Scandal

ABC.com Pulls Foley Story

Last night, as we attempted to socialize as best we can, we got a call from an anonymous tipster regarding a developing Foley-related story.

The truly web-savvy (aka those with as meaningless 21st century lives as ours) may have picked up on the mediabistro‘s story exposing ABC news’ commission and nearly immediate retraction of a story by Josh Jennings Moss, the homo-journo who made a name for himself years ago interviewing President Clinton for The Advocate.

The story by J. Jennings Moss, a freelance writer and former senior editor at ABCNews.com, was published late Friday afternoon. Moss says he was contacted by ABC when news of Foley’s sexually explicit messages to underage Congressional pages surfaced.

It would seem, however, that as the scandal developed, ABC mysteriously squashed the piece, insisting it would cause too much “confusion,” whatever that means. All electronic remains on their site have been removed. Luckily, mediabistro obtained a copy of the article (which we’ve printed after the jump).
In said piece, Moss reports:

Ten years ago, I outed Foley as a gay man for The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine. But aside from one story in the St. Petersburg Times, no other Florida or national publications would touch the tale, either because Foley and his camp did a great job of shooting the messenger or because of the inherent fear the media have to delve honestly and without judgment into a person’s sexual background.

While Moss attempted to get to the bottom of Foley’s sexual practices (and whether or not they affected his political decisions), he decribes Foley as “a master of aversion”. In the retracted ABC story, Moss writes:

For The Advocate story, as I recall, Foley didn’t grant a face-to-face interview but instead answered written questions. “Frankly, I don’t think what kind of personal relationships I have in my private life is of any relevance to anyone else,” he said.

Now, of course, Foley’s personal (and undeniably illegal) relations have become very public as key Republican leaders scramble to clean up a mess that involves illicit sexual proposition, federal cover-ups, and politically-motivated lies.

We had a brief chat with Moss last night about the ABC piece and his previous exchanges with Foley. As go-getter journalists, we asked whether or not he felt ABC’s corporate owner, Disney, may have had a role in the obliteration of his commissioned piece. While Moss had “no comment” on that particular issue, he did say this:

By and large reporters haven’t normally liked to get involved with sexual orientation questions – it’s still a very sensitive topic because reporters think that when you talk about homosexuality you talk about sex… I think it’s ironic that they pulled this story, which in effect was talking about the state of denial. It’s better to be talking about these things than not talking about these things…

It would seem, however, that Foley and his allies picked up on this potential scandal, for Foley’s lawyer outed him as a homo.

In our rushed conversation with Moss, we asked him if, given his work with Foley, he anticipated the scandal. He replied with the composure of a politician:

No. I don’t think anybody could anticiatpate [it]. Am I surprised? I’m surprised by the severity, [but] I’m not surprised that people in power sometimes try to seduce their subordinates…

Meanwhile, in yet another twist, Foley (who recently checked himself into rehab for alcoholism) says that between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, he was abused by a local clergy man. The New York Times reports:

In another day of revelations about former Representative Mark Foley, his lawyer said Tuesday that as a teenager, Mr. Foley had been molested by a clergyman and had “kept the shame to himself” until now. The lawyer also issued the congressman’s first public acknowledgment that he is gay…

While not as dramatic as “I’m a gay American,” the revelation certainly complicates matters further. Not only do we have a member of America’s ruling party coming out as a gay man who’s been violated by a so-called man of God, but has also gone on to pursue sex with young boys.

As political leaders call for Speaker Hastert’s head and the election looms large, it seems that conservative’s greatest foes (gays) and omniscient allies (the church) have aligned against them. Sweet.

Unfortunately, Moss had to run, but we’ve got another interview with him scheduled for later today, so keep reading for the inside scoop on what’s turning out to be quite a shit storm.

Moss’ Retracted ABC piece on the Foley Scandal:

Mark Foley now finally knows what former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards meant when he said, “The only thing that will cost me the governorship is if I am caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

ABC News found the live boy in the form of an e-mail and instant messaging exchange between the Florida Republican congressman and an underage male page. And now, finally, Foley can no longer cajole the media into keeping his private life a secret.

Ten years ago, I outed Foley as a gay man for The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine. But aside from one story in the St. Petersburg Times, no other Florida or national publications would touch the tale, either because Foley and his camp did a great job of shooting the messenger or because of the inherent fear the media have to delve honestly and without judgment into a person’s sexual background.

Foley got tagged as gay in 1996 because he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, the first federal law that sought specifically to define marriage as a male-female thing. He wasn’t the only one. I also reported that Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who also voted for DOMA, was a closeted gay man. I based these assertions on extensive interviews with gay men who knew the congressmen, who could speak to their personal associations and who had seen them in private settings where there was no doubt as to their sexuality.

I wrote the story not as an activist seeking to punish someone for not being who I thought they should be. I wrote it as a journalist seeking to dig deeper into a topic that was at the top of every newspaper in the country. If Congress was getting involved in deciding who could and could not be married, then it was relevant to ask lawmakers about their personal lives. I remember that former GOP Rep. Bob Barr, the Georgia congressman who was the chief sponsor of DOMA, got asked once which of his three previous marriages he was defending, and no one raised a stink.

But asking a lawmaker if he was gay and how his sexuality affected his vote was just not acceptable. It wasn’t in 1996, and I doubt many reporters would do it today. It’s not homophobia per se. It’s really more like homo-aversion.

Foley was a master of aversion. For The Advocate story, as I recall, Foley didn’t grant a face-to-face interview but instead answered written questions. “Frankly, I don’t think what kind of personal relationships I have in my private life is of any relevance to anyone else,” he said.

In contrast, Kolbe sat down with me to talk. Like Kolbe, I was from Tucson. I had followed Kolbe’s career since my days as a college journalist. Kolbe was sincere, and he was scared. He worried what would happen to his career and he feared what his family would say. And he didn’t want a magazine to do what he realized in that moment that he needed to do himself.

Kolbe went public with his sexual orientation before the magazine hit the stands. He was praised for his honesty and he went on to win re-election handily in every election since. I ran into Kolbe at a University of Arizona homecoming game a few years ago. He told me that though he didn’t like having someone pry into his personal life, he understood why I went after the story. And he said that in the long run, he was happier because he didn’t have to hide anymore. This year is Kolbe’s last in Congress. He’s retiring after a distinguished 22-year career in the House. It’s a little odd for me to think that it’s also Foley’s last, but for very different reasons.

By staying so deep in the closet and browbeating others to keep his secret for him, Foley probably thought he was invincible. But secrets have a way of bringing down the powerful.

Just ask Edwin Edwards. He was never caught with a dead girl or a live boy. But he was caught shaking down riverboat casino owners and sent to prison after he’d left office.

J. Jennings Moss is a freelance journalist based in New York City and Tucson, Ariz. A former senior editor for ABCNews.com, Moss spent 18 months as Washington correspondent for The Advocate, the national lesbian and gay newsmagazine.