Friday, May 06, 2005

More thoughts about Jim West

Important disclaimer: We're venturing into some touchy territory here, so I need to make clear that this is my own private blog, and the opinions expressed here are mine alone. Nothing I say here is endorsed by nor has any connection with my employer, nor with its parent company. All complaints and lawsuits should be directed to me.

I've been watching the news sites, and so far there hasn't been any mention of the Cowles-River Park Square garage-Jim West connection. Are the various media outlets really that dense? I don't buy that it's mere bias, as The Seattle Times (a Blethen paper) has been remarking on the questionable ethics of hiring a computer geek to pose as a gay teenager and trap West. There's also a really good post at Wizbang about the partisan angle and the "outing" tactics. But I think the parking garage angle hasn't dawned on enough journalists yet.

One former legislator did allude to the matter (quoted in a Spokesman story):
Former state Rep. Dick Bond, R-Spokane, who was instrumental in getting West and Hahn appointed the first non-father co-leaders of Scout Troop 345 at Hamblen School in the late 1970s, criticized the newspaper’s coverage.

“The only purpose of this is to destroy Jim West,” Bond said when contacted Thursday. “It’s painful to read,” the former conservative legislator said.

“The Cowles (family) did this only to destroy him and for no other good reason,” he said.

No mention of why Cowles would do such a thing, though.

I'm surprised that Tom Grant hasn't picked up on this one. He was the journalist that West defeated in the mayoral race, and he was also the first journalist to expose the Wenatchee sex crimes witchhunt, although it was the Seattle P.I. that finally broke the fiasco wide open.

A couple of things I've noticed:

1. West is under pressure to resign from the board of the Morning Star Boys' Ranch and as a commissioner of the Inland NW Council of Boy Scouts. I don't see any connection between Cowles and the former, but the Cowles family has always been heavily involved in scouting, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the two accusers both knew West through the Scout Camp at Camp Cowles. According to the Spokesman's timeline of their investigation, reporters went in search of former Boy Scouts who might have known West and Dave Hahn. (In case you haven't read the articles yet, Hahn was a good friend and fellow Sheriff's deputy with West at the time the alleged molestations took place. Hahn committed suicide in 1981 after being exposed as a pedophile.) Out of the many boys who had attended events at Camp Cowles, they found two who were willing to say West had molested them. Steve Smith of the Spokesman claims that the investigations stemmed from anonymous tips in connection with the Catholic sex abuse lawsuits, but I have to be skeptical. Consider the sequence of events:

November 2003: West is elected mayor. The Spokesman endorsed West's candidacy. Since West had had close ties with the Cowles family through local politics and civic service, you have to wonder why nobody at the Spokesman had ever had any inkling that West might be a pervert. Spokane's not that large; it's got to be hard for a prominent politician to maintain anonymity for very long.

June 8, 2004: The Cowles family takes an aggressive tack with the city over management of the garage. That same day, two stories run in the Spokesman about Dave Hahn's predations, one of which mentions West in passing. The groundwork is laid.

October 2004: The Cowles family, unable to reach an agreement with the City of Spokane, files Chapter 11 and loses a ton of money. That same month, according to the Spokesman's timeline, the paper launched a full-blown investigation began into "anonymous tips" about West's past.

April 28, 2005: A settlement is reached that leaves the city sitting, if not pretty, then at least still upright, but leaves Cowles stuck with a garage that's hemorrhaging money.

May 5, 2005: The Spokesman Review fills a an unprecedented amount of its front-page section with stories about West, including an interview with him that makes him sound shifty, and private transcripts from gay chat rooms. In all the years I've been reading the Spokesman, I've never seen as much attention and space devoted to any story.

I also noticed that the paper went out of its way to mention West's conservative politics. Those politics don't really stick out in Spokane; it's a fairly conservative town for its size. But out in the Bluelands, there's a tendency to want to believe the worst about a right-winger. That's going to contribute to the stigma that comes with being acccused. And that's a major reason why I think the Spokesman used molestation rumors (which is what they are, at bottom): Once accused, even if he were to go to court and be exonerated, there would still be an aura of suspicion about him the rest of his life. Jim West's career is essentially over, and there is no effective defense.

Oh, and the other thing? The Spokesman Review is a subscription site, which means you have to fibe a paid subscriber to read articles. A lot of readers don't like to do this, since it's an invitation to spam. Strangely, the Jim West stories don't require a registration. Somebody really wants this to be read.

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