What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

October 06, 2006

Foley's follies

For the last few days, US politics has been in thrall to the revelations surrounding Republican Congressman, Mark Foley, accused of ‘sex chat’ with two underage male pages.

This clip from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show gives the flavour:




No-one enjoys a laugh at Republican expense more than me - but this report from the Washington Times might give us some pause for thought:
The blogs giveth, but now the blogs are taking away ABC News’ scoop that former Rep. Mark Foley talked naughty to an underage boy.

Not that it makes the story any less creepy, but it turns out Mr. Foley was talking to a former page of legal age to uhm, engage in discussions that need not be repeated here.

Republicans and conservative commentators have been beside themselves since the story broke, blaming Democrats and calling it an “October surprise” carefully designed to impact the elections — skepticism that, at first, didn’t seem all that relevant to this blogger/reporter.

But now blogs are questioning whether ABC reporter Brian Ross deliberately left out key information — that the lad was 18 — to advance a story not quite true.
Without doubt, Mr Foley was abusing his position of power; just as Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky. But to label him a ‘a child sex predator’ is cheap hyper-inflation of some grubby misbehaviour.

(Shades here of Mark Oaten, who was forced to resign from the Lib Dem front bench, after the News of the Screws exposed his affair with a ‘rent-boy’ - a far more sensationally pejorative term than ‘male prostitute’.)

But it still seems a sex story is that much more justifiable, that much more in the public interest, if the media can elide homosexuality and paedophilia.

7 comments:

Nathaniel said...

Do try and keep up, Stephen. Three more pages have now come forward, all of whom were solicited to engage in secual acts before the age of 18. They only actually engaged in the acts with Mr Foley once they had turned 18.

Is it Lib Dem policy to label grooming of those who are under the age of consent as "grubby misbehaviour" or are you taking the White House Spokesman's line that they were 'just naughty emails'.

Nathaniel said...

Oh, and if you really want your talking points to come straight from Karl Rove you could start with the Drudge Report article that the original page just sent the IMs as a 'prank'. This was shown to be a fiction.

How about Ann Coulter's suggestion that the whole situation was engineered by George Soros?

Beware the American blogoaphere, Stephen. There be monsters...

Nathaniel said...

And while we're at it, let's not forget that several elements of the Mark Oaten story were witheld by the newspapers. That particular story could have been much worse.

Alex Wilcock said...

I think you’ve fallen for some of the ‘monsters’, Nathaniel.

Stephen’s description of Mr Foley wasn’t “naughty”, but as “abusing his position of power”, which he undoubtedly was. And while it turns my stomach to have Republicans (and an ‘independent Democrat’) who hounded President Clinton for what appear to have been mostly consensual acts with Ms Lewinsky now making excuses over a long-time serial sexual harasser, as Stephen said, it’s simply wrong to label him a ‘child sex predator’. Adults can be inappropriate to other adults, but that does not turn the other adults into children.

I had to do a lot of reading to be sure of my facts – not just US blogs, where the leading Democrat blog shamefully referred to “very young boys” (a perversion of language), but even the BBC tended to obscure the actual ages involved – but it the youngest of the pages whom Mr Foley ‘groomed’ was in fact 16.

There may be a different age of consent in some US States, but the UK age of consent is 16 – so your cheap smear of Stephen and his party as supporting “grooming of those who are under the age of consent” is just a lie, isn’t it?

These weren’t ‘boys’, these were young adults, and while in the UK you might raise an eyebrow at someone in their fifties making a pass at someone of 16, or (if the former was an employer of the latter) even say the former was taking horrible advantage of their position of authority, it’s not ‘grooming’, and they’re not ‘children’.

I can’t imagine that the story would have erupted in the same way if Mr Foley had been harassing women of 16-19 years’ old. Stephen is right that this is a disgusting elision of homosexuality with paedophilia, and the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for fanning it, no doubt because they can’t believe their luck in what this must be doing to the Republican ‘base’.

In our society today, the worst things you can be accused of are terrorism and paedophilia. The Republicans’ entire campaign strategy is based on the desperate lie that the Democrats are friends of terrorists. Now the Democrats are calling a Republican a paedophile. But in neither case does saying it make it true.

Stephen Tall said...

Natt - you’re right, my instructions come direct from Karl Rove. In fact, if you look closely, you can see the wire trailing up my back to the earpiece.

I won’t repeat what Alex has said - none of us has that kind of time ;-) - but the point stands that the reporting in this case has been that much more lurid, that much more emotive, in Mr Foley’s case - because he was exploiting young men, aged 16+. (Which makes him an ephebophile, rather than paedophile.)

He’d still have been in trouble if they’d been young women, aged 16+… but nowhere near as much. And certainly he wouldn’t have been labelled a child sex predator.

So, yes, we should condemn his actions. But ask yourself two questions.
- Would this have been such big news if he’d been straight?; and
- Would you have posted three times about this if he’d been a Democrat?

Nathaniel said...

My point was merely - as I think you'll see if you read 'all three' of the comments above - that you were taking an example from a comedy show, as an example of "cheap hyper-inflation of some grubby misbehaviour". You seem to assume, as do Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter that fair criticism is an indication of the liberal bias of the media, while feeling free to suggest that the young men in question were "beasts" (The Drudge Report) or "teasing the Representative" (Rush Limbaugh).

No matter what we might think about about the relative rightness and wrongness about the ages of consent in the various states of the USA, let is not forget that Mark Foley is a conservative Representative for a state in which any homosexual activity is illegal. "Florida has anti-sodomy laws that criminalise oral or anal sex, between both heterosexual and homosexual adults including in the privacy of their homes. The penalty is 60 days imprisonment or a $500 fine. Direct criminal enforcement of these laws against private activity between consenting adults is rare. However, sodomy statutes have been used to deny employment to gay job applicants."

Attacking hypocrisy is not necessarily eliding the difference between homosexuality and paedophilia (which is, I assume what you meant to say. The only person who elided their homosexuality was Rep. Foley). You have accepted the straw man set up by Newt Gingrich who suggested that he was left in his position House Chairman on Missing or Exploited Children (as, legally the pages were in the state of Washington, if not the District of Columbia) because if Dennis Hastert had removed him it would have seemed like homophobia. It is the Republican media who have failed to distinguish the two, and your failure to cite examples of what you mean (apart from what I might add was a comedy show) hardly makes for a biting critique of press coverage.

In answer to your questions:-

1) Yes. I seem to remember an impeachment attempt late in the last century which dominated the American media for the better part of a year.
2) I will post an awful lot each and every time you attack comedians. Their duty is only to say things that are funny.

The fact that anyone of a reasonably liberal bent would dismiss the private affairs of adults as irrelevant to their public service, does not change the fact that the law, however backward dos not see it that way. The willingness of our lawmakers to break the law is and should be of interest to us.

Mark Oaten may have visited a male prostitute, but currently, in the UK, visiting any prostitute is still a crime. We might think that young men in their late teens will get up to all sorts of things, but until the law accepts (as it does not in this case) that they are adult enough to make those decisions, we have the right to be informed about when those who make our laws choose not to abide by them.

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