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Robert Parry: Foley "October Surprise" Claim Flops

Foley "October Surprise" Claim Flops

By Robert Parry
Consortium News &
Monday 16 October 2006

George W. Bush's snide aside aside, the Republican "October Surprise" theory accusing Democrats of waiting until the final weeks of Campaign 2006 to spring the Mark Foley page-sex scandal appears to have collapsed.

Though never offering evidence, Republicans implied that Democrats had put congressional pages at risk by withholding Rep. Foley's salacious Internet messages so they could be leaked only weeks before the election. Some right-wing operatives even suggested bringing criminal charges against these unnamed Democrats for obstructing justice.

In his Oct. 11 news conference, President Bush added fuel to the conspiracy-theory fire while praising House Speaker Dennis Hastert for investigating the scandal. "We want to make sure we understand what Republicans knew - and what Democrats knew - in order to find the facts," Bush said.

Bush's reference to "what Democrats knew" fit with the aggressive campaign that had raged across the right-wing media - from Fox News to talk radio to the Internet - raising suspicions about Democrats and thus blunting the political damage from a Republican child-sex scandal.

The speed and the breadth of that Republican counterattack recalled how valuable the Right's three-decade investment has been in building a powerful media machine. From newspapers, magazines and books to TV news, talk radio and Web sites, this machine can put in play Republican political themes instantaneously across the country, whatever the merits.

I encountered this phenomenon firsthand, after agreeing to an interview on the Foley case with a right-wing talk radio station in Florida. Though the Foley scandal was still in its first days, the talk show host had before him a comprehensive theory about how the Democrats, in league with financier George Soros, had pulled off an "October Surprise."

When I pressed the host for what real evidence he had, he lashed out at me, insinuating that I was ignoring the obvious because I had a "liberal" bias.

I pointed out that I've also demanded real evidence to support left-wing suspicions that President Bush organized the 9/11 attacks - when the available evidence reveals Bush showing gross negligence and exploiting the tragedy, but not acting as a conspirator.

To me, these cases suggest a troubling loss of an American ability to distinguish evidence and fact from speculation and opinion. But a key difference is that the Mark Foley "October Surprise" theory was promoted by leading Republicans, including House Speaker Hastert, while no prominent Democrat has embraced the 9/11 accusations.

Pointing Fingers

On the Foley case, the evidence is that congressional Republicans knew about Foley's inappropriate advances toward teenage pages for years and even alerted GOP House leaders. Though this information was kept from Democratic members of Congress, Hastert pointed the finger at Democrats when the scandal broke.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up," Hastert said, "are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros."

Soros is a longtime bete noire of the American Right because the billionaire financier has taken a lesson from its playbook. He has spent money on a liberal infrastructure though on a much smaller scale than wealthy right-wingers, such as Richard Mellon Scaife and Rev. Sun Myung Moon, have invested in the right-wing machine.

During Campaign 2004, Hastert suggested that Soros was a drug lord. "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money," Hastert said during an appearance on Fox News. "I don't know where - if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from."

As we noted at the time, Hastert's unsupported innuendo was ironic since real evidence points to Rev. Moon - perhaps the largest benefactor of the American Right - as a money launderer with close ties to organized crime and drug lords in Asia and South America. [See "Mysterious Republican Money" or Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege .]

But Hastert was back again two years later, smearing Soros by linking him to a political dirty trick on Foley.

Hastert's spread-the-blame tactics reminded New York Times columnist Paul Krugman of Richard Hofstadter's famous essay on the "paranoid style in American politics."

Applying Hofstadter's observations to the Foley case, Krugman wrote:

"The immediate response by nearly everyone in the Republican establishment - wild claims, without a shred of evidence behind them, that the whole thing is a Democratic conspiracy - may sound crazy. But that response is completely in character for a movement that from the beginning has been dominated by the paranoid style. And here's the scary part: that movement runs our government." [NYT, October 9, 2006]

Story History

On the same day as Bush's Oct. 11 news conference, the Washington Post published a three-column story that examined and debunked the notion that the Democrats had withheld Foley's sexually explicit "instant messages" so they could be released as an "October Surprise."

The Post reported that the two sources on the IMs said "they came forward to expose the Florida congressman's actions, not to help the Democrats in the midterm elections." There also was no evidence the Democratic Party possessed the IMs before the story broke.

One of the former pages described himself as a "staunch Republican" who "wouldn't vote for a Democrat ever." He told the Post that he was "very troubled about what it seems has gone on behind the scenes, but that in no way affects my wish to have a continued GOP control of Congress."

The Post reported that a Democrat may have had a hand in trying to expose Foley by giving copies of his less explicit e-mails to journalists, but those efforts dated back to fall 2005 and spring 2006. They were not timed to coincide with the Nov. 7 elections.

The Post quoted Harper's Magazine editor Ken Silverstein as saying that a Democrat provided copies of the Foley e-mails to the magazine in May 2006. According to Silverstein, his source was the same person who had offered the e-mails to the St. Petersburg Times in November 2005. However, neither publication wrote a story, the same decision reached by other news outlets that had read the "overly friendly" e-mails to a former page but couldn't get the boy to go public.

The timing of the ABC News story about the e-mails also appeared to be coincidence, not conspiracy. Investigative reporter Brian Ross said he was given the e-mails by a Republican source, but then put the story on hold for more than a month because Ross was tied up with commemoration stories about Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

The ABC News story about the e-mails on Sept. 28 then prompted the two other ex-pages to offer ABC News the sexually explicit instant messages that led to Foley's abrupt resignation on Sept. 29, the Post reported. [Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2006]

In other words, the Republican "conspiracy theory" appears to be completely wrong. The theory recognized that the less explicit e-mails had circulated earlier and had been rebuffed by news organizations, but then asserted that the Democrats held back the explicit IMs so they would be released as an "October Surprise."

But the available evidence indicates that the Democrats didn't hold back any evidence about Foley until right before Election 2006. The only known effort by a Democrat to expose the less explicit e-mails dated back a full year, to November 2005.

Then, the ABC News story, according to reporter Ross, was initiated by a Republican source and was put on the back burner because Ross had to deal with other pressing news. That story's appearance in late September then prompted two other ex-pages to come forward with the sexually explicit instant messages without the Democratic Party doing anything.

Though the Republican countercharges look to be completely baseless - and the Republicans never offered any real evidence in the first place - the spreading of the rumors about Democrats playing dirty probably did succeed in muddying the waters.

Many Americans - especially those who listen to the right-wing news media - probably have the impression that both parties share responsibility for the scandal. They've also heard President Bush say an investigation must ascertain "what Democrats knew."

How effective these Republican tactics are in spreading confusion at key political moments may be measured in the Nov. 7 elections.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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