- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Embattled former Rep. Eric Massa sat down for his much-anticipated Fox News interview Tuesday night and deployed the tickle defense.

No. Really.

Asked by Glenn Beck whether he had inappropriate sexual contact with any staff members, the New York Democrat said, “No - no, no, no.”

But asked minutes later about a new report that said he has been under investigation for allegations that he groped multiple male staffers working in his office, the 24-year Navy veteran scoffed.

“Now they’re saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe. And then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was ‘Kill the old guy.’ This was in a town house. We all lived together, all the bachelors and me,” said the married father of two.

At Minute 50, a frustrated Mr. Beck asked a question that many of his viewers were likely wondering: “Is there another shoe that’s going to drop?”

Mr. Massa fell back into defensive mode. “People will say anything at this point.”

Mr. Beck homed in. “Are there Tiger Woods phone calls that are going to happen, or text messages?”

In the show’s most newsworthy moment, Mr. Massa said frankly of his interactions with staff members: “I’m sure there are text messages because we bantered back and forth all the time.”

Text messages!

Already, at least four shoes have dropped: On Wednesday, Mr. Massa said he was leaving office because of a recurrence of cancer; the next day, he said he was guilty of using “salty language”; by Friday, he acknowledged that the House ethics committee was investigating him on charges of sexual harassment; and on Sunday, he said the Democrats were out to get him.

Fox had promoted the show as “the big get” - a sit-down with Mr. Massa, fresh off a diatribe in which he charged that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other nefarious Democratic leaders had pressured him, even drubbed him out of office, because he was a “no” vote on the president’s health care reform bill.

“It’s going to be a wild and interesting hour,” Mr. Beck declared at the show’s beginning.

It was neither. Some 48 minutes into the show, even the host looked bored by the whole exercise. “I’m just hearing generalities. … I’m a little frustrated now.”

The entire episode was bizarre from the beginning. Mr. Massa, without a tie (now that he’s a former congressman), seemed prepared to run out the clock, even though the Democrat claimed he had come to the lion’s den because “I want the toughest, most unforgiving interview possible.”

As he did when he held court Sunday during a 90-minute radio show in which he claimed he was the “deciding vote” in the health care debate and that top Democrats wanted him out, Mr. Massa wandered off the topic with abandon.

Acknowledging that he “should have never allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff as I was,” he slid a book across the table to Mr. Beck to illustrate his point that “you can take anything out of context.” The photos, he said, showed a “crossing the line” Navy ceremony. “It looks like an orgy in ‘Caligula,’ ” an X-rated movie. Mr. Beck did not hold up the book for his viewers.

At another point, Mr. Massa held up an X-ray of his chest that he said showed a large, cancerous tumor.

Mr. Beck tried to get him back on point. Why not fight the allegations if they’re not true? “I can’t buy the fact that over tickle fights you would step down,” he said.

“It doesn’t make any difference what my intentions were; it’s how it’s perceived by the individual who receives that action,” Mr. Massa said. “The only other thing I can do is slit my wrists.”

Mr. Massa, who served just 432 days in Congress and never saw any of his bills pass out of subcommittee, leveled another, more common charge against Washington. Despite his efforts in what he called “120-hour workweeks,” he said, “The system is so broken. … I can’t change it as a member of Congress.”

By the end, Mr. Beck was beyond frustrated.

“America, I’m going to shoot straight with you. I think I wasted your time. I think this is the first time that I’ve wasted an hour of your time, and I apologize for that,” he said.

He somberly told his viewers that he had failed to answer three questions he had dramatically written on a large blackboard before the session began: “Is there anything new to his charges? Do you believe what he says about corruption in Washington? Does it affect you?”

“We learned a lot, I think,” Mr. Beck said as he closed his show, “but what we learned, I don’t think it affects you at all.”

c Joseph Curl can be reached at jcurl@washington times.com.

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