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Former Representative Mark Foley likely won't be prosecuted because the state's Statue of Limitations has expired. The alleged acts occurred in 2003, and the investigation did not start until 2006, when the story broke. It turns out that Raw Story and ABC held the transcripts of the lewd e-mails. The news outlets held the e-mails for weeks before publishing, because they were unable to acquire a second source before publishing the e-mails. The St. Petersburg Times also got the e-mails.

This highlights an ethical dilemma that news outlets like Raw Story, the Times, and ABC face. The problem is that such news outlets are not supposed to publish such stories without independent corraborating evidence for such acts. After all, these are serious allegations to make against anyone.

And there is something else to consider as well -- the Judith Miller fiasco, if anything, suggests that news outlets should have more stringent standards for publishing such stories, not less stringent standards.

One possible argument, therefore, could be that the responsible thing to do would be to turn such information over to the appropriate prosecutors. First of all, one might reason that the need to protect public safety outweighs the need for any news organization to get the scoop. Secondly of all, the goal of any news organization should be to obtain the truth; therefore, the best way to further that goal would be to turn it over to someone who is capable of obtaining the truth better than they are given that prosecutors have subpoena power and can obtain corraborating evidence much more readily than news organizations can.

But this, in and of itself, has ramifications. This suggests, for instance, that the New York Times never should have reported on the illegal wiretaps that were going on in the Bush administration. After all, this was arguably a public safety issue which outweighed the need for printing the truth.

The problem with this whole line of reasoning is that the media is not an organ of the government. In order for the system of checks and balances to work, the media must be able to work independently of government, and thus, be able to obtain its own information.

It is easy for people like Mike Rogers of BlogACTIVE to say this:

Mike Rogers, the gay blogger who first suggested Foley was gay on his website blogACTIVE, also said the media had failed.

"Once again, the mainstream media has failed in its role in a great democracy," he remarked. "Despite even being given constitutional protection to pursue stories, the papers in Florida not only protected a political career -- most likely so they could have continued access to Congressman Foley -- but they stood in the way of reporting a crime. With the statue of limitations passed, the blame for Mark Foley's escape from the law falls squarely upon the heads of the newspapers that had this evidence."

Clearly, the media omits stuff in order to protect their access to powerful public figures. But it is also easy to pass this kind of judgement in hindsight. It is the easiest thing in the world to argue from hindsight and the most difficult thing in the world to argue from foresight.

For the media to apply a less stringent standard to breaking such stories could backfire as well. If, say, Rick Noriega were to get elected in Texas, then what is there to stop Rove or some other political enemy to plant some kind of rumor or innuendo in the papers and ruin his career? This has already happened in the case of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

What is more troubling is this:

The House -- led by Democrats -- has also stymied Florida's investigation. Lawyers for the chamber blocked investigators' access to Foley's computers, saying they were the equivalent of congressional papers, which only Foley could release. The action followed on the heels of what was later ruled an unconstitutional invasion of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) House office in a bribery inquiry.

As a matter of law, then, the people that we elect can frequently break the law with impunity because investigators would be unable to access the files of congressional papers because of Constitutional Separation of Powers issues. After all, would we want Attorney General Ted Olson to probe the congressional papers of Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton for the purposes of making a political prosecution right before the 2008 election? This blockage of investigators in the Foley case may very well seem unconscionable until one considers what might happen in the event of the alternative -- John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales probing the papers of John Conyers or Barbara Boxer, seeing what they can prosecute them for.

Based on all of the above, the answers are not as black and white as they may first appear. Therefore, it is incumbent on us, the people, to elect politicians who will not flout the laws with impunity in the first place.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 07:38 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The failure in the media was their (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    failure to investigate the Foley matter fully.

    In 2003, Foley was the leading Republican candidate for what looked like (and turned out to be) an open US Senate seat. Then Foley mysteriously dropped out of the race with an excuse of his father's illness.  He did not resign his House seat, he just dropped out of the Senate race.

    At this time, it was a fairly open secret in Washington that Foley was gay.  The St. Petersburg Times alluded to that as the possible real reason for Foley's withdrawal.  However, they knew, or could have known, that Foley's being gay was not that much of a secret.  The true reason for Foley's withdrawal from the Senate race has never been revealed.

    Had the St. Petersburg Times expended sufficient resources in 2003, they might have uncovered the page scandal then.  They did not.  And now Foley is apparently escaping prosecution due to the statute of limitations.

    The editors of the St. Petersburg Times ought to be asking themselves some very hard questions today.  And the answers will not be very pretty.

    Florida Kossacks Rock

    Blog Florida Blue

    You can't govern if you can't win.

    by gatordem on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 07:54:04 AM PDT

    •  Well, that's true. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I would say that news outlets always have a responsibility to investigate such allegations as far as they can. For every rumor that turns out to be true, there are 10 more that turn out to be false. But it is the job of the St. Petersburg Times and others to be able to sort through all that. In other words, Foley's withdrawal did not pass the smell test, and they should have devoted more resources to the case back then. So, you have a valid point.

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