THE SCANDAL SURROUNDING disgraced Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) is following the familiar Washington pattern, with one side (Democrats, in this case) alleging a coverup and the other (Republicans) railing about a setup. Even the affair itself has a familiar ring: It isn't the first sex scandal involving a congressman and teenage subordinates. What should not be missed amid the partisan sniping is the failure of those involved to see the red flags. The episode should serve as a cautionary tale for all employers, particularly ones who bring youths into the workplace.

Foley resigned Friday after the ABC News website reported salacious instant messages that Foley had sent in 2003 to a male teenager who had been a House page. ABC's revelation, however, came about a year after members of the House leadership were made aware of the allegations about Foley, a deputy Republican whip and chairman — it would be impossible to make this stuff up — of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.
FOR THE RECORD:
Party affiliation —An editorial Tuesday about the congressional page scandal identified U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana as a Democrat. He is a Republican.

That's when the office of Rep. Rodney Alexander (D-La.) received copies of four e-mails that Foley had sent to a 16-year-old from Louisiana who had recently completed his term as a House page. The teenager had sent the e-mails to several congressional staffers, telling one that he was "freaked out" by them.

He was right to be. Anyone trained to recognize the techniques of sexual predators would be disturbed by them.

For starters, Foley used a personal e-mail account instead of the House-issued one, suggesting that he wanted an extra layer of concealment. Out of the blue, Foley asked for a picture and offered a birthday gift. He praised another page's physique and said he "acts much older than his age."

According to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Alexander's office consulted with Hastert's aides; the clerk of the House; Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the committee that supervised the page program; and, some time later, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House GOP campaign committee. All of them violated one of the prime rules for protecting against sexual predators: When confronted with something unsettling, don't judge the matter yourself, consult an expert.

Nor did anyone ask other pages about their contacts with Foley. Only after ABC News publicized the e-mails did other former pages come out of the woodwork with more alarming information.

Foley's lawyer announced that the congressman had checked himself into a rehab program for alcoholics, as if drinking too much could somehow explain his attempt to seduce boys one-third his age. A different kind of rehab may be in order for the inattentive lawmakers and staff who oversee the pages.

To paraphrase a former Republican president, when it comes to allegations like these, don't trust — verify.