The Devil made me do it

“It’s his responsibility and he accepts it.”

Those words were spoken by the lawyer for Lester Crawford, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, who pleaded guilty to owning stock in companies regulated by his agency. They are unremarkable except for one thing: they are so rare.

As this season of scandal grips the capital, the miscreants are always pointing the finger of blame somewhere else: at Demon Rum or Big Media or some Forgetful Accountant. And that’s a lousy message to be sending to our kids. Next time you chastise your teenager for bringing the car home late, don’t be surprised at this response: “The press is distorting my position.”

Here are some of the most common excuses offered by recent wrongdoers. The one thing they never seem to say is, “It’s my fault.”

“I was too drunk to remember what I did.” This is lame enough when used by two college students hooking up in the back room of a frat house. It is really unbecoming when two members of Congress make the same argument to justify their bad behavior. Yet Mark Foley of Florida, who sent salacious emails to underage pages, and Bob Ney of Ohio, who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, both entered alcohol rehab programs as they headed out of town.

Addiction is a serious illness that requires treatment, but these guys give addicts a bad name. Until the moment they were caught, they were running for re-election, telling their voters how attentive and effective they were. So one way or another, they’re liars. But then, rehab can be a good career move. Expect Foley or Ney (or both) to reappear down the line, hawking their confessional books on Oprah.

“It’s all the media’s fault.” Democrats and Republicans both love to blame the (fill in the blank, liberal or conservative) press for their troubles. After the Foley scandal erupted, House Speaker Dennis Hastert strongly implied (with absolutely no evidence) that reporters broke the story on the eve of the election purely to damage Republican prospects.

Rep. Curt Weldon had a similar complaint after Federal agents raided six locations, looking for evidence that the Pennsylvania Republican had improperly steered more than one million dollars worth of lobbying and public relations business to his own daughter. The media, lamented his spokesman, should “rely on facts that are verifiable,” not leaks.

Well, search warrants executed by a Republican Justice Department are pretty verifiable. And the first investigation into Weldon’s behavior was published by the Los Angeles Times more than two years ago, so his accusation that the story has been revealed now to hurt his campaign makes no sense. What makes even less sense: his statement that he didn’t know what companies had hired his daughter. Really?

“My accountant did it.” Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, amended his ethics reports after the Associated Press disclosed that he had covered up his partnership in a lucrative land deal with a shady Las Vegas operator. Reid did some press bashing of his own, calling the news story “highly misleading,” and describing his mistakes as purely “technical”. The Washington Post thought otherwise, accusing Reid of a “casual disregard” for disclosure laws designed to reveal a lawmaker’s true business connections.

“Everybody does it.” Speaker Hastert cleared a 500 per cent profit on a land investment after Congress – at his strong urging – funded a new road near his property. Hastert’s defense: “I owned land, and I sold it, like millions of people do every day.” Sure, and they can all use taxpayers dollars to fund improvements and boost value.

“I thought it was frozen yogurt.” Federal agents videotaped Rep. William Jefferson taking a $100,000 bribe and then found most of the money stashed in his freezer. The Louisiana Democrat refuses to say where he got the cash, or drop his bid for re-election. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin says he supports Jefferson “unless he is indicted prior to the election.” Now there’s an honorable standard.

“I thought I was speaking Yiddish.” Sen. George Allen used the word “macaca” to describe a dark-skinned youth attending one of his rallies. When he was accused of making a racial slur, Allen insisted that he didn’t know the meaning of the word. Then it was revealed that Allen’s mother was a Jew from Tunisia, where “macaca” is a common epithet used by Europeans to denigrate the natives.

So many scandals, so many excuses. A simple “I’m responsible” would go a long way.

Steve Roberts’ latest book is “My Fathers’ Houses: Memoir of a Family” (William Morrow, 2005). Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by e-mail at

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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