Quiet return of the pink elephant

PinkElephantIt isn't news when the officially edgy Style section of The Washington Post prints a lengthy feature story that opens like this:

In October 1993, after the ban on gays in the military was replaced with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, three Oklahoma congressmen said they wouldn't hire an openly gay person onto their staffs. Then-Rep. Jim Inhofe (R) told the Tulsa World: "I would not appoint a gay person in that type of leadership position."

That declaration sent a ripple of fear across a certain set on Capitol Hill. A small, bipartisan group of staffers huddled and formed the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association, which now has a confidential e-mail list of more than 200. And a frustrated aide contacted the Tulsa World and gave an anonymous interview.

I'm gay, he told the newspaper, and I'm on Inhofe's staff.

However, for those who are watching the Washington newspaper racks closely for clues as to who is going to get blamed for GOP losses on election day, it is probably more important that The Washington Times quietly stuck a story on the bottom of page one (at least that's where it was on the print edition delivered in the Baltimore area) that began like this:

One of the inescapable facts of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley is that three key people who had some of the earliest clues about the congressman's advances toward teenage boys are, like Foley, gay.

Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman from Arizona, received a complaint from a former page in 2001 or 2002 that Foley had sent the boy e-mails that made him uncomfortable. Jeff Trandahl, the House clerk in charge of the page program, was so concerned about Foley's behavior several years ago that he reported it to Kirk Fordham, Foley's chief of staff.

Kolbe, Trandahl and Fordham are openly gay. The question of who knew what, and when, has roiled the uneasy peace between the Republican Party and its cadre of gay staffers, who don't welcome the spotlight. It also has raised the question: Were Kolbe, Fordham and Trandahl trying to downplay the Foley issue to protect a fellow gay Republican?

If you clicked on that link, you may have noted that this story was not written by reporters at Times. That is interesting, to say the least. You would expect a local byline on a story on page one on such a hot topic, especially since the Times -- on its national political beats -- often functions as an open window into the thinking of GOP strategerists.

Also, there are no hints that the newspaper has the document that folks in this town halfway expect to see in print before election day, which would be the alleged list of alleged gay GOP staff members that may or may not be circulating via email inside the Beltway.

In other words, the Times has not produced its own pink elephant story yet. Wait for it.

This may, in fact, be the strategery that GOP leaders have chosen -- tense silence. Meanwhile, this story by Bill Adair and Wes Allison of the St. Petersburg Times does include a helpful summary of the talking points among top evangelical leaders (So this is why our social-issues agenda keeps being put on the GOP's back burner) and gay Republican leaders (Hey, gay GOP staffers were the only people who tried to warn folks at the top about what Foley was up to with the pages).

It is hard to imagine that this story will vanish in the days ahead, especially if the goal of the people pushing it is to get cultural conservatives depressed so that they won't turn out at the polls. Like I said, wait for it.

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