The Times, Mark Foley and damage control

The blogosphere was alive yesterday with this question: Why did the St. Petersburg Times sit on the Mark Foley-page e-mails story back in November after interviewing the page? The issue went national after the New York Times quoted an unpublished interview with the Louisiana teen supplied to it by the St. Pete paper.

The Times' government editor, Scott Montgomery, posted a lengthy explanation Saturday of why the paper didn't publish a story last year. His rationale — that Foley's e-mails to the teen weren't overtly sexual and the teen's family didn't want his name used — have struck some as flawed. One commenter at The Buzz pointed out that the Times' standard is not to publish the names of juvenile victims of sex crimes anyway, so why not run the story? Montgomery's posting leaves the overall impression that the Times didn't believe the e-mails rose to the standard of sex crime, even though the teen page clearly was uncomfortable with them, calling them "sick" 13 times in an e-mail to another Hill staffer. Even if it wasn't a sex crime, it sure as hell was a story.

More interestingly here, however, is again the power of amateur journalism and blogs. Apparently, the Times wasn't the only newspaper in Florida that got the original e-mails back in November, and none published. Only now, when a blog got its hands on them and posted them online, which pushed them to the attention of ABC News, which ran the story. Once that story was out there, other victims apparently came forward, and Foley was forced to resign.

If not for the blogosphere, the MSM would have left another story in the shadows. You can say what you want about the veracity of bloggers and their lack of journalistic standards or methods, but they are playing a much needed role that, frankly, the myriad privately or family-owned dailies used to play before media consolidation and corporatization gutted the industry.

For a wider view of how FLA's MSM did with the Foley story over the years, here's Bob Norman's great analysis in New Times.