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Why Capitol Pages Fear Retaliation

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For generations, American parents have sent their high-school-age children to Washington to serve as Capitol Hill pages and to learn about the real world of politics. In the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley's salacious e-mails, it's clear that one lesson the pages learned was to fear Republican retaliation.

It now appears that one of the chief reasons why Foley's e-mails remained secret for so long - and why some former pages still won't speak publicly - is that they recognize that divulging what Foley did to them could kill their hopes for future careers in politics.

This fear of retaliation from today's take-no-prisoners Republican power structure in Washington has been a little-noted subtext to the stories about Foley's sudden resignation on Sept. 29 over his e-mails to pages since 2003.

The congressional pages who received the "creepy" e-mails "didn't do anything beside telling other pages about it," said Matthew Loraditch, 21, who runs the U.S. House Page Alumni Association's Internet message board. Loraditch, a senior at Towson University, explained that three of the former pages have refused to comment, citing fear of long-term damage to their ability to land jobs. [Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2006]

Fear of retaliation also has limited the willingness of adult Republican staffers from commenting about the Foley case.

"One House GOP leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, conceded that Republicans had erred in not notifying the three-member, bipartisan panel that oversees the page system," the Washington Post reported.

Politics of Fear

In a very perverse way, the story of the e-mails and the pages does represent one of the fundamental lessons of working in today's one-party Washington: Whether in politics, intelligence or journalism, avoid doing or saying anything that offends powerful Republicans.

At, we have addressed this politics of fear before, noting many examples of retaliation against reporters, intelligence analysts, political leaders and prominent citizens who have refused to toe the line.

For instance, in understanding why Washington insiders so thoroughly bought into George W. Bush's bogus case for war in Iraq, one has to remember the abuse heaped on anyone who challenged Bush or his rationales.

The critics could expect to be trashed by influential Republicans, taunted by the powerful right-wing media and treated harshly by mainstream news outlets, too.

While Bush rarely joined personally in the attack-dog operations, he maintained a remarkable record of never calling off the dogs, either.

In some cases, such as the punishment of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, Bush did get his hands dirty. The President oversaw a campaign to discredit Wilson - which came to include exposing his wife's covert identity - after Wilson complained about "twisted" intelligence on Iraq. [See's "Did Bush Lie to Fitzgerald?"]

But the more typical Bush-on-the-sidelines approach was illustrated by what happened to the Dixie Chicks, a three-woman country-western band that has faced more than three years of boycotts because lead singer, Natalie Maines, slighted Bush before the invasion.

During a March 10, 2003, concert in London, Maines, a Texan, remarked, "we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Two days later - just a week before Bush launched the Iraq invasion - she added, "I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world."

With war hysteria then sweeping America, the right-wing attack machine switched into high gear, organizing rallies to drive trucks over Dixie Chicks CDs and threatening country-western stations that played Dixie Chicks music. Maines later apologized, but it was too late to stop the group's songs from falling down the country music charts.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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