CBS & ABC Paint Foley Scandal as Doomsday for GOP: 'Too Late for Damage Control'

“It could be too late for damage control,” CBS anchor Katie Couric intoned Monday night in painting the worst-possible scenario for continued GOP control of the House in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. Reporter Gloria Borger declared: "There is no getting around it: The unraveling of the page scandal could be the undoing of some House Republican leaders, if not their hold on Congress.” With the words on screen, she highlighted how “one senior House Republican tells CBS News that this scandal 'could be the congressional equivalent of Katrina'” and “'our base is moral conservatives, and we look like a bunch of hypocrites who just didn't want another scandal before the election.'”

Over on ABC's World News, George Stephanopoulos unequivocally stated: “This issue became the number one issue in every congressional race in the country. And both Republicans and Democrats say it has the potential to cost Republicans the Congress.” Anchor Charles Gibson noted how House Speaker Dennis Hastert “says, 'Well, I was deceived.'” Gibson then suggested Hastert be held accountable: “Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said: 'The Buck stops here.' What is the jeopardy of the House Republican leadership?" Stephanopoulos replied, "The question is: How much more did they know? And why didn't they act on what they knew? That's what Democrats are going to push.” And the Washington press corps, too.

The NBC Nightly News delivered a less-hyperbolic tone, but Tim Russert came aboard to raise the topic of “panic” amongst the GOP:
"Republicans are panicked, in a simple word. They know that even if the leadership did not quote, 'see the e-mails,' there was warnings of inappropriate behavior a year ago and nothing was done. They're afraid of the consequences and they're afraid the conservative Christians will simply stay home at these mid-term elections and not support Republican candidates."
The evening shows matched the tone expressed on Monday's morning shows, as detailed in a NewsBusters posting by Tim Graham: “Network Morning Shows Begin With Big Push on Foley, Potential Loss of GOP Majority.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for one story each aired on the October 2 CBS and ABC evening newscasts. Both carried two stories on the subject:

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
Katie Couric: "House Speaker Dennis Hastert is feeling the heat from the scandal involving ex-Congressman Mark Foley of Florida. Hastert and other top Republicans knew for a year that Foley had sent questionable e-mails to a former congressional page. The Speaker says he only found out last Friday, though, about other sexually explicit messages sent by Foley. But, as national political correspondent Gloria Borger reports, it could be too late for damage control."

Gloria Borger: "There is no getting around it: The unraveling of the page scandal could be the undoing of some House Republican leaders, if not their hold on Congress. Congressman Mark Foley has left the premises to undergo rehab for what he called 'alcoholism and related behavioral problems,' as the FBI and Florida officials began investigating his contacts with a young male page. But on Capitol Hill, one senior House Republican tells CBS News that this scandal [text on screen] 'could be the congressional equivalent of Katrina.' 'Our base is moral conservatives, and we look like a bunch of hypocrites who just didn't want another scandal before the election.' Today Republicans named their new candidate, but winning is a long shot. And increasingly angry Republicans are asking: Did their leaders keep this secret to save a precious House seat? Republican Shelley Capito is demanding an answer."

Rep. Shelley Capito (R-WV): "Well, certainly I'm outraged at the circumstances."

Borger: "She's one of the three members in charge of Capitol Hill pages, and she says she was kept in the dark."

Capito: "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."

Borger: "Some religious conservatives may not want to wait for the FBI's report, and they have House Speaker Dennis Hastert in their sights. Today the Speaker defended himself, saying he didn't know of any explicit e-mails until last week."

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

Borger: "But Vin Weber, a former Republican House leader, asks how those in charge could have been so passive about a Foley e-mail to a young male page asking for his picture by simply describing it as overly friendly."

Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN): "I mean, it's just an inappropriate relationship. It should have sent off signal bells from the start."

Borger: "That's because Foley chaired the House caucus working against sexual predators. And consider this, Katie: If House Republican leaders had informed Democrats and law enforcement, they would have been able to control this politically. And more importantly, a serious investigation would already be under way."

ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

Charles Gibson: "And next, we're going to turn to the shock waves set off by Congressman Mark Foley three days after the Florida Republican resigned in disgrace over sexually explicit messages sent to teenage congressional pages and former pages. With an FBI investigation under way, Foley has checked into a rehab clinic, saying a lifelong addiction to alcohol drove him to the inappropriate behavior that ended his political career. Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, who broke this story, here with the latest."
After Ross, Gibson turned to Stephanopoulos:

Gibson: "In essence, the Foley scandal is about children, and whether adults charged with their welfare did enough to protect them. But with the midterm elections five weeks from tomorrow, there is also a political component as well. Florida Republicans, for instance, today named a replacement candidate for Foley's congressional race, State Representative Joe Negron. However, due to Florida law, Foley's name must remain on the ballot. We're going to turn now to our chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos. So, George, there's already fallout in that race in Florida. And in others?"

George Stephanopoulos, in DC: "Oh, absolutely, Charlie. Over the weekend, this issue became the number one issue in every congressional race in the country. And both Republicans and Democrats say it has the potential to cost Republicans the Congress. You mentioned that race in Florida, the House Majority Leader, John Boehner, all but conceded that race today. And there's a second race where it's having a big impact: Congressman Tom Reynolds, up in Buffalo. He runs the Republican Congressional Campaign [Committee], he was one of the members of Congress who knew about Foley's e-mails earlier this year, he's already in a tight race, and he's called a press conference tonight to deal with the controversy."

Charles Gibson: "George, the jeopardy of the House Republican leadership. Brian [Ross] just reported that there were warnings since last spring about Foley. And yet very little was done. But then Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, says, 'Well, I was deceived.' Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said: 'The Buck stops here.' What is the jeopardy of the House Republican leadership?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, the question is: How much more did they know? And why didn't they act on what they knew? That's what Democrats are going to push. They're saying that in any business in the country, given the information they had, there would have been more of an investigation and more discipline for Mark Foley. And actually they're getting some backup here from conservative Republicans as well right now, and they're going to continue to drive this issue. They're also going to say Democrats were cut out of any investigation."

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center