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Profile: Mark Foley
Mark Foley was a participant or observer in the following events:
Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Mark Foley (R-FL), both representing districts in the Palm Beach County area of Florida, argue about the confusing “butterfly ballot” that plagued many Palm Beach voters (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000) with interviewer Larry King on CNN. Much of the debate centers on the ballot design and its approval by Palm Beach elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. (In his 2001 book Down and Dirty, author Jake Tapper will note that LePore was originally registered as a Republican, then an independent, before registering as a Democrat, and is not particularly partisan with any party.) Foley, a Bush campaign supporter, defends LePore and the ballot, saying that the entire ballot situation is caused by recalcitrant Democrats unwilling to accept defeat, while Wexler, arguing on behalf of the Gore campaign, says the ballot is illegal and cost Al Gore the votes he needed to win Florida and the presidency. Wexler accurately describes many Palm Beach voters as “hysterical” because they feared they had accidentally voted for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan and not for Gore, and says the ballot design does not comply with Florida law. “Illegal is illegal, confusion is confusion, and the presidency shouldn’t hinge on it,” Wexler says. Foley is inaccurate in saying that Buchanan has a large base of support in Palm Beach, though he jokes that some of those putative pro-Buchanan voters “may be deranged.” Foley denies Wexler’s description of “mass confusion” at the Palm Beach polling places, and notes, accurately enough, that “a Democratic supervisor of elections [LePore] approved the layout and approved the ballot.” King says that as a Democrat, Wexler “signed off” on the ballot design, drawing a retort from Wexler: “That’s not exactly so, Larry. Many people did complain to the supervisor of elections when they saw the sample ballot.” LePore, watching the discussion on television, is angered by Wexler’s charge; she later says she mailed out 655,000 sample ballots to voters, gave copies to all 150-odd candidates on the ballot, mailed copies to local Democratic and Republican representatives, and provided copies for publication in the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and received no complaints whatsoever. Wexler goes on to note that LePore sent out an unprecedented voter advisory reminding voters how to cast their votes for their desired presidential candidate, “which I’ve never seen done.” LePore is further angered by Wexler’s failure to acknowledge that he was one of the people who requested the advisory. “What a liar!” LePore thinks as she watches Wexler’s comments. Wexler argues that “the presidency of the United States hangs in the balance.… The entire election system of America is on trial right now. We need to make certain it is done in a fair way.” [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2000; Tapper, 3/2001]
Entity Tags: Larry King, CNN, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Palm Beach (Florida), Jake Tapper, Mark Foley, Patrick Buchanan, Theresa LePore, Robert Wexler, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
A surprisingly high number of voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, cast their presidential votes for third-party presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, and the Gore campaign believes many of these voters intended to vote for Al Gore (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). The problem lay in Palm Beach’s “butterfly ballot,” designed by Democratic county elections supervisor Theresa LePore, which many voters found confusing (see September 2000). The ballot gave a list of names for offices with corresponding holes to punch, but in the presidential race, Gore’s name lined up more closely with the hole designated for Buchanan, who won 3,407 votes in Palm Beach, over 2,600 more than he won in any other county in Florida. Palm Beach is heavily populated with elderly Jewish voters who were, media reports will say, thrilled to cast their votes for Gore’s Jewish running mate Joe Lieberman; it is doubtful they would have become enthused about Buchanan and his history of anti-Semitism and Holocaust trivialization. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer attempts to characterize Palm Beach as a “Buchanan stronghold.” But Buchanan readily admits that the Gore campaign is probably correct in saying that many Palm Beach voters intended to vote for Gore and not for him. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] “It does seem to me that those are probably not my votes in those precincts in Palm Beach County,” Buchanan says. “My guess is that I probably got some votes down there that really did not belong to me. I feel—I do not feel well about that. I do not want to take any votes that don’t belong to me.… If the two candidates they pushed were Buchanan and Gore, almost certainly those are Al Gore’s votes, not mine.” Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) says that the Palm Beach voters “may be deranged” in voting for Buchanan, “but they have every right to vote for him” and their votes should not be questioned. Three Palm Beach voters file a lawsuit “seeking a new election claiming the punchcard ballot was so confusing that they accidentally voted” for Buchanan. It is not clear if the Gore campaign or local Democratic Party officials will ask for an actual recount, though some Democratic lawyers call the ballot design “illegal.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000]
Analyses: Ballot Confusion Cost Gore between 6,600 and 13,000 Votes - A subsequent analysis reported by the liberal news site Consortium News later alleges that Gore may have lost as many as 13,000 votes due to the “butterfly ballot.” Some voters say they attempted to vote for Gore, punched the hole for Buchanan by mistake, and attempted to correct the error by punching a second hole for Gore. The voting machines recorded those votes as “overvotes” and discarded them without counting them for either Gore or Buchanan. There may be over 10,000 of these particular overvotes remaining to be counted. 19,120 ballots in Palm Beach were disqualified because of double-voting, or “overvoting.” A sample of 144 ballots will be analyzed by Palm Beach election officials, and the results will show that 80 of those 144 ballots—56 percent—show punches for both Buchanan and Gore. If this sample accurately reflects the state of the remaining overvote ballots, then mathematically, Gore lost some 10,622 votes because of the confusion. Adding the approximately 2,700 votes that were given to Buchanan means that Gore lost some 13,000 votes in Palm Beach. [Consortium News, 11/22/2000] A 2001 investigation by The Nation will find that the “lost” Gore votes in Palm Beach number somewhat less than the Consortium News estimate: some 6,600 votes that likely would have gone to Gore were either not counted or inadvertently given to Buchanan. [Nation, 4/24/2001]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Ari Fleischer, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Theresa LePore, Consortium News, The Nation, Mark Foley, Joseph Lieberman, Patrick Buchanan
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
[Source: House of Representatives]US Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) calls for a thorough investigation into whether President Bush and other government officials may have been warned of the 9/11 attacks but did nothing to prevent them. She is the first national-level politician to do so. She states: “News reports from Der Spiegel to the London Observer, from the Los Angeles Times to MSNBC to CNN, indicate that many different warnings were received by the administration.… I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9/11.… On the other hand, what is undeniable is that corporations close to the administration have directly benefited from the increased defense spending arising from the aftermath of September 11. The Carlyle Group, Dyn-Corp, and Halliburton certainly stand out as companies close to this administration.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/12/2002] McKinney’s comments are criticized and ridiculed by other politicians and the media. For instance, Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) states, “She has said some outrageous things but this has gone too far.… Maybe there should be an investigation as she suggests—but one focused on her.” Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) says her comments were dangerous and irresponsible. [Washington Post, 4/12/2002] An editorial in her home state calls her the “most prominent nut” promoting 9/11 “conspiracy theories.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/15/2002] One columnist says she is possibly “a delusional paranoiac” or “a socialist rabble-rouser who despises her own country.” [Orlando Sentinel, 4/21/2002] White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says McKinney “must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society.” [Washington Post, 4/12/2002] One month after McKinney’s comments, the Bush administration comes under fire after reports reveal it had been warned five weeks before 9/11 about possible al-Qaeda plane hijackings, and McKinney claims vindication. She will lose reelection later in the year, but win her seat back in 2004. [Office of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, 5/16/2002]
WTMJ-AM logo. [Source: Ignite Your Life (.org)]Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” [Milwaukee Magazine, 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM, 11/13/2008]
Entity Tags: David Vitter, Russell D. Feingold, Rush Limbaugh, Terri Schiavo, WTMJ-AM, Charlie Sykes, Dan Shelley, Ronald Reagan, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Neal Boortz, Fox News, Harriet E. Miers, Republican National Committee, Dennis Miller, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jeff Wagner, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Norquist, Mark Foley
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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