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Mark Foley Scandal Sparks Question for Media and Pols: What Did You Know and When Did You Know It?




UPDATE: House Speaker Dennis Hastert is using the St. Petersburg Times' possession of the emails to defend Congressional leaders' lack of action against former Congessman Mark Foley, while the Miami Herald is also admitting they had the original, less disturbing emails and didn't do a story, either.

Unfortunately, I'm awfully conflicted about this issue, because I know the editors and journalists involved and worked on the national desk before I came back to the TV Critic gig. I hate to see our paper miss a scoop like this, but I also, frankly, hate to see news outlets rushing stories into print without proper sourcing or a complete enough understanding of the story.

ABC News didn't get the more salacious instant messages it reported on, until the more innocuous emails first came to light. And, if I understand our government editor's email correctly, the kid who received the emails didn't go on the record -- so we would have been saying our sense that something untoward happened was significant enough that a story was warranted without an accuser on record or any law enforcement action underway.

It's enough of a judgment call that I don't blame our reporters for deciding not to run the story -- though I wish we had gotten to the bottom of this before other media outlets did. 

The email scandal which forced West Palm Beach Congressman Mark Foley to resign keeps getting weirder and weirder -- especially for the media.

The Times' government and politics editor filed a long-ish blog post Saturday explaining why we never wrote a story on Foley's milder emails to a page last year, even though we learned of them back then.  Of course, it's easy to second-guess such judgments in hindsight, but if a similar flap earlier this year involving allegations against Charlie Crist proves anything, it's that we move carefully when it comes to explosive allegations which might be a disguised political attack, especially close to an election.

What i'm wondering now: Will we explain this to readers in the print paper as well? (I'm still trying to figure out why, if we're the liberal rag so many people accuse us of being, we would, as some have accused, "bury" allegations against Republican stalwarts like Crist and Foley).

Exepct the political TV shows to be all over this in a few hours, especially following this AP report that GOP officials Mark_foley_email3_nr knew about Foley's email problems last year, too.  Though I was worknig on a different story Friday, I was watching TV coverage of the Foley resignation, and what surprised me most was that the email anchors on MSNBC, CNN, CBS and WFLA-Ch. 8 were describing seemed awfully ambiguous.

Ross_return_to_2 It wasn't until I saw the report by ABC's Brian Ross online that I realized there were more explicit emails -- something no one on the other channels mentioned, even by crediting ABC News. Instead, I saw MSNBC's Chris Matthews debating the appropriateness of Foley asking some kid for his picture; ABC News has transcripts of an instant message in which he supposedly tells another teen to "Strip down and get relaxed."

This is a scandal which seemed to catch a lot of journalists flatfooted -- sparked by a blogger who posted the original, less salacious emails a week ago. Now, because Foley was widely rumored to be homosexual, gays are worried about the impact of his actions and news outlets will be less likely to hold off on publishing such material in the future.

And even though Foley seems to be guilty of all he's accused of, if not more, I can't help wondering if that won't be such a great thing.

The  Birth of a Journalism Dream

I just saw the birth of a dream.

Neighnewsbureaulogo It's a dream in which students learn about journalism by covering those who are acknowledged the least. They cut their teeth as storytellers relating tales from those whose stories are rarely told. And its all happening in the middle of one of St. Petersburg's most challenged neighborhoods: Midtown.

I'm talking about the founding of the University of South Florida's Neighborhood News Bureau -- the culmination of a journalism dream that started many years ago.

At this news bureau -- basically a few rooms in the James Sanderlin Center to house some computers, officie supplies and phones -- all journalism students at USF's burgeoning journalism program in St. Petersburg will spend time covering the people and stories of Midtown, giving them the kind of attention even the St. Petersburg times can't provide.

Students will learn the craft while trying to tell the toughest stories out there -- urban poverty, education struggles, drug problems -- and when they hit a real journalism job, they'll have benefetted from meeting the kinds of folks mainstream journalists don't often encounter, except while covering a murder or arrest. Hear an early report on the program aired on WUSF in 2002 here.

I learned about this first hand from students and teachers Saturday morning, as USF named its news bureau in honor of Peggy Peterman, the deceased former St. Petersburg Times columnist and tireless advocate for equality in and out of the newsroom. The organization I lead, the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, donated money to commemorate Peggy's presence via a plaque in the newsroom -- ensuring her strong, compassionate visage always looks over the students.

Saturday's dedication was an emotional event: in part, because Peggy's son, Frank Peterman was near tears while B_5_1bpeggy_194512_0820 recalling his departed mother and brother John. Pulitzer Prize winner Leon Dash gave an incisive lecture -- the first of an annual Peggy Peterman Community Journalism lecture to be held every year -- noting that the children of young, adolescent mothers are three times more likely to go to prison, are more likely to drop out of school and are more likely to be isolated from the world outside their neighborhood.

Guess which neighborhood holds South Pinellas' highest incidence of adolescent childbearing?

Students from the program were supposed to be blogging the event live, but I haven't yet found the site. It was amazing to watch the community come together to support a new journalism education initiative: I can only pray it bears the kind of fruit we all hope for.

UPDATE: A colleague tells me the link to the students' blog work is here. Enjoy.

Deconstructing The Wire with David Simon

I know this will make for an awfully long blog post, but I have to add a little something extra to my story today on Mystic River novelist Dennis Lehane writing for HBO's buttkicking crime drama, The Wire.

Davidsimon One of the coolest things about doing a story on The Wire -- besides telling al of you how great it is -- is getting to hang with Simon over the telephone. As a former Baltimore Sun reporter, he's totally at ease with fellow journalists, and because he's not a hollywood creature, he doesn't care how his remarks will play in the town and because he works for a premium cable outlet, he doesn't even have to worry what advertisers think.

So here's a few more cool quotes which couldn't fit in today's story from the man himself:

On why he never compromises his vision to make the show more accessible: ""I won't give the audience anything more than I would give them if they pick up a book. I think - the assumption is made, when someone is writing a book, that people are making a commitment to sit down with the narrative and acquire the information they need to follow it. To not have everything be ridiculous exposition. That expectation has never been here in television. We're really treating television as if its not a mass entertainment model - and in some ways, cable has kinda done that with HBO. If they can keep people spending $18.95 extra for premium cable because some of them have to have The Wire and some of them have to have The Sopranos, then its okay. Now, you can start telling stories as if the stories matter, than as if they are the shit that comes between the commercials."

On why the networks will never compete on his playing field: "Eventually, they pull their punch - they always pussy out. They want to have it suggested they;re doing stuff on that level - but at the last moment, they want to be a little more redemptive and they want to say a little less. The fundamental difference is: We're not selling shit. HBO is selling HBO. NBC, CBS Fox - the programming is there to help advertisers sell cars and sell phones and feminine products and Viagra and widgets. How can you do that if you're trying to be to complex, too dark? You can only tell stories like this one time in your life; You don't want to be ashamed."

Wire On why white audiences haven't warmed up to the predominantly-black cast of the Wire: ""The majority culture has prevailed over so much programming (black people have just) been required to incorporate the I love lucy, la law logic into their worlds and accept it for what it is. White folks are just not used to being in the minority anywhere in their lives. When it happens to white folks, some of them don't do very well. Most white Americans what to be progressive. They want to think well of themselves and their progressive sensiblities. Everybody wants their neighborhood to be seven or eight percent African American. At 12, 13, 14 percent, that's when the For Sale signs go up."

What the Wire is really about: "This show is really about the other America. Other America never gets a TV show. Never gets to talk about itself or argue for its own humanity. Either poor people are the salt of the earth, orthe contemptible thugs to be hunted down by the Lenny Briscoes and Andy Sipowiczes of the world. I'm always looking for people who are writing the other side of that coin."

On whether a rave review from Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly got The Wire a fifth and final season next year: "A lot of things did it - but him coming out early with that thing, it caused some people who might not have put the (screener) tapes in, to put all the tapes in. I've got nothing but gratitude for that. There were a lot of critics around the country saying nice things. But clearly, it had nothing to do with our viewership, which is better, but not like The Sopranos. It had to do with, when this many critics are telling them these guys are building something special -a place like HBO listens. Once thecritics all landed - if Stephen King says this is special and all the other critics say bullshit - I'm still (screwed). It had to be the wave it was. But he definitely blew the first whistle."

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:37pm]


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