The details of Rep. Trent Franks' resignation are weird and creepy enough as it is without reporters getting ahead of themselves.
The Arizona Republican announced his immediate resignation Friday, hours after it was first reported he tried to enlist his female staffers to act as surrogates for his unborn children.
"Last night, my wife was admitted to the hospital in Washington, D.C. due to an ongoing ailment. After discussing options with my family, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for our family now would be for me to tender my previous resignation effective today, December 8th, 2017,” Franks said in a statement released to media.
Not too long after that announcement, Politico dropped what sounded like a deeply disturbing bombshell report.
“Female aides said Franks suggested intercourse to impregnate them,” read the headline to a story authored by Rachel Bade and Jake Sherman.
This headline seemed to validate earlier suspicions that Franks’ explanation he merely discussed “surrogacy with two previous female subordinates” was actually a super sanitized euphemism for “he tried to coerce staffers into sex.”
At the same time that the Politico report dropped Friday, the Associated Press came out with a separate story titled “Former aide says GOP Rep. Trent Franks offered her $5 million to carry his child.”
This is all clearly gross and creepy and weird as hell.
That said, Politico oversold its story a bit.
Though its report stated clearly in the headline that Franks suggested impregnating his staffers via intercourse, the article itself read [emphasis added]:
The sources said Franks approached two female staffers about acting as a potential surrogate for him and his wife, who has struggled with fertility issues for years. But the aides were concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them. It was not clear to the women whether he was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization. Franks opposes abortion rights as well as procedures that discard embryos.
That’s not quite the same as what the headline alleged, now is it?
The headline has since been amended so that it now reads, “Female aides fretted Franks wanted to have sex to impregnate them.”
There is no editor’s note clarifying they updated the headline.
Look, this is by no means a defense of Franks. If these reports are true, and if it turns out he has been leveraging his wife’s fertility problems into trying to coerce staffers into bed, he is a deeply immoral and bad person.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by overselling our stories. This particular news cycle is disturbing enough as is. We don't need to clutter it with misleading headlines.