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    December 07, 2006

    'Don't Ask…Don't E-mail'

    Posted by: Chris

    VfmarkfoleyThat's the headline on Vanity Fair's  long-anticipated exposé on the Mark Foley scandal, but for all the rich detail there's precious little new here on the big questions raised but not yet answered. There are no revelations about inappropriate conduct by the disgraced Florida Republican with other congressional pages; in fact, other media have reported more than VF about actual sexual contact Foley had with young men soon after they left the page program.

    Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, is one of a few primary sources relied on by the article, and there's nothing contradicting Fordham's claim that he knew nothing about Foley's misconduct beyond casual flirtation with young gay men that Fordham frowned upon as "reckless and unnecessary." Fordham did share, however, the intimate story about how Foley reacted when he first learned that his sexually explicit instant message exchanges were going public. 

    The story picks up after Fordham, who was at Foley's Washington, D.C., townhouse working damage control, was read over the phone the contents of one particularly explicit chat:

    Fordham cried, "Stop! That's all I need to know!" He heard female campaign workers weeping on the other end of the phone. When he hung up, he says he saw Foley, who was joining him on the patio, looking scared. Fordham told him the news.
    "Are those instant messages authentic?" he asked Foley, who turned away, mortified.
    When Foley looked back, he said, "Probably."
    "Yeah, I'm sure they're real," said Foley.
    [Liz] Nicolson [Foley's then-current chief of staff,] joined them. "Liz, I've been stupid," said the congressman. …
    Everyone [in GOP congressional leadership] agreed that Foley needed to resign. They weren't sure how. A lawyer was called in and advised that Foley sign a letter to be delivered to Speaker Hastert on the floor of the House. Just then, Fordham was alerted that Foley's sister Donna Winterson had arrived at the congressman's office, totally unaware of the meltdown. He ran over and found Winterson sitting on the sofa, "looking like she was in a coma." Her life, having been devoted to her brother's campaigns, would be crushed, too. It took Fordham five minutes to get her composed enough to walk back to the house, where they would finally have to swallow the bitter pill.
    "You have to get out," Fordham told Foley.
    "You mean I have to drop out of the re-election race?
    "No, you need to resign your seat in the House. Today. Now."
    Fordham says that Foley dissolved into hysterics. His sister wrapped her arms around him, and they rocked together, in tears. Foley wailed to his sister, "I'm so sorry I've done this to you." Fordham says, "He thought he'd ruined everyone's life."

    The article sheds no new light on whether a "thin pink line" of gay Republicans who knew something about Foley's "page problem" — including Fordham, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, then chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, and perhaps one or more of Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aides — kept the matter "in house" in hopes of protecting one of their own. The article touches on Foley's mysterious decision to drop out of the 2003 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, despite a fund-raising lead and state party support, but offers only wild speculation that Karl Rove shut Foley down because he caught wind of the page problem.

    With almost nothing new of substance to report, the VF piece instead engages in a pretty shocking leap from the known facts about Foley's own teenage abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest. With precious little evidence to support their conclusion, VF's reporters Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach remarkably assume that Foley enjoyed the sexual attention:

    The formative experience of [Foley's] passage through puberty, as the world now knows, was his seduction by an authority figure whose attentions may have been a guilty pleasure. A priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic School took him biking and skinny-dipping and massaged him in the nude, often bringing him to saunas for fondling. Unlike a peer of his who ran away from another priest's overtures, young Foley apparently did not resist.

    The attentions of a predatory priest "may have been a guilty pleasure"? Foley "apparently did not resist"? And on what do they base these conclusions? Why, from the assurances of the predatory priest, of course!

    The Reverend Anthony Mercieca, who was 17 years older than Foley, claims they became "attached to each other .… almost like brothers." … The priest rejects Foley's latter-day charge of abuse and defends their relationship as one of "naturalness.… For some people, it's molestation. Maybe for other kids, it's fun, you know?" This arrested sexual development, with its titillating mix of secrecy and shame, Foley would reproduce in his adult years.

    Perhaps VF assumes Foley enjoyed being abused because he turned out to be gay himself, or because he subsequently repeated the cycle, albeit only by virtual means. Neither assumption is justified; in fact, both are as irresponsible as it would be conclude Foley "became" gay because of the abuse or engaged in abuse because gay men are predatory.

    Sexuality is an incredibly complex phenomenon that doesn't reduce itself nicely to a Vanity Fair "thought piece" that bases its conclusions on the confession of an admitted priest-predator. Perhaps more real information will emerge from the congressional ethics probe (doubtful) or ongoing FBI investigation (still more doubtful). Until then, here's hoping the VF armchair psychology doesn't catch on as accepted fact.



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    1. Alan on Dec 7, 2006 11:52:36 AM:

      What I'd like to know is why hasn't Mr. Foley been subpoenaed to appear before the House Ethics committee. Who would know better who knew what when than the offender himself?

      And, BTW, whatever happened to the House Ethics committee investigation?

    1. Citizen Crain on Dec 7, 2006 12:05:20 PM:

      It's a good question. The early MSM reports on the ethics investigation pointed out that the minute Foley resigned his House seat, the ethics committee lost jurisdiction over him. I don't know if that applies to subpoena powers as well. Of course, with an ongoing FBI investigation, Foley might well plead the Fifth.

      It's also a good question about the ethics committee report. The committee said it largely wrapped up gathering info before the election but couldn't produce a report in time for voters to consider it on Election Day. Now with Congress in a lame-duck session finishing up work on a whole host of matters, who knows if they have the political will to finish their work — especially now that the main target, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, won't have that (or any leadership) job come January.

      As I pointed out in a post in October, these investigations are really a place to bury the facts, not produce them. Because as soon as the committee began investigating, everyone involved stopped talking, deferring to the work of the committee, which as we've seen has been buried weeks after it could have impacted the election.

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