BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week. I'm Bob Garfield.
After 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and more than 16 years in the Senate, for Larry Craig, distinguished gentleman from the State of Idaho,* it has come to this. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] MALE CORRESPONDANT: Idaho Senator Larry Craig - tonight, his explanation.
LARRY CRAIG: Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay. FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, the scandal in the Senate — powerful Republicans abandon Larry Craig. BOB GARFIELD: On Monday, the Washington area political newspaper Roll Call dropped the bombshell. Craig had been arrested in mid-June by an undercover police officer on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men's room of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Early in August, Craig pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct, and the nation has since received instruction in the silent signals of the gay man bathroom pickup.
What distinguishes this case is that the media have been picking up signals about Craig's sexuality and honesty since 1982, when he preemptively denied sexual involvement with male congressional pages, despite the fact that his name hadn't previously surfaced.
Since then, rumors have followed him everywhere - everywhere, that is, but The Idaho Statesman. The Boise daily had conducted an investigation of Craig's conduct and truthfulness but only after the arrest story broke was that piece published.
Bill Manny is managing editor of The Statesman and he joins me now. Bill, welcome to the show. BILL MANNY: Thank you, Bob. BOB GARFIELD: Before we get to the details of the current situation, I want to go back to the fall of 2006 when a blogger, Michael Rogers, reported that the Senator was gay and he justified the outing by saying that Craig was a hypocrite for his anti-gay voting record in the Senate.
At that time, I spoke to your colleague at The Spokane Spokesman Review, Steve Smith, about how his paper handled this story. How did The Idaho Statesman deal with the outing at that time? BILL MANNY: We talked to Mike Rogers about his story and asked him to provide us with contact information so that we could talk to his sources directly ourselves. We did not believe that his secondhand anonymous reports met our standards for journalism. Mike Rogers was not able to connect us with his sources and we chose not to report that story.
Other newspapers reported the story essentially as the Craig denial and the buzz it had created on the Internet. And I don't disagree that there is some news value there. It was a real dilemma. BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. You didn't sit on your hands. You got busy trying to dig into Senator Craig's life to find out what, in fact, was going on. And tell me about the details of that investigation. BILL MANNY: Well, we assigned Dan Popke, longtime political reporter and columnist, to find out what was true. Idahoans deserved to know the truth, and if we could determine what it was, we would try to report that.
Dan spent about five months working on the story. In May, we finally were able to sit down with Senator Craig and lay out what we had found. It was about an hour-long interview at the Craig house with Craig and his wife, and we did play him audio of one of the sources we had describing an encounter this source said was with Larry Craig in a bathroom in Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Craig steadfastly denied any and all of the suggestions he was gay or that he had ever engaged in homosexual activity. And then as we considered what we had at that point, we decided we had a he said/he said case. And the word of a longtime distinguished, respected senator ultimately was the deciding factor, and we did not publish. BOB GARFIELD: And then, on Monday, in Roll Call, the Washington political newspaper, breaks the story about the senator's arrest and guilty plea in Minnesota. What happened in your shop when that story broke? BILL MANNY: Well, as you can imagine, we were disappointed that a story we had worked so long and assiduously on had been broken by another reporter. You know, you can't beat yourself up too much about a medium-sized paper in Idaho not finding out about a misdemeanor arrest in Minnesota. It's not that we missed it. It's - we weren't even looking. But what we did do quickly was we huddled and decided that we had a story to tell and this gave us the opportunity to tell it. BOB GARFIELD: Let's just say that Larry Craig is gay. And let us say that his guilty plea was the correct one because he had been cruising a bathroom in the Minneapolis airport. From the perspective of a citizen of Idaho, what's his crime here? BILL MANNY: Well, the first point I would say is the crime was what he admitted to and has been sentenced on. So I'm not going to pass judgment on what crime did he commit because I think he's passed judgment on that himself, and so have the courts.
I think this became an issue and a story because, since 1982, when Larry Craig issued a preemptive denial that he hadn't been involved in the congressional page scandal involving teenage male pages, that has been a kind of a chronic secondary issue in Idaho politics. Right or wrong, the blogger last fall brought it back to the fore. We owed it to ourselves and our readers to find out what the truth was and then to decide how to print it. BOB GARFIELD: Now, you decided not to run the results of your investigation for some months. And comes the revelation of the guilty plea in Minnesota. Do you now regret the decision not to go with the Craig story that you had when you had it? BILL MANNY: We feel today the same way we felt in October and the same way we felt in May, that to go with a story that wasn't complete and was based on the sources we had, it just wasn't ready. I don't think we regret any decision we made along the way. BOB GARFIELD: Bill, thank you. BILL MANNY: Bob, thank you very much. BOB GARFIELD: Bill Manny is managing editor of The Statesman. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
* In the original interview, Bob Garfield mistakenly refers to Larry Craig as being from Ohio. This transcript has been corrected.