The right on Foley: Someone is to blame, and it isn't us

Hastert says that the Justice Department should hunt down anyone who knew about explicit IMs but didn't come forward sooner.

Published October 2, 2006 6:44PM (EDT)

Who's to blame for the Mark Foley House page scandal?

Anyone and everyone -- except, that is, the Republican leadership in Congress.

That's the word this afternoon from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who just said in a televised press conference that "someone" has known for years that Foley sent sexually explicit instant messages to underage pages, and that "the Ethics Committee, the Justice Department, the news media and anyone who can help should find out who."

Who it wasn't, Hastert says, was the House Republican leadership. Foley "duped" and "deceived" his colleagues, Hastert said. "He deceived me, too."

Hastert's effort to focus on the "who knew" question follows the script laid out for him by right-wing commentators and bloggers. While some on the right, like Richard Viguerie, have called for the resignation of any House leaders who knew of Foley's actions and did nothing to stop them, others have been quick to shift the blame to somebody -- anybody -- else. On his radio show this morning, Rush Limbaugh said it's all the liberals' fault. "In their hearts and minds and their crotches, they don't have any problem with what Foley did," Limbaugh said. "They've defended it over the years." Michelle Malkin said that the problem is too many impressionable kids in Washington. The short version of her thesis: "Go read the Starr Report, if you have the stomach for it." And in a sort of double-reverse wagging of the dog, Ann Althouse complains that "in the run-up to the election," we'll all be talking about "sex" rather than "Iraq and terrorism and detainees."

Others on the right are suggesting that liberals and their allies in the media have put pages in danger by holding on to the news about Foley until it could strike the most electoral damage. At the American Thinker Sunday, writer Clarice Feldman was among the first to suggest that the revelations about Foley are part of an "attack strategy" designed by "parties anxious to damage the GOP and swing the coming election" by discouraging turnout among evangelical Christians and other "values" voters.

Feldman's theory is based around the history of Stop Sex Predators, the tiny blog where Foley's creepy e-mail exchange with a 16-year-old page first appeared. "How likely is it that this site with virtually no readership, few posts and hardly any history or posts of interest suddenly receives this bombshell? I'd say slight. About as likely as Lucy Ramirez handing [Bill] Burkett Bush's [Texas Air National Guard] papers." At Red State, one poster went so far as to join Feldman in speculating -- based on virtually nothing, so far as we can tell -- that none other than Truthout's Jason Leopold was behind Stop Sex Predators and the plot to bring down the GOP. "Highly speculative, but it fits," Red State's Rick Moran declared.

Other right-wing bloggers are picking up on differences between reports from ABC and the New York Times about one former page's communications about Foley with a supervisor in the House clerk's office. (Did the supervisor warn pages not to be impressed by Foley's attention or did he just declare him "odd"? Was "odd" code for "gay"?) Still others have raised questions about the authenticity of the Foley e-mail messages, pointing to disparities between the e-mails as posted on Stop Sex Predators and those posted on the Web site of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

The inevitable explanation for everything? The Democrats and their supporters must be the real villains here. "What we know so far is that several principals, such as CREW, and ABC knowingly withheld information about Rep. Foley and had done so for many months, if not years before this story came to light," says Macranger at Macsmind.

Just one small problem here: In a statement released today, CREW says it alerted the FBI to the Foley e-mails on the same day it got them in July 2006. If members of the House leadership can claim to have done the same, we haven't heard them do so yet. After making a brief statement at his press conference this afternoon, Hastert walked away without taking any questions.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

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2006 Elections Roy Ashburn Rush Limbaugh War Room