Network Morning Shows Begin With Big Push On Foley, Potential Loss of GOP Majority

In the wake of Rep. Mark Foley's sudden resignation over ABC finding his sexually charged electronic messages to teenage male House pages, Monday's broadcast network morning shows all began with Foley, and the networks presented doom-laden scenarios of a crumbling Republican majority and some demands for Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican House leaders to resign. "But this is more than just one man's downfall," insisted Matt Lauer on NBC. "It could be a major blow to the Republican Party, desperately trying to hold on to control of Congress in the coming midterm elections." ABC's Robin Roberts wondered, "this morning, newly revealed e-mails, the denials, dealings of a Congress in chaos. Could the Foley scandal cost the Republicans the House? "

ABC's Chris Cuomo and CBS's Julie Chen each pushed Tony Snow to suggest Hastert and others should resign. Chen also asked if Republican leaders should be questioned "under oath." ABC's George Stephanopoulos dramatically called the scandal "a Category Three hurricane and it's picking up steam." When CNN's Soledad O'Brien then tried to suggest she was "certainly not rushing for anybody's resignation," Snow protested: "Sure you are." None made historical comparisons with Democrats caught in sexual relationships with House pages or other teenagers.

It was a four-network portrait of aggression:

– ABC. With Diane Sawyer in Los Angeles to interview actor Robin Williams about his struggles with alcoholism, Chris Cuomo sat in the anchor chair next to Robin Roberts. They began with the Foley hype, with the first nine and a half minutes devoted to the Foley scandal:

Cuomo: "Capitol Hill leaders scrambling all weekend, the story is Congressman Mark Foley. Allegations about e-mails, and now reports that he may be in rehab."

Roberts: "It's a story of course that we broke here on ABC News, and this morning, newly revealed e-mails, the denials, dealings of a Congress in chaos. Could the Foley scandal cost the Republicans the House?"

ABC's Brian Ross aired a story with the text of some Internet messages from Foley (with the handle "Maf54"), and interviewed former page Matthew Loraditch, who charged they were warning pages about Foley five years ago. Then they turned to ABC Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos for gloomy political predictions for the GOP:

Robin Roberts: "Let's get right to the political fallout from all this. Joining us is our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, who is also, of course, the host of This Week. And let's get right to it, George. How bad is this for Republicans in Congress?

Stephanopoulos: "Right now, Robin, it's a category three hurricane and it's picking up steam. Republicans all across the country are getting questions about it. But here's the key question: did any Republican leaders know about those X-rated emails that Brian is talking about? If they did, it is game over. The leadership will have to resign. It will cost Republicans control of Congress. As one top GOP aide told me just this morning, the place will burn down."

Roberts: "Let's talk a little bit about what the leadership possibly knew, because you know very well, often times there in D.C. not so much the crime, as it is the cover-up that leads to the fall down, the downfall of so many, so what do we know when they knew it?"

Stephanopoulos: "Here's what they say. They say back a year ago, a Louisiana congressman, Congressman Alexander, came to the Speaker's office because that, because he had learned about these overly friendly emails, not the X-rated ones. He told the Speakers office. The head of the page program was then told, another congressman from Illinois. He called Foley in and warned him to cut this out. Later in the spring, two other key members of the House leadership learned about these emails. John Boehner, the majority leader, Tom Reynolds, the head of the campaign committee. Reynolds says he told the Speaker in the spring, the Speaker says he doesn't remember it. And of course, just last week, Foley resigned."

Roberts: "We invited the speaker, Dennis Hastert, on GMA, and he politely declined. You have talked to members of both parties, so where does this go from here, George?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, the Speaker's still meeting with members of the page committee, to--trying to get all the details, they've called for an investigation. Republicans are trying to get out ahead of this, show that they have nothing to hide, showing that they are going to investigate it. Democrats have a single line, a single mantra. They're saying this chain of facts shows the Republicans were more interested in protecting one of their own, a member of Congress, than protecting the kids in their care, the pages. They're going to drive that for the next five weeks."

Roberts: "You know, Republicans have been courting the so-called security mom vote, and saying that they're stronger when it comes to the war on terror. This, of course, hits much closer to home, so are they fearful that this will kind of override that appeal?"

Stephanopoulos: "No question about it. They know this is not going away. They're worried about these questions. And what you have now are Republican candidates distancing themselves from this problem. They're calling for an investigation. They're giving back money they got from Foley. They're going to go the extra mile for the next five weeks to show that they had nothing to do with this and they're going to do everything they can to protect pages, but this is incredibly damaging, Robin."

In his interview with Tony Snow, Chris Cuomo, son of Mario, carried the Democratic attack with vigor:

Cuomo: "[A]ll of this discussion raises what the White House is going to do about this and what they're thinking. Of course, the implications could be very big for the elections. So the question is, how is the Bush team going to handle this, and the scathing new book by legendary reporter Bob Woodward? That is called, In a State of Denial [sic], heavy title. We go to Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, for some answers. Congressman Foley, a lot of letters going around now by Republicans and their leadership, calling for investigations and accountability. But let me ask you this simple question. If it turns out that the leadership knew or had reason to know about what Congressman Foley was doing in those emails, should they be forced to resign?"

Tony Snow: "I, you know, I don't get the calls for resignations, especially when it comes to members of the House. People got to figure out what happened here. Members of leadership, as well as Representative Foley, or former Representative Foley--look, it's a terrible story and I think people deserve to figure out what went on. On the other hand, you know, I think what you're seeing also, are a lot of people trying to figure out, ok, can I get political advantage out of this? Let's figure out what the facts are. Let's take it one step at a time. There will always be time for people to call for investigations and so on. Frankly, I think, we just need to get to the facts."

Cuomo: "But we do know, Tony, that many of the calls for investigations are coming from Republicans and we do know that as long as five years ago there were warnings to pages about Congressman Foley. Where's the accountability here on the part of the Republicans? Doesn't someone have to step down if they knew about this?"

Snow: "Well, again, Chris, you're assuming that I know what's been going on for the last five years. You and I are just trying to figure it out."

Cuomo: "You are aware that five years ago they were giving warnings to pages about this congressman, though, right, Tony?"

Snow: "Yeah, I am aware of it. But, again, I'm telling you, Chris, you got to figure out what's going on. What would you do? What would you do?"

Cuomo: "Okay. Okay. It's not for me to decide, Tony. It's just for me to ask the questions. Let me move on with you so we can get to something else."

– CBS. "Early Show" co-host Harry Smith opened up the show by noting: "Some top Republicans have been accused of a coverup." Reporter Sharyl Attkisson had a report, setting up a timeline of response from Hastert aides (all presented as silhouettes, without names, merely as a Staff Assistant, the Deputy Chief of Staff, the In-House Counsel, and the Clerk of the House). They talked to Rep. John Shimkus (pictured and named), as Shimkus and the Clerk warned Foley to stop the messages.

Co-host Julie Chen asked Tony Snow about the Bob Woodward book first, and saved the second part for Foley:

Chen: "Let's move on to Mark Foley, what's the White House reaction to the resignation of Foley?"

Snow: "Well, again, Mark Foley has resigned; it's an all awfully disturbing story and members of the House of Representatives are going to be taking a look at it."

Chen: "There are reports that Republican leadership knew about these overly friendly e-mails between Foley and a young male former page for almost a year. Should those who knew about these e-mails be forced to resign?"

Snow: "You know, everybody's calling for heads today. I'd like to call for the facts. Let's figure out what's going on. There will be plenty of time to call for heads and call for certain kinds of justice. I think the most important thing to remember is pages come to Washington, their parents ought to be able to be assured that no member of Congress of either party is going to be hitting on them. That's an important piece of business, so I think that's something that the House of Representatives needs to do. It's a House problem. They need to take care of it."

Chen went further: "Should people be questioned under oath about what they knew about these e-mails?"

Snow: "Again, let's, the House has its own procedures for doing investigations. Let them do the investigation. Let people draw their conclusions about whether they think it's up to snuff after it's done."

Chen: "White House press secretary Tony Snow, thank you."

– NBC. At the show’s open, with the words "Foley Into Rehab" on screen, Matt Lauer proclaimed: "Good morning, was alcohol to blame? After being accused of sending inappropriate electronic messages to underage male congressional pages, former Congressman Mark Foley says he is checking into rehab for alcoholism as the FBI launches an investigation."

From there, the co-hosts previewed again their pressure on the GOP:

Meredith Vieira: "Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley resigned from Congress on Friday after word surfaced he sent sexually explicit electronic messages to male pages who were in high school."

Lauer: "But this is more than just one man's downfall. It could be a major blow to the Republican Party, desperately trying to hold on to control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. Now the FBI wants to know if Foley has broken any federal laws. Last night his attorney released a letter from Foley saying he's entered rehab for alcohol and emotional difficulties. Gonna have more on all this coming up in just a couple of minutes."

With most of their attention in the first half-hour on Bob Woodward’s new book-length attack on Bush -- and Vieira didn't ask Snow any Foley questions -- NBC merely ran a Mike Taibbi story on the self-perpetuating prediction of a growing Foley scandal:

Mike Taibbi: "Mark Foley hasn't been seen publicly since his sudden resignation Friday over his sexually explicit internet contacts with underage male congressional pages and his nameplate removed from his office door. But the fallout from the scandal is gathering steam."

Sen. Mike DeWine: "I think there has to be a full investigation of who knew what and when they knew it."

Rep. Sherrod Brown: "Any legislative leader that knew ahead of time and did nothing should resign."

Brown, a Democrat, is running against DeWine for the Senate.

Like Attkisson, Taibbi suggested a Republican conspiracy: "At least five Republican House members did know ahead of time, some nearly a year ago, about emails described as over-friendly that Foley sent a 16-year-old male page, though not about any overtly sexual messages. The party's congressional committee chairman, Thomas Reynolds, said the situation was resolved after Foley insisted his emails were innocent and that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was told about it. But a Democratic member of the page board, which runs the page program, said he heard nothing about Foley's emails until the scandal exploded Friday and that any suggestion of an investigation by the board was completely false. Hence the accelerating talk among Democrats about an election year Republican cover-up."

Sen. Richard Durbin: "The fact that they didn't stop him, the fact that they didn't bring in law enforcement, I think they have to be held accountable."

Taibbi: "Some Republicans, like New York Congressman Peter King are calling for an open and unlimited investigation to start within days, not weeks, no matter the midterm elections and no matter where the facts lead. Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York."

– CNN. On American Morning, co-host Soledad O’Brien, like Chen, asked Tony Snow about Woodward first, Foley second:

O’Brien: I do want to talk a little bit about Congressman Mark Foley which is our other prong. So if we can shift, I'd love to move on. There is a lot to talk about there as well. There is an investigation, as you well know, but my question would be, why is Representative Hastert, when he was aware that there were over friendly e-mails between a congressman and a 16-year-old page, why so slow to move to an investigation?"

Snow: "You're going to have to ask the speaker about that stuff. Look, our plate is full enough. This is a terrible story. And Soledad, I got three kids. I think it's absolutely incumbent on members of Congress, many of whom have the charge of young pages, to make sure that these kids can come and get a good experience in Washington, not have to worry about the sort of things that have been alleged here. My sense is, figure out what the facts are, figure out who knew what when, let the House go ahead and conduct its investigations and others do it. We're going to find out the facts and I think probably sooner or later, because people do want to know."

O'Brien: "I would assume everybody would want to know, including the president. I mean we're not talking about any old person, we're talking about the leadership of the Republicans in Congress. Why would he not hear something that's disturbing or his office? Over-friendly, when I see that word as a parent and I think any parent would say whoa, over-friendly? Any communication between a 16-year-old and a congressman why doesn't that raise red flags, major, massive red flags?"

Snow ever-so-slightly suggested Democrats weren’t immune from sex scandals: "Yeah, look, I hate to tell you, but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill and there have been other scandals as you know that have been more than simply naughty e-mails. You know look, again, I'll reiterate my point. I think it's important to protect these kids and make sure that they have a good experience and like you, I want to find out what happened. But before we prosecute let's figure out what all the facts are. That's probably the most important thing to do is to be fair to all parties."

O'Brien: "Well, there are some who would say the perception comes across then, regardless of where we are in the investigation, that in fact, there was more of a concern about political fallout than there was about the welfare of a 16-year-old or any other teenagers who may work in the office."

Snow: "Again Soledad, I'll let you or the unnamed people draw the conclusions. I'm going to stick by my point which is that I think we have to take care of these kids."

O'Brien: "Does the president and does the administration standby Representative Hastert as far as he has led so far on this issue?"

Snow: "Again, we have to find out what's going on. You're trying to create problems. What you are trying to do is pick fights here. We need to figure out what's going on. Find the facts, figure out what the situation is, everybody's rushing for resignations and this and that. Let's just figure out what the deal is and then we can proceed from there."

O'Brien: "Well just a final point and I'm not -- certainly not rushing for anybody's resignation."

Snow: "Sure you are."

O'Brien: "Absolutely not. I am just here to try the figure out the story, sir."

Snow: "So am I."

O'Brien: "And I'm certainly not trying to create problems. I am just concerned as I would imagine lots of voters would be about the leadership on both sides, Democrats and Republicans."

Snow: "Look, I think it's going to be interesting because maybe all these folks will start taking a look at how they treat the young people who are in their charge. Again, I'll reiterate the second point, I think you and I agree on this. It's a horrible story. It's a horrible story. We have to figure out what happened, if there is a bigger problem, fix it."

O'Brien: "Tony Snow is the White House press secretary. Nice to talk to you, thanks for being with us this morning. Appreciate it."

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