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The Timing Is Irrelevant In Foley Story

(CBS/AP)
There has been a fair amount of murmuring in recent days about the timing of the Mark Foley e-mail revelations. The phrase "October Surprise" has floated around and plenty of eyebrows were raised over the fact that news of the former congressman's predatory habits exploded onto the scene just weeks before the crucial midterm elections. As the Church Lady would say, how convenient. But does it really matter how or when we learned about Foley's overtures to young House pages? After all, no one is denying the accuracy of it. Harper Magazine's Ken Silverstein blogs about his experience of having been shopped the Foley story last spring and says this is no last-minute election trick:
The Republican leadership is lying when they claim that Democrats have engineered an "October Surprise"; there was never a plan undermine the G.O.P. or to destroy Hastert personally, as the speaker has vaingloriously suggested. I know this with absolute certainty because Harper's was offered the story almost five months ago and decided, after much debate, not to run it here on Washington Babylon.

In May, a source put me in touch with a Democratic operative who provided me with the now-infamous emails that Foley had sent in 2004 to a sixteen-year-old page. He also provided several emails that the page sent to the office of Congressman Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Republican who had sponsored him when he worked on Capitol Hill. "Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously, This freaked me out," the page wrote in one email. In the fall of 2005, my source had provided the same material to the St. Petersburg Times—and I presume to The Miami Herald—both which decided against publishing stories.

It was a Democrat who brought me the emails, but comments he made and common sense strongly suggest they were originally leaked by a Republican office. And while it's entirely possible that Democratic officials became aware of the accusations against Foley, the source was not working in concert with the national Democratic Party. This person was genuinely disgusted by Foley's behavior, amazed that other publications had declined to publish stories about the emails, and concerned that Foley might still be seeking contact with pages.

There are an awful lot of legitimate concerns raised about how media organizations handled this information, some of which was known for over a year, and Silverstein explores many of them. I've long been skeptical of stories that rely on sources pushing information, especially anonymously, because in so many instances it's hard to determine the whole truth. Often, select information is leaked to the media and presented with little context or idea about the agendas at work. In some cases, the information is classified or secret and other details cannot be added that would provide a clearer and more accurate picture. Things like the NSA spy program come to mind. But the Foley story is what it is, the e-mails are there and more first-hand accounts are coming out. How or when it broke is really beside the point in this case.