By: Joe Strupp
After giving its year-long knowledge of Congressman Mark Foley’s questionable e-mail to a congressional page barely a mention in a Friday story about the scandal, the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday sought to explain why it did not report on the situation at the time in a special editor’s note to readers.
In a similar move on Monday, The Miami Herald also revealed having similar e-mails last year, but did not beleive they had enough evidence for a story. Executive Editor Tom Fiedler was quoted as saying he “didn’t feel there was sufficient clarity in the e-mails to warrant a story. We determined after discussion among several senior editors, including myself, that the content of the messages was too ambiguous to lead to a news story.”
The St. Petersburg editor’s note, placed on the paper’s “The Buzz” blog on its Web site by Government and Politics Editor Scott Montgomery, contends that the Times did not ignore the seriousness of the situation and sought to report it fully when it learned of the e-mail in November 2005.
But, Montgomery writes, the paper could only verify one former page who had allegedly received explicit e-mails from Foley, who has since resigned, and that person did not want to be named. A second page, meanwhile, spoke on the record, but said he had not received any e-mails that were considered inappropriate.
“So, what we had was a set of emails between Foley and a teenager, who wouldn’t go on the record about how those emails made him feel,” the note said, in part. “… our policy is that we don’t make accusations against people using unnamed sources. And given the seriousness of what would be implied in a story, it was critical that we have complete confidence in our sourcing. After much discussion among top editors at the paper, we concluded that the information we had on Foley last November didn’t meet our standard for publication.”
Montgomery also hinted that the paper had continued to pursue the story, writing, “Since that time, we revisited the question more than once, but never learned anything that changed our position.” He did not offer specific information about how the pursuit was done or how long it was pursued.
Montgomery and Managing Editor Stephen Buckley could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. The editor’s note drew dozens of comments from readers, both supporting the paper and slamming it for holding the story.
“How does it feel to be on the other side of a feeding frenzy?” one Web reader wrote. “Usually you are the sharks circling in the bloody water but now the tables are reversed and you have not handled the pressure well. You are stumbling through this feeding frenzy worse than any … politician. It’s a shame. I have lost all respect for your paper.” Another added, “the Times protected Foley, everyone knows it.”
But along with those criticizing the paper were others either directing criticism at the Republican Party or defending the newspaper. “Why on Earth are you beating up the SPT?” one post stated. “Your anger should be directed at the GOP-run Congress that KNEW about this 11 Months ago!!! … I for one am disgusted & appalled by the ENTIRE Republican Party!!!”