Arthur Hailey saw this coming.
Back in 1960, the pop-novelist published “In High Places,” a tale about Canada’s government. In it, the prime minister is considering whether to align more closely with the United States to protect the great white north from nuclear attack. But his government may well collapse -- not because he’s considering signing away Canadian sovereignty, but because the press is focusing relentlessly on a stowaway named Henri who wants to enter the country.
The lesson is that in the midst of serious events, frivolity can be a real threat.
Today it’s North Korea, not (as in Hailey’s book) the Soviet Union making nuclear threats. And the Stalinist North Korean government (which already has tested long- and short-range missiles) now says it’s tested a nuclear weapon. Sounds serious. Too bad it can’t compete for attention with the ongoing Mark Foley scandal.
The day after North Korea’s purported test, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s lead headline announced “N. Korea claims nuclear test.” But Foley was right next door on the page. “Foley e-mails go back to 2000,” the paper announced. Inside, the Foley story covered most of page 3; those interested in Korean nukes could flip to page 9. Cable news coverage was similar: Open with North Korea, but get to Foley as quickly as possible.
Not even a master storyteller such as Hailey could have imagined this. In his novel, he at least had the stowaway play an active role. By contrast, Foley is gone. Long gone. As soon as ABC News revealed that he was sending sexually suggestive Instant Messages to former pages, Foley quit the House and headed out of town. Yet the media continues to flog the story, just as political partisans are doing.
Out in Minnesota, Democrat Patty Wetterling is in a tough fight with Republican Michele Bachmann for an open House seat. Within days of the Foley revelations, Wetterling was on the air with an ad claiming the entire GOP leadership is at fault here. “For over a year, they knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their own power,” the ad claimed. She’s just following the Nancy Pelosi line. On Oct. 5, Pelosi claimed, “The fact that the Republican leadership in this Congress chose to protect Mark Foley for political reasons, rather than protect the children, cannot [stand].”
Well, to date, there’s no evidence that House leaders knew anything about Foley’s IMs. House Speaker Dennis Hastert insists, “The Republican leaders of the House did not have them. We have all said so, and on the record.” If evidence appears proving these leaders did engage in a cover-up, they should, of course, resign. But otherwise it’s past time for this “scandal” (in reality, just the story of one man’s serious misbehavior), to go away.