Journalist examines Foley scandal

Though Syracuse University alumnus Richard Benedetto worked for USA Today as a White House correspondent, his focus was on Congress Tuesday evening when he spoke to a group of about 100 faculty members and students on the upcoming midterm elections.

‘If the election occurred today, the chances are the Democrats would take over control in both houses,’ Benedetto said.

Benedetto’s speech, which began at 7:30 p.m. in Newhouse II, focused on recent Gallup poll results conducted between Oct. 6 and Oct. 8. He used the poll results to support his belief that the recent scandal surrounding former Republican Congressman Mark Foley has significantly hurt election chances for Republican congressional candidates across the country.

Last week, it became public that Foley had sent sexually suggestive messages to male congressional pages. It also came out that prominent members of the Republican Party, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., may have known about the messages for a while but remained silent.

Foley resigned Sept. 29, but the scandal continues, and many, including Benedetto, believe it could greatly affect the November election results.

Of likely voters, 59 percent said if the election were today they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district as opposed to only 36 percent who said they would vote for the Republican candidate, according to the poll results Benedetto cited.

He compared these poll results to those from less than a month ago, before the Foley story broke, when the polls were tied at 48 percent.

‘It goes to show you how a story like that can permeate into the American psyche,’ Benedetto said.

He later said that while some Republicans will still be completely secure in their races, others may have a lot to worry about.

‘The only thing you can safely conclude from these polls is that a lot of Republicans are in trouble,’ he said. ‘I can’t tell you which ones. You have to go district to district to do that.’

Among the many poll results he discussed, Benedetto looked at the approval ratings of House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and current Speaker of the House Hastert. He noted both had low approval ratings, at 26 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

What he focused on, however, was how many Americans said they had never heard of Pelosi or Hastert, at 29 percent and 23 percent respectively.

‘Why haven’t they heard of them?’ he asked. ‘How dumb can the American people be? They don’t pay attention. There are a lot of people who simply aren’t interested in politics. They aren’t stupid. We as reporters have to be aware of that and respect that.’

Benedetto stressed this point throughout his speech, reminding the journalism professors and students in the audience how the average U.S. citizen most likely doesn’t know as much about politics as they do, and that is okay.

‘Don’t ever believe that just because people don’t know all the issues that they are dumb,’ he said.

Benedetto reminded the audience there is still a month until elections, so anything can happen in politics.

‘Something else may come up in the next few weeks,’ he said ‘It all depends on what the public is focused on in the last few days.’

Sophomore public relations major Kate Plantier said she wasn’t that surprised by Benedetto’s thoughts on the elections because she had heard similar views in the media already.

‘I was surprised, however, by how much data he covered,’ she said. ‘It was very interesting and I learned a lot.’

Even though the focus of his speech was on the midterm elections, Benedetto also talked about journalism in general and answered questions on various topics during the question and answer section.

‘Early in my career in Utica, a senator said to me, ‘Remember that the name you are typing has a real person at the end,” Benedetto said, explaining how important it is to write only the truth since it has such an effect on those who are written about.

In his introduction of Benedetto, Professor Steve Davis, who worked with him at USA Today, said Benedetto always upheld the standard of fairness.

‘Richard would always remind us in the newsroom what our first duty was, to be fair to people and to respect people and that there are always two stories to tell,’ Davis said.

During Benedetto’s 35 years as a political reporter, he covered the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, as well as the presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2004. Benedetto recently retired and now teaches reporting at American University, which he said he has always wanted to do.

Nancy Sharp, a newspaper professor who organizes the Leaders in Communications Lecture Series, of which Benedetto’s lecture was a part, said it was wonderful to hear him speak.

‘I just think we are really lucky to have someone with such experience looking at important issues and giving us his opinion,’ Sharp said.

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