Two years ago, ABC’s Brian Ross broke wide open the scandal of Republican Rep. Mark Foley sending sexual Internet messages to Congressional pages. Foley resigned quickly, but that didn’t dampen the story. We reported "On the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news programs, from the story’s emergence on Friday night, September 29, through Wednesday morning, October 11, the Big Three networks have aired 152 stories." On October 11's Good Morning America, news anchor Christopher Cuomo spoke insistently: "Less than a month before the elections and the Mark Foley scandal just keeps growing." Reporter Jake Tapper added: "This is the scandal that will not go away."
But what about a scandal that will not be acknowledged? Even when a network breaks the story? On October 13, ABC reporter Brian Ross broke the news on his Blotter blog that Rep. Tim Mahoney, the Democrat who replaced Mark Foley in the House, who ran on returning morality to Congress, "agreed to a $121,000 payment to a former mistress who worked on his staff and was threatening to sue him." The FBI is now investigating. ABC has audio of him yelling at the mistress (with profanities) that she's fired. Mahoney didn’t resign. He’s running for reelection.
Number of ABC stories on the morning and evening newscasts? Zero.
Number of CBS stories? Zero.
Number of NBC stories? Zero.
It should be noted that our story count of 152 stories is quite incomplete. It counted only through October 11, and no one would say the Foley story wasn't covered in the weeks after that. To be fair, while Tim Mahoney was a major beneficiary of the massive media coverage against Foley, he was a minor figure in the TV coverage in 2006, but it’s still quite instructional to see his clips playing the moralist against Foley at the time.
From ABC, the October 1 World News Sunday began with the Foley story, as anchorman Dan Harris aerobically played it up as a national issue:
DAN HARRIS: Good evening. I'm Dan Harris. ABC News has learned the FBI is opening a preliminary investigation into Republican Congressman Mark Foley and the sexually explicit e-mails and messages he sent to teenage boys working as congressional pages. It comes as Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are saying their own handling of this situation might be worthy of a criminal investigation. It is an attempt to contain what is a potentially massive metastasizing scandal just five weeks before Election Day...
LIZ MARLANTES: The top three Republicans in the House have already issued a joint statement calling Foley's behavior 'an obscene breach of trust." Today, House Speaker Dennis Hastert called on the Attorney General to investigate his own party. Democrats are demanding Republican candidates return money from Foley. They say the scandal raises questions about which party is stronger on family values.
TIM MAHONEY: It looks to me that it was more important to hold on to a seat and to hold on to power than to take care of our children.
MARLANTES: Democrat Tim Mahoney, campaigning this weekend with Senator John Kerry, is in a good position to win Foley's seat. If Republicans can't quell the furor in days to come, the political repercussions could be much broader.
Mahoney's line was even more aggressive on the October 12 Nightline:
CHRIS BURY: In fact, the scandal has moved to the forefront of several House races from suburban Buffalo...
REP. THOMAS REYNOLDS (R-NY): I'm disappointed I didn't catch his lies before. For that, I'm sorry.
BURY: To Ohio. And of course, to Foley's old district in Florida.
TIM MAHONEY: Every generation has a responsibility to turning over to the next generation an America that's more moral.
From CBS, a story airing October 1 on Sunday Morning and the CBS Evening News:
JOIE CHEN: House Speaker Dennis Hastert now admits his office knew about the inappropriate messages a full year ago, but didn't know how lewd they were. Foley's Democratic challenger, Tim Mahoney, yesterday exploited his political windfall.
Mr. TIM MAHONEY : It looks to me that it was more important to hold onto his seat and to hold onto power than to take care of our children.
From NBC, the September 30 Nightly News:
Reporter MARK POTTER: Political analysts say Foley's Democratic opponent, businessman Tim Mahoney, now has a strong chance to win the seat. Today Mahoney made a campaign appearance with Senator John Kerry, chastising Republican leaders who knew earlier about Foley's misdeeds.
TIM MAHONEY: And it looks to me that it was more important to hold on to a seat and to hold on to power than take care of our children.
Enormous disparities in coverage like this -- where one is a national issue with the media demanding the Speaker of the House resign, and the other one can't score a whisper on the air -- display an enormous amount of unprofessional, partisan behavior on the part of the TV network assignment editors. To whatever extent they claim to practice nonpartisan journalism, they are hypocrites of Tim Mahoney's magnitude.