A Note From the Editors
There still seems to be some confusion about the order of events related to our coverage of Rep. Mark Foley and his email exchanges with teenagers he met through the congressional page program. Let me try to clear this up.
In November of last year, we were given copies of an email exchange Foley had with a former page from Louisiana. Other news organizations later got them,too. The conversation in those emails was friendly chit-chat. Foley asked the boy about how he had come through Hurricane Katrina and about the boy's upcoming birthday. In one of those emails, Foley casually asked the teen to send him a "pic" of himself. Also among those emails was the page's exchange with a congressional staffer in the office of Rep. Alexander, who had been the teen's sponsor in the page program. The teen shared his exchange he'd had with Foley and asked the staffer if she thought Foley was out of bounds.
There was nothing overtly sexual in the emails, but we assigned two reporters to find out more. We found the Louisiana page and talked with him. He told us Foley's request for a photo made him uncomfortable so he never responded, but both he and his parents made clear we could not use his name if we wrote a story. We also found another page who was willing to go on the record, but his experience with Foley was different. He said Foley did send a few emails but never said anything in them that he found inappropriate. We tried to find other pages but had no luck. We spoke with Rep. Alexander, who said the boy's family didn't want it pursued, and Foley, who insisted he was merely trying to be friendly and never wanted to make the page uncomfortable.
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. As we said in today's paper, 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. Evidently, other news organizations felt the same way.
Since that time, we revisited the question more than once, but never learned anything that changed our position. The Louisiana boy's emails broke into the open last weekend, when a blogger got copies and posted them online. Later that week, on Thursday, a news blog at the website of ABC News followed suit, with the addition of one new fact: Foley's Democratic opponent, Tim Mahoney, was on the record about the Louisiana boy's emails and was calling for an investigation. That's when we wrote our first story, for Friday's papers.
After ABC News broke the story on its website, someone contacted ABC and provided a detailed email exchange between Foley and at least one other page that was far different from what we had seen before. This was overtly sexual, not something Foley could dismiss as misinterpreted friendliness. That's what drove Foley to resign on Friday.
I hope this helps clarify a bit about what we knew and when we knew it.
Government & Politics Editor