Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Foley Case: Why Parents Keep Silent--But That's No Excuse for Hastert

"you'll be way hot then"

That's ex-congressman Mark Foley in one of the more PG-rated of his instant messages to a congressional page (WARNING: Linked material includes highly explicit sexual material).

How is it possible that this didn't all come out sooner? If not only a community of pages but also some parents knew about these emails and messages and said nothing, is it then right to hold House leaders such as Speaker Denny Hastert responsible for not moving with greater haste to get Foley out of Congress and into the justice system?

"at your age seems like it would be daily"

When I was in high school, students and parents alike kept quiet about relationships between teachers and students. There was no conspiracy; as far as I know, the decision to avoid making a big to-do was never even discussed among parents, nor even among the students who knew. Rather, several people each made independent decisions to keep quiet. Why? Clearly, the adults were weighing the difficulty of proving inappropriate behavior against the harm to the students involved in those relationships and against the powerful impact that any public allegations would have on the school and the teachers involved. With hindsight, and with the much more highly protective standards that have evolved in recent years, it's easy to say that those who stayed silent were wrong. But my sense is that most people would stay silent on such matters even now, just as the parents of the pages did.

"where do you unload it"

Indeed, the current climate in schools around the country, in which sexual activity for many kids starts at ever-earlier ages even as zero tolerance policies criminalize all manner of student misbehavior, tends to make parents and other adults ever more reluctant to report even egregious acts. Given the firestorm that was almost certain to result, what parents would have the stomach to turn in a congressman who was taking advantage of pages?

"love to slip them off of you"

But a parent's natural inclination to protect a child's privacy and avoid a public spectacle has nothing whatever to do with the obligation an elected official has to bring every possible force of law down upon a colleague who so baldly abuses his position. The revelations that top Republican leaders were informed of the inappropriate contacts between Foley and pages as far back as last year mean that grown ups in a position of authority chose not to take decisive action against the wayward congressman. Speaker Hastert's defense of his aides who supposedly didn't bring the information to their boss is nearly as appalling as it would be if Hastert did know and didn't do anything.

"well don't ruin my mental picture"

Why should Hastert and the other congressmen who knew--or could easily have known--be held to a different and higher standard than the parents of the pages themselves? Because the congressmen were in a different and higher position. Foley was their colleague, and, in the leaders' case, their subordinate. And congressmen are charged with the policing of one another's ethical behavior. The parents' first duty is to their own children; we can argue about whether those parents ought to have come forward, at the least for the protection of other kids whom Foley might have been preying upon, but at least in the parents' case, there are some conflicting forces at work. Not so in the case of the congressmen who knew.

Their silence is explicable only by the crassest of political calculations. They should be ashamed of themselves.

At the end of Foley's IM session with one young man, the child closes with this: "well i better go finish my hw...i just found out from a friend that i have to finish reading and notating a book for AP english"

By Marc Fisher |  October 4, 2006; 7:22 AM ET
Previous: George Allen's Seven Measly Words | Next: Blogging Toward Blessed Silence in Alexandria


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The email you've played off, Marc, is in some horrible way, very funny. I mean . . . if the person you are trying to seduce has to respond to his mom calling him from downstairs and then has to cut off the call because it's time to do homework . . .well, that should be a clue that you're calling the wrong guy.

Posted by: Julie | October 4, 2006 9:16 AM

Much as I would be delighted to see the whole House leadership go (and the Dems take over), your article unfairly suggests that Hastert was in possession of the IMs from which you quote. There is so far no evidence that this was so.

Posted by: Meridian | October 4, 2006 9:21 AM

I have always enjoyed reading conspiracy theories, mostly for fun. Almost all are easily laughed off.

But if you read about Jeff Gannon's White House access, the call-boy scandal in the late 80's which ended with Craig Spence's suicide, then further back to the "Franklin Cover Up," the disappearance of Johnny Gosch (a story which has restarted because of a recent photo sent to his mother showing him in an abducted state), you start wondering -- is there a ring of highly placed sex perverts, including pedophiles, in high places? I'd start by googling Franklin Cover Up. Maybe in the end you'll have your own opinion as to whether the long missing Johnny Gosch is in fact Jeff Guckert aka Jeff Gannon.

Posted by: NOVA | October 4, 2006 9:34 AM

I'm just... Look-- who, exactly, could be expected to vote Republican on the basis of issues? 'Values' voters? Uh, no. Libertarian voters? Hmm, no. Fiscal conservatives? I don't think so. Imperialist warmongers? Probably not. What's going on here? Why is -anyone- voting Republican?

Posted by: MattF | October 4, 2006 9:55 AM

This whole situation makes me nauseated; these guys think they are above the law. I am sure the fact that the others in position of influence are remaining quiet on this matter probably has something to do with the knowledge and acceptance of the numerous womanizers who regularly victimize young female pages and congressional staffers working on the Hill. It is time to demand character and ethics from our representatives.

Posted by: Mike | October 4, 2006 9:56 AM

Keeping silent certainly happened in my high school back in the 60s. The young male drama/English teacher who was maybe 30 years old, if that, was evidently notorious for his affairs with female students. I only learned this years later. And I found out that two male classmates had been sexually active with one another when they got in a fight over...a girl.

But to the Foley incident, I think that NYTimes columnist John Tierney had a good point yesterday. Why not just abolish the page system in Congress? Even the name is a vestige of the medieval system. And as Tierney says, what the young kids learn from their experience in Congress is how to flatter and cajole the powerful in hopes of getting favors.

We had scandals over sex with pages in the early 80s and it seems like the lesson wasn't learned, so let's junk the system entirely before we have to live through this again.

Posted by: Jack | October 4, 2006 9:58 AM

Everyone who knew about Foley should resign.

Do you have to be shown explicit messages, do you have to actually see them having sex, to know that a sexual predator who chases young boys is actually *involved* with young boys?

To go back to your example, do you have to actually see the teacher and the student having sex, to know that the teacher and the student who are cooing at each other in public, are having sex somewhere, at some time, or will soon?

No, you don't sit there and watch and "warn" the new kids, you make sure that he is exposed. Otherwise, why even worry about him?

Now let's add the fact that the pages worked for the Congressmen and in any corporation this would be sexual harassment. And how many of the members of Congress are lawyers or businessmen?

There simply is no excuse for this.

They are all complicit in this. All of them should resign. And that won't happen. There are too many priviledges and perks on the Hill...especially compared to going home in disgrace. That is why they are still there, today.

Even the FBI agents who looked at thos emails and said "these do not rise to the level of a criminal investigation" should resign. The parents should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

But this is the problem. If one of them resigns for this reason, they all will have to resign for this reason. The first one to admit that he should have seen this coming just from the emails, will be the first one who condemms anyone in Congress who knew about Foleys affection for pages. He will be the one who brings down his party, and no true Republican would bring down his party. The FBI agents, the same. No true FBI agent would do anything to undermine the Bureau...not *consciously*, anyway. They will not admit that they were wrong, and they will sink or swim together. We are seeing right at this very moment that these people are perfectly happy to put self-preservation over ethics. Just like some of them put self-preservation over the lives of these young boys, for 10 years.

Now their focus is to put this in the past and move on, as if it is no longer a problem, no longer an issue. Because of course, if things were otherwise, they would clearly be unsuited for their positions. We have dozens if not hundreds of professional careers resting on their ability to put this behind them and move on.

Posted by: cc | October 4, 2006 10:02 AM

But of course, if they can just put this behind them and move on, why not something even worse?

If the defense becomes "I did not know that he was actually chasing these young boys for sex, because I did not see explicit messages about sex with young boys" then sheer ignorance becomes the perfect excuse. If being told "I won't do it again" is sufficient excuse for them to let the guy go on about his business with just a warning, then being told "I won't do it again" is the perfect excuse.

If there is no punishment, then there is no crime. And in fact to punish someone else in the same situation later for doing the same thing that these people have done and clearly are getting away with, is the height of hypocrisy.

If these people are still in Congress *before* the elections not to mention after, there is no issue. And that goes both for the Congressmen and their staff, who knew about Foley, many from their time as pages, themselves.

And who wants to bet that the Republicans are desperately hoping that this issue goes away before the elections? Do we really expect them to police themselves? It is obvious that these people have been far more concerned with maintaining their hold on Congress and enjoying the perks of power, for years, all while neglecting the youth of America, in letting the President ship them off to fight and die in a waste of a war in Iraq. Does it have to be so blatantly obvious even here in Washington D.C.?

"We didn't know". That's just not an excuse. Did you expect to be told? Did you think that Foley was going to tell you?

Posted by: cc | October 4, 2006 10:12 AM

I wash my hands of this government. It is one thing for these people to close ranks behind GW when he is such a farce of a president. It is yet another for them to circle the wagons around the Hill and keep themselves in office when they are such a farce of a Congress.

But then the second was obvious from the first. And again the American people have gotten what they truly deserve, for repeatedly electing these people into Congress, and the Presidency.

Though at least one good thing will come out of it. Our youth will not be so idealistic and so naive, for long. Especially some of the 16 year olds.

Posted by: cc | October 4, 2006 10:17 AM

"Why is -anyone- voting Republican?"

Sheer self-preservation.

Political cronyism at its finest.

Posted by: cc | October 4, 2006 10:20 AM

You need to apologize, publicly: you've made a serious mistake (that is, assuming you're not simply obeying the dictates of your Evil Liberal Masters).

Foley is a DEMOCRAT, not a Republican. This is another DEMOCRAT scandal. I know that Foley is a DEMOCRAT, because I saw it on Fox News:


*sigh*...I suppose I should note that I'm being sarcastic, because apparently some people will believe anything.

Amusing article, by the way. Those email excerpts are astonishingly icky.

Posted by: Peter Maranci | October 4, 2006 10:51 AM

Marc, I have to say I am completely nonplussed by your statements that "the current climate in schools around the country, in which sexual activity for many kids starts at ever-earlier ages even as zero tolerance policies criminalize all manner of student misbehavior, tends to make parents and other adults ever more reluctant to report even egregious acts. Given the firestorm that was almost certain to result, what parents would have the stomach to turn in a congressman who was taking advantage of pages?"

My sense is that in our sex-steeped cultural climate, with its high level of awareness about issues of sexual abuse, parents are far *more* likely to name inappropriate behavior like Foley's as sexual abuse, and to complain about the perpetrators. I certainly would feel the responsibility to protect any young people involved in such a situation, and I'm not even a parent. Could you please explain what led you to such a counter-intuitive conclusion?

Posted by: DMS | October 4, 2006 11:59 AM

We really need to find some people for Congress who can swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of this country, regardless of party. The environment on Capitol Hill has apparently made it all but impossible for members to carry out that simple task.

Posted by: dirrtysw | October 4, 2006 1:23 PM

In the beginning of this blog, you say "instant messages to a congressional page (WARNING: Linked material includes highly explicit sexual material)". Was something deleted after you posted that? I don't see any "highly explicit sexual material" in the link. Improper, sure; but "highly explicit"?

Posted by: jaded | October 4, 2006 1:23 PM

W on Hastert: "I know that he wants all the facts to come out and he wants to ensure that these children up there on Capitol Hill are protected."

To which I can only reply: Why are there CHILDREN working on Capitol Hill?

The whole page system needs to be abolished; it'a an anachronistic, expensive (they have their own school!) exercise in political patronage. It's also completely unnecessary, and, I suspect, of dubious educational value.

Posted by: E | October 4, 2006 2:49 PM

To Jaded: The first link I had up failed along the way, so I've replaced it with a better one that takes you to the full transcript of the IMs that Foley exchanged with a page.

Posted by: Fisher | October 4, 2006 3:11 PM

Seems like a bunch of the conservatives are trying to switch gears and say this was the Democrats that withheld this info etc. Hastert and Gingrich and Rush all are saying -well whoever tipped off ABC is to blame- so basically, the kids who are victims sent in the emails after the first report and now they are threatened indirectly from a bunch of crazy conservatives.. .nice.

Posted by: Silver Spring | October 4, 2006 3:24 PM

Foley comes across as a little gay.

Posted by: Jon | October 4, 2006 4:22 PM

So, one of's "Quotes of the Day" is that of Hastert complaining to Rush Limbaugh on his radio show that "The Democrats have -- in my view have -- put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on defense." Wow.

No, Mr. Speaker. Mark Foley's actions, and those of anyone who tried to suppress news of his actions, have put you and the rest of the Congressional GOP on defense. You, of all folks, should be the first to acknowledge that the Dems. couldn't paint you as on defense even if they were using paint-by-numbers.

Posted by: sheesh | October 4, 2006 4:26 PM

As a mother of five, I am repulsed by predatory behavior towards kids. But it is also about abuse of power. They do it because they think they can get away with it-and Foley did for years. My daughter was involved in a disciplinary matter with Fairfax County Public Schools this year. When I challenged the school system-the principal filed a police report against my daughter a month after the incident!!! There is no other explanation but to retaliate and intimidate. Don't be naive. I fought all the way and burnt a lot of bridges but don't regret a thing. People in positions of authority often abuse their discretion and I have seen MANY parents whose kids were treated unfairly by a school's zero tolerance policies let it go because they feared retribution against their kids.

Posted by: novamom | October 4, 2006 4:42 PM

Wonkette's snarky story on Cong. Don Sherwood shows just what the Republicans think of morality. Chney just did a fundraiser for the guy, and so did Boehner.

Posted by: PM | October 4, 2006 5:37 PM

Sue Kelly, NY-19 has something to answer for in all this ...

Posted by: Dan | October 4, 2006 9:09 PM

People are right to be outraged by this. These perverted Congressmen disgust me. Why don't they just get their jollies with female interns who are over 18? Where do they get off impeaching us normal dudes?

Posted by: Clinton | October 5, 2006 5:46 AM

NOVA, there have been rumors for decades about various types of sex rings in high places. It's a recurring theme in both lurid fiction and lurid "exposes" like 1951's "Washington Confidential." Kubrick used the idea in his last film, "Eyes Wide Shut."

It's a compelling idea because it appeals to our suspicions and resentments about those in power. We want to believe that politicians become so drunk with power that they feel free to ignore society's restraints on sexual pleasure. The rumors and exposes embody a prude's sense of morality, titillating the listener while appearing to condemn the immorality. Not much different from the '80s horror movies where the virgin was always the lone survivor.

Posted by: Tonio | October 5, 2006 8:10 AM

I cannot agree that people today would ignore teacher-student liaisons. Nor should they have in the past. As a parent and PTA Board member for many years, were I to learn of such a thing at any FCPS school, any - not just where my kids go or where I'm on the PTA, I'd do everything I could to get the Teacher removed immediately. There can be no tolerance shown for this; none.

Posted by: GR | October 5, 2006 9:22 AM

In all of these cases, the victims (and their parents) are unwilling to bring forward these allegations because they will either lack proof, or believe that they lack sufficient proof. Sometimes charges such as these are brought for revenge. At the same time, those in authority, such as has Hastert or school administrators, simply are not willing to investigate any suspicion of impropriety by those over whom they have some level of responsibility, because of the problems that could arise if the investigation were both outted and found out to be instigated by false allegations.

Posted by: TrD | October 5, 2006 9:53 AM

GR-while I appreciate your involvement with PTA you are naive if you think that FCPS punishes their teachers. At our elementary school, a teacher HIT a student (not a light or playful tap). The mother complained to the principal-nothing was done. She complained to the Superintendent-they did nothing. She was so exasperated she actually picketed in front of the school!!!! She should have called the police and filed an assault charge, but she assumed FCPS would take care of it. They circle the wagons like no other. If they admit wrongdoing they end up writing a check-it is pathetic.

Posted by: novamom | October 5, 2006 1:20 PM

America, are your eyes wide shut?

This has been going in our government (and many others)for decades.
We are the system that eats itself, and our children are grist for the mill.
When these war pigs and profiteers attain limitless power, they indulge their basest, most depraved vices.

What's not being addressed (and never will be in the media) is the ORGANIZED human sex trafficking and pedophilia that goes on within the circles of the wealthy and powerful elite.
Anything can be yours, if you have the right credentials and pay the right price.

Posted by: Andy Sacolaro | October 6, 2006 2:09 PM

Andy, there have been rumors for decades about organized sex trafficking among the elite. Have you ever heard of "Washington Confidential," Lait and Mortimer's homophobic and racist "expose" of D.C.'s seamy underbelly?

The rumors have never sounded credible to me, for a number of reasons. Like any good urban legend, these tales prey upon our suspicions and resentments about those in power. We perceive elites as lecturing the rest of us about morality, and it's natural for us to suspect that they're exempting themselves from these rules. The rumors give us a false sense of superiority over the elite, while satisfying our lust for salacious details.

I don't completely discount the possibility of organized sex trafficking by elites. I'm saying that wanting to believe something doesn't make it true. From my reading of urban legends, the facts almost always get in the way of a good story.

Posted by: Tonio | October 10, 2006 8:37 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company