I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Howard Kurtz's role in the Foley story

(Updated below - Update II)

Most national journalists have been far more aggressive and diligent in reporting this Foley scandal than they have been with almost any other political story over the past six years, with one glaring exception -- Howard Kurtz, the media critic for both CNN and The Washington Post. On Monday, Kurtz reported that someone whom he described as "a strategist for Rep. Mark Foley" and "Foley's former chief of staff" had attempted, on behalf of Foley, to negotiate a deal with ABC, whereby ABC would agree to conceal the content of the IMs in exchange for an exclusive interview with Foley. This is how Kurtz "reported" the incident:

On Friday afternoon, a strategist for Rep. Mark Foley tried to cut a deal with ABC's Brian Ross. The correspondent, who had dozens of instant messages that Foley sent to teenage House pages, had asked to interview the Florida Republican.

Foley's former chief of staff said the congressman was quitting and that Ross could have that information exclusively if he agreed not to publish the raw, sexually explicit messages.

There was no reference whatsoever to the key fact in that story -- that the person negotiating the deal for Foley was actually Tom Reynolds' current Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham. Kurtz not only omitted that fact, but in its place included (whether deliberately or not) a grossly misleading description. By describing Fordham in the way he did, it completely obscured the fact that he was the top aide to Tom Reynolds, the Chairman of the NRCC.

It was left to others to piece together the fact that it was almost certainly Fordham who tried to negotiate that deal for Foley -- a revelation that might end up being the most significant fact in this scandal, since that was what made Fordham's central role in this case so obvious and it is also what appears to have been the proximate cause of Fordham's resignation yesterday (he blamed his resignation on the fact that Democrats were trying to use his behavior in helping Foley as a weapon to criticize Tom Reynolds). On Monday, I read Kurtz's article and did not remotely realize that Kurtz was describing Fordham. I wrote about the likelihood that it was Fordham only once a reader (AL/along) alerted me by e-mail and via a comment here to that connection. Thereafter, John Aravosis apparently called or e-mailed Kurtz and confirmed that it was Fordham.

Despite Kurtz's glaring failure to report the key fact in his story, this is what Kurtz says about himself this morning:

The curious case of Kirk Fordham helps explain why the GOP has got Foleygate problems that go well beyond Maf54.

I broke this angle on Monday, reporting that Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, had tried to cut a deal with ABC's Brian Ross to suppress the seamier details of the scandal. If Ross would withhold the sexually graphic IMs from the Florida congressman, Fordham said, ABC could have the exclusive on Foley's resignation. Ross, not surprisingly, refused.

Kurtz, of course, reported no such thing. Anyone reading his report would believe that it was a "Foley strategist" who tried to negotiate that deal and would have had no idea that it was actually the Chief of Staff for the current NRCC Chair. Kurtz, while trying to bask himself with glory, explains exactly why this fact -- which he inexplicably omitted from his story -- is so critical:

So you had the top aide to the House's senior GOP campaign guy trying to keep the seedy details out of the media. No wonder some critics are charging cover-up.

Yes, no wonder. So why didn't Kurtz report that fact? He doesn't say, but after claiming that he "broke this story," he does include this cryptic and vague claim:

What I quickly learned was that Fordham had another job: chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds, the New York Republican who happens to head the House GOP campaign committee.

How "quickly" did he learn about that, and why didn't he report it once he learned of it? In exchange for the information that he did report (about the ABC-Foley negotiations), did Kurtz agree to describe Fordham in a misleading manner (just as Judith Miller famously agreed to describe Lewis Libby as "a former Hill staffer"), or did his source misleadingly describe who was negotiating on behalf of Foley with the intent of obscuring the Reynolds connection? Why does Kurtz, as the Post's media critic, not feel any obligation to describe how he reported what he himself acknowledges is one of the key facts in this story in such an incomplete and misleading manner?

Yesterday, Kirk Fordham took a giant step on the road to becoming the John Dean of this scandal -- the first person with inside knowledge of the serious wrongdoing being covered-up to begin telling the truth. The key fact that led to that unravelling was the fact which Kurtz, in Monday's column, not only omitted, but actively obscured. How and why did that happen?

UPDATE: More bad news for Tom Reynolds. A new SurveyUSA poll (h/t EJ) shows him behind his Democratic challenger, Jack Davis, by a margin of 50-45. He had been leading for most, if not all, of the race. And Dick Cheney, whose administration's overriding principle is that there is no such thing as a "mistake" (except for those made by subordinates) and that the greatest sin is to admit error of any kind, cheers Denny Hastert for taking the same approach. Cheney "insisted 'it makes no sense' for House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign," pronounced himself "a huge Denny Hastert fan," and said: "The Foley thing, again, as to how that cuts, I can’t tell.” It might help Democrats, might help Republicans. Cheney isn't sure.

UPDATE II: One the one hand, it is increasingly disastrous that the Republican leaders of this country -- virtually all of them -- are so filled with hubris and sickly pride that they are literally incapable of acknowledging fault or accepting real responsibility for even the most extreme errors, even including getting caught red-handed protecting a Congressman who preys on teenage pages, and then blatantly and repeatedly lying about it in order to defend yourself, all for cheap political gain. On the other hand, Denny Hastert's refusal to resign as Speaker ought to be a cause for ringing celebration among anyone who would like to see an end to one-party rule. From Fox News, sounding the alarm:

House Republican candidates will suffer massive losses if House Speaker Dennis Hastert remains speaker until Election Day, according to internal polling data from a prominent GOP pollster, FOX News has learned.

The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss" . . .

The GOP source told FOX News that the internal data had not been widely shared among Republican leaders, but as awareness of it spreads calculations about Hastert's tenure may change. The source described the pollster who did the survey as "authoritative," and said once the numbers are presented, it "could change the focus" on whether the speaker remains in power.

While internal GOP polls show trouble for Republicans, the newest AP/Ipsos poll also showed that half of likely voters say the Foley scandal will be "very or extremely important" when it comes time to vote on Nov. 7. By nearly a 2-1 ratio, voters say Democrats are better at combating corruption.

I realize that this country re-elected a President who -- as was known at the time of the election -- insisted, contrary to the will of virtually the entire world, that we had to invade a country to rid it of weapons that it did not actually have, and that every representation made about what the war would entail turned out to be false. But still, it is very difficult to imagine this country re-electing a party whose leaders knew -- and did nothing -- about a Congressman's predelictions for chasing teenage pages on the Internet (at least) for his own sexual gratification. Denny Hastert, with Mark Foley tied around his neck, is the symbol of the Republican Party -- with all of its hubris, decadence, corruption, ossification and hypocrisy -- and I don't think it would be possible to choose a better symbol, if you're a Democrat.

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