Like the great white shark, a scandal must be fed, or it sinks to the bottom and dies. And the Mark Foley-congressional page scandal has not had a good feeding in 72 hours.
On Saturday, The Washington Post revealed that Kirk Fordham, Foley's top aide in 2003, concerned about Foley's fixation with pages, went to see Scott Palmer, chief of staff to Speaker Hastert.
According to Fordham, and another source, Palmer, alerted to the Foley problem, confronted him. As Palmer shares an apartment with the speaker, it seems impossible that he and Hastert would not have discussed so volatile an issue.
Thus we have a credibility question.
For Palmer denies he had any 2003 meeting with Fordham to discuss Foley, or that he held any meeting with Foley himself.
The speaker says that not until 2005, when the issue of the "overly friendly" e-mail to a 16-year-old page came up, was he made aware of a Foley problem, and not until the day Foley departed did he know of the salacious instant messages. Yet Majority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Thomas Reynolds have said they alerted Hastert to the gravity of the situation months ago.
Clearly, there is either a serious outbreak of Attention Deficit Disorder in the GOP caucus, or someone is lying. Fordham or Palmer, or Palmer and the speaker. While lying to the public is not unusual for politicians, lying to the FBI can get you a reservation at Allenwood.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Fordham is gay. On Saturday, the Post reported that the House clerk who oversaw the page program and was sent by the speaker's office to admonish Foley in 2005 was also gay. Fordham, Foley and the clerk are now gone. We may be looking at the Little Big Horn of the Log Cabin Club.
What, then, are the elements of this multiplex scandal?
First, there is the deplorable instant messages of Foley, which all have condemned. Yet if Foley had had sex with pages, rather than write them lurid IMs, he would have violated no law. For under D.C. law, the age of consent has been dropped to 16. And there is no evidence Foley violated that law or had a sexual encounter with a teenage page.
How can Democrats credibly denounce a 52-year-old gay man for sending dirty instant messages to a 16-year-old, when Democrats have legalized sex with 16-year-olds in D.C.? Isn't that a mite hypocritical?
There are questions as well for the news media.
If ABC was concerned about the Foley threat to the pages, why did ABC hold up the story until October? And if the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald knew of the first e-mail, and chose not to out Foley, why is Hastert condemned for reaching the same conclusion?
In the Baltimore Catechism, detraction is listed as a sin against the Eighth Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Detraction does not mean lying about one's neighbor, it means revealing a truth ruinous to the reputation that the listener has no right to hear -- i.e., if a woman has had an abortion years ago, one cannot, in good conscience, broadcast that to the public without committing a grave sin.
The problem with Washington is that detraction is what modern campaigns are all about: digging up dirt on one's opponent, and feeding it to a cooperative press.
Yet if Hastert and those two newspapers declined to destroy Foley for one indiscreet e-mail, did they not do the better thing?
Would it not have caused a storm of outrage against the GOP and speaker if, after one e-mail, they had outed and ruined Foley? Would not the GOP have been fairly charged with a cruel act of homophobia over a single "over-friendly" e-mail?
There are other questions. As it was a Democrat front group, CREW, that sent the instant messages to the FBI in July, were not Democrats aware Foley was prowling the page dorm, and did they not remain silent, preferring to await the politically propitious moment to release the IMs?
Is the Democratic concern for the "children" genuine, or did they leave the pages vulnerable until they could drop their stink bomb on Foley and the House Republicans, five weeks before the election?
As of today, this is a Republican scandal. A GOP congressman was responsible for the sordid messages to pages. The House GOP leadership failed to investigate rigorously. And some GOP staff and members may have lied and may have covered up. Any Republican who is proven to have done so should be removed from any position of power.
But to have the party of gay rights, many of whose leaders have marched in gay pride parades alongside the pedophiles of NAMBLA, acting "shocked, shocked" at GOP torpor in outing and ousting its flaming gay member is, to put it mildly, unconvincing.