non-partisan way, this would not be the scandal it is.'"

Lauer: "And, by the way, there's another side to this. Congressman Foley made a rather sizeable donation to the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee of about $100,000 earlier in the summer. This came to that committee just a short time before these e-mails would've surfaced to that committee, also."

Russert: "Again, Matt, it begs the question why were the political people of the House Republican Party involved and not a bipartisan page program being examined."

Lauer: "Now we're five weeks away from the midterm elections. Tim, investigations take time. So is this gonna kind of unfold in time to truly impact those elections?"

Russert: "Well, well it probably won't come to closure. The Justice Department is investigating but as a Republican said to me yesterday, Matt, ‘When it came to Iraq we could say to our constituents, the Democrats don't have a plan either. This one,’ he said, ‘they get.’ This is, if it's perceived to be a coverup to hold on to power, they will say, ‘Well there is no alternative other than throw these guys out.’"

Lauer: "And, and does this resonate with voters? There are some stories, Tim, and you and I know this that, that we talk about a lot and they talk about a lot inside Washington but you get out to Des Moines and Little Rock and Seattle and it doesn't make that big a difference. How's this rate?"

Russert: "I can only quote congressmen who went home this weekend. They say the first three questions they were asked about was, 'page scandal, page scandal, page scandal.' And Matt, Christian conservatives, the base of the Republican Party, the fear is that they will stay home. They're turnout will be depressed. And if they stay home-"

Lauer: "Yeah but Tim --"

Russert: "--Republicans are in trouble."

Lauer: "Ten seconds. Are they gonna stay home and risk a Democrat taking a seat in their home district?"

Russert: "That's the magical question. If you can answer that, you can predict the outcome five weeks from today."

They didn't wonder why a conservative Christian would let a liberal Democrat win a House or Senate seat and implement the libertine left's political agenda because one bad GOP apple sent creepy Internet messages.

-- CNN: MRC’s Scott Whitlock noticed that CNN’s American Morning featured jubilant Democrats as well as the mention of the "conservative Washington Times."

Miles O’Brien: "With the election 35 days away, the Foley scandal is creating a political opportunity for Democrats, meaning it's time to make some new campaign commercials. American Morning’s Bob Franken joining us live from Washington with more. Good morning, Bob."

Franken: "Good morning, Miles. Yes, there is a new sport at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It's called table turning. The White House was the setting in July as President Bush signed the Child Safety and Protection Act; among the honored guests, Congressman Mark Foley. And that's providing an opportunity for Democrats who have been the target of Republican attack ads like this one that ran in Indiana."

Unidentified female: "Can you imagine a suspected child rapist being captured in Vanderburg (ph) County but then mistakenly released by Brad Ellsworth's sheriff's department? At the time Sheriff Ellsworth, whose department released the suspect, was in Washington, campaigning for Congress."

Paul Begala (labeled simply as "political contributor"): "The Republicans, for a long time have acted like they have a monopoly on virtue, that somehow they're closer to God or children, or to families. That's nonsense. Neither party has a monopoly on that."

Franken: "And Democrats are particularly enjoying the fact one of the Republicans ensnared in this controversy, is the chairman of the party's congressional campaign committee, New York Representative Tom Reynolds. Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the Congressional Page Board Chairman John Shimkus portrayed themselves as victims, too, of Foley's deceit."

It’s a bit surprising that Franken would so openly declare that Democrats are "enjoying" a scandal which revealed pages were at risk of being approached by lecherous Congressmen. Miles O’Brien did get around to promoting the Washington Times editorial:

O’Brien: "Also in Washington this morning, Republicans waking up to some unwelcome words. The conservative Washington Times newspaper is calling on the House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign. CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider joining us now from the bureau, talk a little bit more about this. Good morning, Bill. Good to have you with us."

Schneider: "Thanks, Miles."

O'Brien: "I want to read, for folks, just a little brief excerpt of this editorial in the Times. It says this: ‘Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away.’ Will this move to force Hastert to step down? Will it gain much traction, do you think?"

Schneider: "What we're seeing is a lot of anger and criticism coming, not just from Democrats, as Bob Franken just reported, but now also from conservatives and Republicans. The Washington Times editorial page being a very much a conservative voice, Richard Viguerie, who has always been closely associated with the social conservative movement -- they're demanding, some of them, Viguerie, among others, that Hastert and other leaders resign. A lot of members of the House Republican leadership find themselves in serious political trouble right now. Partly because of a revolt from the right, not just the left."

O'Brien: "When you start talking about social conservatives, they have other issues here. They have kind of a laundry list of issues with Republicans right now."

Schneider: "They have a lot of grievances with the Republican Congress. They have been angry for sometime. They call it, Viguerie calls it the big government Republicans, who are running the country, at least through Congress. And he even includes President Bush in that criticism. They're angry about government spending and the huge deficits under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House. They're angry that Congress has failed to act about immigration. And not a few of them are angry over the Iraq war and the fact this doesn't seem to have any discernible outcome in the foreseeable future."

Conservatives are appalled at the rate of government spending growth under Bush, but Schneider didn’t feel the need to actually look at how the deficits are lower than forecast. He went on to insist "a lot of people are angry because it looks like, smells like there might be a cover up. That the leadership of Congress wanted to cover this up in order to protect their partisan interests. They didn't want to lose the Foley seat. They didn't want to have a full-blown scandal, which is, of course, now exactly what they've got." Schneider added that Foley’s district was definitely switching parties.

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