One of the maddening things about the Mark Foley scandal is how the media can take one congressman’s creepy Internet messages about masturbating, declare it an issue in 468 congressional races, demand the head of the Speaker of the House, and then decry other people for ruining democracy with desperate negative ads that besmirch honest public servants. It’s exactly how Michael Grunwald’s Washington Post story on Friday began, with the Republican opponent to Rep. Ron Kind (who represents my dear old home town of Viroqua, Wisconsin) mocking his backing of federal sex studies. Grunwald and the Post predictably summarize, with typical spit and polish, the DNC talking points of the day, that it's the GOP that wins the prize for negativity:
The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit. A few examples of the "character issues" taking center stage two weeks before Election Day:
After listing a pile of Republican ads, Grunwald does acknowledge a few examples of Democratic nastiness. But here’s what stuck out for me:
-- In Ohio, GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell, trailing by more than 20 points in polls, has accused front-running Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland of protecting a former aide who was convicted in 1994 on a misdemeanor indecency charge. Blackwell's campaign is also warning voters through suggestive "push polls" that Strickland failed to support a resolution condemning sex between adults and children. Strickland, a psychiatrist, objected to a line suggesting that sexually abused children cannot have healthy relationships when they grow up.
It’s typical that the Post would dispose of this story in one paragraph instead of devoting at least one full story to it. Sean Hannity has tried to lay this story out on radio and TV. In Human Events, Jerome Corsi has more context:
In 1994, the 21-year-old campaign manager was convicted in Athens, Ohio, for criminal misdemeanors involving exposing himself to minors. He evidently liked to drive himself to an elementary school playground, entice young under-age minor girls to his car, and open the door, whereupon he proceeded to expose himself and engage in masturbatory behavior.
At the end of the 1998 campaign, an anonymous source informed Strickland of these criminal offenses. Strickland now claims that he confronted his campaign manager and accepted the man’s denial at face value. The record now shows that Strickland was evidently also confronted at the same time with an arrest report from the Washington County Sheriff’s office alleging the same type of offense regarding the campaign manager.
Strickland claims he made no attempt to check with the Washington County Sheriff’s office or with any other police authorities in Ohio to see if police arrest records existed to validate whether the alleged sexual misconduct in the presence of minors was true. As a trained psychologist, Strickland should have known that employees confronted by misconduct charges are frequently embarrassed, scared and prone to lie. The charges in Washington County were dismissed and the record was sealed sometime in 2000. Still, the records were available in 1998, had Ted Strickland cared to check.
Bluish Ohio media seem disgusted with this whole line of questioning Strickland’s judgment and even his sexuality (he and the convicted former aide vacationed in Italy together in 1998). But when a story emerges that roughly matches the national media’s charge against Hastert in the Foley case, it’s sad that Grunwald deprived the reader of context by vaguely telling the reader of a "misdemeanor indecency charge," and never relates that the charge is a man exposing himself to children. It’s easy to suspect that it’s too close to the Foley scandal to be so specific. This scandal deserves its own story, not just a paragraph in a story alleging the Republicans were the ringleaders of a "carnival of ugly."
The Post ought to know about ugly charges, the way it ran sleazy stories charging Sen. George Allen with the using the N-word in the 1970s, without any real proof. The Post was still putting Mark Foley on the front page last Sunday, even though he has yet to face a "misdemeanor indecency charge." Reporters Amy Goldstein and Elizabeth Williamson did work hard enough to dig up one message sent to a former page where Foley made an online sexual pass:
Two years later, when he contacted Foley for advice on D.C. hotels, the congressman wrote back: "You could always stay at my place. I'm always here, I'm always lonely, and I'm always up for oral sex."
After all this digging, they admitted, "No one interviewed for this article could cite any instance in which Foley had sex with a former page." When the Republicans do this, it's sleazy campaigning. When the Post spends days digging the dirt up, it's investigative journalism.