Apples ≠ Oranges

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Speaking of overplaying hands, Joseph Califano, writing in the Washington Post does a superb, over the top job with a piece that is supposed to be "tsk-tsking" the House leadership's handling of the Foley emails by contrasting ti to a completely different set of circumstances. The incident Califano refers to has only one thing in common with the Foley matter – Congressional pages.

Compare the current situation with the way Speaker Tip O'Neill and the House handled the last scandal involving sexual misconduct with pages, in the summer of 1982.

On "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" that June, two former pages, their teenage faces silhouetted to hide their identity, claimed they were victims of sexual abuse by members of Congress. One described homosexual advances by members; the other shocked the nation when he said he had engaged in homosexual relations with three members and procured prostitutes for others. The CBS broadcast sparked a wildfire of reports and rumors about sexual abuse of pages and drug use by members and pages.


The big surprise came when the two pages whom CBS had put on its evening news show recanted. They testified under oath that they had lied and that CBS reporter John Ferrugia had put words in their mouths. But uncovering the lies of the pages and the reckless reporting of CBS didn't end our investigation. We had received a host of allegations of sexual misconduct and drug use and sale by other pages and House members. We interviewed, under oath, some 2,000 past and present pages, adults who had supervised and taught them, congressional staffers, and House members. We issued scores of subpoenas.

We found no evidence of widespread sexual misconduct. We did find that Rep. Daniel Crane (R-Ill.) had had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page and that Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) had sexual relations with a 17-year-old male page and had made advances to other teenage male pages.

When I reported our findings to O'Neill and Michel, the dishonor that these members had brought on the House infuriated the two leaders. "Get it out," they said, "and let the committee recommend disciplinary action," which its four Democratic and four Republican members did, unanimously, in July 1983. Crane and Studds were censured by the House. Crane resigned his seat. Studds chose to stay on and was retained in office by his constituents for 13 more years.

By all reports the current House leadership had only the Foley emails to go on. Although they can be seen as creepy, and I would have felt they were, they can also be explained, convincingly, to be really nothing to worry about. To equate that to two lurid, graphical charges made on television by (surprise!) CBS News is an enormous overreach. Califano knows it. But he's going all out here, and the bloody shirt of "homosexuality" is being waved. What Foley did is disgusting. Using it as an over-the-top assault vehicle is probably not a good idea. Drawing attention to past criminal  behaviors of your own party is somewhat less than a good strategy. Drawing attention to the track record of the American media for fabricating sensational stories is also not all that smart. Frankly, if this continues, the backlash will be enormous and far-reaching.

It also will not be at all what the people pushing this think it will be.

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