Another Gary Condit moment

An old scandal involving sex is a good guide to what is going on with our most recent sex scandal.

Jason Stahl

Who remembers Gary Condit? If you don’t, I’ll give you a refresher. Gary Condit was a U.S. Representative from California who served throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In summer 2001, an aide Rep. Condit was having an affair with went missing in Washington, D.C. Throughout that summer, media went wild with all sorts of rampant speculation about Condit’s possible role in the disappearance. Then came Sept. 11, and everyone forgot about Gary Condit.

I feel like we’re going through another Gary Condit moment right now with the newest Washington sex scandal, revolving around recently resigned Rep. Mark Foley. Obviously, the two situations have their differences. The media circus around Condit was based on pure speculation while in the case of the Foley sex scandal there is lurid written evidence.

At the same time, the similarities are striking. Namely, both involved media’s favorite topic (sex) and both were a distraction from the immensely more important events of their respective times.

This is not to say that Foley’s actions are unimportant or insignificant. He clearly abused his position of power to (at the very least) hit on congressional pages as young as 16. This clearly warrants his own resignation (as he did) and also accountability for those who covered up his acts.

Despite this, I can’t even fake outrage over the whole affair given everything else going on right now in the world. Instead, my outrage is directed at media (especially 24-hour news channels) that now cover this issue at the expense of all else – as if this were the most important issue of the day.

For media, and for all of us who are ignoring the more consequential actions of our government, this is another Gary Condit moment. Just as Gary Condit distracted from covering real threats to the nation, so too does Mark Foley distract from the same.

In my past two columns, I’ve written about one of these threats – the Military Commissions Act. I’m going to write about it again simply because I cannot believe there is not more outrage about the bill and its dangerous attacks on fundamental notions of freedom and democracy in this country.

What do I mean by this? The act allows the president to designate anyone an “unlawful enemy combatant” – including U.S. citizens – and subject those labeled as such to summary arrest and indefinite attention without appeal. The act allows President George W. Bush to define torture.

The act suspends habeas corpus – thus disabling the rights of those imprisoned to challenge their imprisonment. These are just three of the worst components of the legislation.

The Foley scandal essentially has meant that the act is now relegated to “old news.”

“New news” is being ignored as well. Namely, several different news accounts indicate signals of a possible war with Iran. The most ominous of these is by retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner.

Gardiner points to the recent deployment of a “strike group” of ships to the Persian Gulf – including a nuclear aircraft carrier. Gardiner argues that such a deployment, with a scheduled arrival date of Oct. 21, is “very important evidence” of possible war with Iran.

If the 24-hour networks gave these reports even a 10th of the attention they are giving the Foley scandal, we’d all be better off. But they won’t.

Salacious instant messages are just more sexy than the suspension of habeas corpus and another impending war. This is why, in the end analysis, I just don’t care about the Foley scandal. It pales in comparison with other

rotten things at the core of our republic.

Friends tell me this doesn’t matter. They say Foley is important because it is the final straw which will win Democrats the House and the Senate in the midterm elections.

Moreover, these same friends say, it will decapitate the Republican leadership in the House. My response is that, while these things might be true, they also are depressing. Don’t get me wrong – like any good progressive, I will welcome Republican losses in the midterm with open arms.

But, if dirty instant messages and their cover-up are what do it – as opposed to other far more serious matters – we have larger problems

as a nation that need to be dealt with.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]