ABC and NBC Run Full Stories on Foley, But at Least NBC Squeezes in Reid -- Barely

The ABC and NBC evening newscasts on Thursday ran full stories on the testimony, before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, from Kirk Fordham, former Congressman Mark Foley's Chief of Staff. But ABC had no time for anything about a late Wednesday AP disclosure of how “Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale even though he hadn't personally owned the property for three years.” The NBC Nightly News at least, after two minutes on Foley, managed to squeeze in 30 seconds about Senator Reid, but only a very benign description of the matter.

George Stephanopoulos touted how “ABC News has learned that behind closed doors, Fordham told the ethics committee that he warned Speaker Hastert's office, about Congressman Foley's inappropriate behavior with pages, more than three years ago.” NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams elevated Foley to the top of his newscast by teasing: "Who knew what and when in the Foley scandal involving teenage congressional pages? Foley's former Chief of Staff testifies that he raised red flags many times." Following a story from Chip Reid, Williams asked: "What's behind this increased scrutiny for the top man for the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid?" NBC's Reid explained how the AP reported “he may have violated Senate ethics rules by not reporting some of the intermediate steps along the way” in a land deal and Senator “Reid says it's all perfectly legal” and “he says if technical changes, as he calls them, need to be made, he will do so.”

An excerpt from the start of the October 11 Associated Press story, “AP Exclusive: Reid Got $1M in Land Sale,” by John Solomon and Kathleen Hennessey of the wire service's Washington, DC bureau:
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale even though he hadn't personally owned the property for three years, property deeds show.

In the process, Reid did not disclose to Congress an earlier sale in which he transferred his land to a company created by a friend and took a financial stake in that company, according to records and interviews.

The Nevada Democrat's deal was engineered by Jay Brown, a longtime friend and former casino lawyer whose name surfaced in a major political bribery trial this summer and in other prior organized crime investigations. He's never been charged with wrongdoing -- except for a 1981 federal securities complaint that was settled out of court....
Thursday's CBS Evening News skipped Reid and limited coverage of the Foley fallout to a short item read by anchor Katie Couric about Fordham's testimony.

The two October 12 broadcast network evening newscast stories on Foley, and NBC's brief look at Reid:

ABC's World News:
Charles Gibson: “Next, we're going to turn to the investigation of former Congressman Mark Foley and whether the top leadership of the House of Representatives knew of his inappropriate messages to teenage congressional pages. Today, the House ethics committee questioned Foley's former Chief of Staff who says he did tell Republican House leadership years ago that there were signs of trouble. Our Chief Washington Correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, is joining us. George.”

George Stephanopoulos, from DC: “Charlie, his name is Kirk Fordham. He spent more than four hours before the committee. And his testimony was not what Speaker Hastert's office wanted to hear. Today's star witness wasn't talking when he left the ethics committee, but his lawyer was.”

Timothy Heaphy, Kirk Fordham's attorney: “He's been truthful and cooperative and will continue to be throughout this and other investigations. We have been asked not to share the substance of the inquiry.”

Stephanopoulos: “But ABC News has learned that behind closed doors, Fordham told the ethics committee that he warned Speaker Hastert's office, about Congressman Foley's inappropriate behavior with pages, more than three years ago. Under oath, Fordham testified that the warning was triggered by a report that late one night, Congressman Foley, apparently drunk, had tried and failed to enter the congressional page dormitory. After learning about the alleged incident from the House clerk, Fordham says he contacted the Speaker's Chief of Staff and closest confidant, Scott Palmer, and told him that Foley was getting too close to the pages. Fordham contends that Palmer later told him he spoke to Foley about the matter. Palmer, who has not yet appeared before the ethics committee, says 'what Kirk Fordham says did not happen.' But if the committee determines it did, he's likely to lose his job.”

Speaker Dennis Hastert, on Tuesday: “If anybody's found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone.”

Stephanopoulos: “Tonight, President Bush and Speaker Hastert are putting up a good front. They're appearing together at a fundraiser in Chicago. And, Charlie, the President called Speaker Hastert the 'future Speaker.'”

Gibson: “All right. George Stephanopoulos reporting again tonight from Washington. Thanks.”

NBC Nightly News:
Up top tease from Brian Williams: “Who knew what and when in the Foley scandal involving teenage congressional pages? Foley's former Chief of Staff testifies that he raised red flags many times.”

Williams, after lead coverage of the crash of plane into a building in Manhattan: “Now we change gears to the congressional page scandal and some key testimony today before the House ethics committee. Kirk Fordham was Chief of Staff for now former Congressman Mark Foley. Today he testified under oath for five hours. NBC's Chip Reid is with us tonight from Washington with that. Chip, good evening.”

Chip Reid, from Capitol Hill: “Good evening, Brian. The testimony is being conducted in secret, but NBC News has learned much of what Fordham told the committee. Outside his Washington home this morning, Kirk Fordham, former Chief of Staff to Mark Foley, had little to say.”

Kirk Fordham: “Talked to my family and, you know, I'm going to tell the truth.”

Reid: “After Fordham testified before the ethics committee, his lawyer had little to add.”

Timothy Heaphy, Kirk Fordham's attorney: “All I can say is that Mr. Fordham has been completely forthcoming and intends to continue cooperating.”

Reid: “But a source familiar with Fordham's testimony, tells NBC News Fordham told the committee he repeatedly warned Foley about his quote 'chumminess' with male pages. The key incident, Fordham testified, occurred at the page dormitory about three years ago, when Foley allegedly showed up drunk and tried to get in. Fordham said soon after that he went to Speaker Dennis Hastert's office and spoke about Foley with Scott Palmer, Hastert's powerful Chief of Staff, hoping the Speaker's office would have more luck getting Foley under control. For his part, Palmer denies ever speaking to Fordham about Foley and Hastert has consistently maintained that he knew nothing about the Foley problem until the day Foley resigned. Tonight, President Bush joined Hastert at a campaign event in Illinois and reiterated his support.”

President Bush: “I am proud to be standing with the current Speaker of the House who is going to be the future Speaker of the House.”

Reid: “Hastert says he'll fire any of his aides who engaged in a cover-up, but at this point, says he does not believe anyone his office did anything wrong. And now, it's up to the ethics committee to try to determine who's telling the truth.”

Williams asked: “And Chip, what's behind this increased scrutiny for the top man for the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid?”

Reid: “Yeah, well Reid bought $400,000 worth of land outside Las Vegas eight years ago. Six years later, he sold it for a $700,000 profit. Now the Associated Press, in an investigation, says he may have violated Senate ethics rules by not reporting some of the intermediate steps along the way. Reid says it's all perfectly legal, but he's talking to the ethics committee. He says if technical changes, as he calls them, need to be made, he will do so. Brian.”

Williams: “Chip Reid on the Hill for us tonight. Thanks for that.”
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