Studds Had to Die to Get NBC to Remind Viewers of His Sex with a Teen Page

Gerry Studds had to die for NBC Nightly News to inform viewers of how the former Democratic Congressman had a sexual relationship with 17-year-old male congressional page, misconduct for which the House in 1983 censured him, but did not prompt Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill and other leaders to force his resignation -- nor raise calls for O'Neill's resignation. Despite the Democratic hypocrisy given their current calls for Speaker Hastert's resignation and investigations of who knew what and when about Mark Foley, Saturday night -- two weeks into the media-fueled scandal -- was the first time, according to Nexis, any NBC News program mentioned Studds' name. Anchor John Seigenthaler, who called Studds “Gary,” relayed how “from Massachusetts comes word of the death of former Democratic Congressman Gary Studds, the first openly gay Member of Congress.” Seigenthaler then gave the gentlest of descriptions as he avoided the word “sexual” in his one sentence on the matter: “In 1983 the House of Representatives censured Studds for his relationship with a teenage page.”

ABC does not produce an evening newscast on Saturdays during college football season and college football bumps the CBS Evening News on Saturdays in the Eastern and Central time zones.

As I recall, early in the week of October 2, the ABC and CBS evening newscasts made very brief mentions of the 1983 cases of Democrat Studds, who went on to repeatedly win re-election, and Republican Dan Crane, who also had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old congressional page -- but a girl -- and lost in his next primary. CNN's Jeff Greenfield put together a full story on Studds, Crane and the history of sexual scandals on Capitol Hill.

For how ABC News, which broke the Foley story, treated Studds back in 1983, check Tim Graham's October 5 NewsBusters posting, “ABC on Gerry Studds: Only 'A Strong Sense of Loyalty' and Forgiveness from Voters.”

The brief item on the October 14 NBC Nightly News, as announced by anchor John Seigenthaler:
“From Massachusetts comes word of the death of former Democratic Congressman Gary [sic] Studds, the first openly gay Member of Congress. In 1983 the House of Representatives censured Studds for his relationship with a teenage page. Still, he won re-election until his retirement in 1997. Studds collapsed last week and was recovering in Boston at a hospital when doctors say he succumbed to a blood clot. Gary Studds was 69.”
The Boston Globe's obituary for Studds, on Sunday's front page, noted:

"As the Foley scandal unfolded and he abruptly resigned from the House, Republicans in Washington accused Democrats of hypocrisy, saying they had not spoken out in 1983 when Studds was censured. At the time, he called it 'a serious error,' but refused to resign."


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