01 October 2006

Concerns in two different directions

This is a slightly edited version of a comment left on Jim Putnam's Thoughts and Pontifications post yesterday. I generally find myself in broad agreement with Jim about most things, but in this case I dissent - and, of course, it is differences rather than agreement which prompt discussion. Jim's post concerns the resignation of Republican US representative Mark Foley over allegations of inappropriate email content to a sixteen year old.

I have a number of concerns over the Foley reporting, of which two are perhaps contradictory.

I searched the BBC (usually amongst the most reliable sources) for reporting of the resignation, and didn't find any. That disturbs me. Admittedly I spnt only a minute or two on the search - but then, it shouldn't take too long to find some trace of a resignation less than two days ago with national political consequences.

Having found the story reported by (for example) ABC news, and read it, I am disturbed in the opposite direction. True, on the face of it, this needs investigating; but what I read (again, admittedly, I didn't go to forensic lengths in my reading) did not constitute a clear case of predation. None of the short extracts from Foley's emails are such that no legitimate interpretaion is reasonable. It would disturb me if there were any sort of furore over this, at this stage. The need, thus far, is not for a furore but for careful investigation of the facts and context to establish what occurred. If Foley is indeed guilty of predation, then let the consequences flow; but until then, kangaroo trial by press (or blogosphere) is not useful.

Given the impact of Foley's resignation on calculations of political power balance, past experience of US politics inclines me to wonder about dirty tricks just as much as predation. That I dislike Foley's politics, and have no cause for regret over damage to his party's position, is not relevant here; just consideration of truth must apply to all, or be of suspect value to any.

Ten hours later...

Since posting the above, Jim responded to my comment and I replied. Having posted the comment here, I feel a duty to post the follow up as well. I urge my readers to go and check for any further developments at Jim's place!

Jim responded:

I think you've missed the more important aspect of the story, Felix.

If I accept that Foley's email and text messages are not at a level of predation, the "gate" syllable refers to the coverup for eleven months by high level Republican leadership.

Foley's inappropriate email, at whatever level, was brought to the attention of that leadership. They are now scrambling to absolve themselves of any knowledge, and can't even get their own stories straight.

Foley himself resigned, and is likely to be the subject of exactly the investigation you desire. Hastert and others are trying to forestall a separate investigation of their actions. It seems logical that if, once exposed, Foley's contacts were inappropriate enough he felt the need to resign, there is room to investigate why it took eleven months for Republican leadership to do something. As with Nixon, it is the cover-up that will be interesting to follow.

And I replied:

I see - yes, sorry. I misunderstood the direction of your concern.

The fact that he felt he had to resign doesn't seem to me particularly telling; sadly, in this world politicians resign not because they have done wrong but to draw a line under something which is not going to go away. Many a politician has fallen (metaphorically) on her/his sword because s/he was the only person in view when the shit hit the fan ... which arguably means s/he was either less guilty, less lucky, less bright or more honouable than the rest. It seems likely that, by resigning, Foley may well have taken the heat out of the situation and thus defused calls for investigation of cover up.

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