As much as I like to see the Republican Party in a tailspin, the media narrative on this is ridiculous. Notice how many stories refer to Foley as a “predator” and the pages in question as “young boys” or “children.” Come on. They were 16. The only reasonable coverage I’ve found of this is, appropriately, at Reason:
But as it turns out, the Mark Foley pedophilia sex scandal lacks two things: pedophilia and sex. The victim of Foley’s electronic overfriendliness was not a pre-adolescent, but a 16-year-old; above the age of consent in D.C., and an age at which the average American moves from explicit IM exchanges to the real deal. A 16-year-old is neither a defenseless child nor an adult, but Americans don’t have a way to talk about attraction to sexually mature minorsâ€”an attraction that anchors the career of your average pop star but is best kept far, far away from an already perverse Washington. That leaves two options: Foley as pathological child abuser at one extreme, as a Clintonian philanderer on the other.
That the virtual defines the criminal is a stupid legal inconsistency, but it is part of a landscape in which legal and moral are regularly conflated. The term sex offender is so broad as to have lost all useful meaning, ranging from adults who urinate in public to those who prey on preschoolers. The barriers to slapping someone’s address on a registry are so low that any actual tragedy gets lost in a sea of banality. Yet the term itself, heavy with registry and residency requirements, adopts all the weight of its most vile associations; not the Maf54s, but the John Wayne Gacys.
For his part, Foley has been a one-man war on nuance: A vocal fan of broad databases, the first to yell sicko and cry pervert. In his own words, Foley is “never too tired” to jerk off. Nor was he too tired to use his position as chairman of the former chairman of the House Caucus on Missing Children to stretch the definitions of sex crime beyond all meaningâ€”everything from running a nudist camps to child modeling was deemed perverse, hardly distinguishable from straight-up abuse. At a news conference in 2002, he explained that it was a mistake to distinguish between the internet and physical contact, saying ” It doesn’t make a difference if the child engaged in sex is real or virtual. In other words, an old simple saying: If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it is a duck.”