Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Can't top this!

I was going to blog on the Newsweek-Koran debacle (perhaps with a not-quite-gratuitous reference to the Spokesman-Review thrown in), but Patrick has said it all much better than I could.

To be honest, I don't see anything sinister behind the Newsweek story; just old-fashioned cluelessness. America is basically a Protestant, iconoclastic society. We tend not to attach much importance to physical symbols. Even American Catholics, who use visual art in worship, are much less attached to sacramentals and icons than Christians in other cultures. So although we would consider it insulting to desecrate a Bible, and would be very upset by the destruction of an altar, we wouldn't see it as all-out blasphemy. And because Americans are, frankly, used to blasphemy in our diverse religious landscape, we don't get as angry over it as Muslims in Muslim countries do. We tend to mind our own business and let God take His own vengeance on blasphemers.

Newsweek was writing for Americans, who are difficult to shock. Heck, in a country where borderline porn like Cosmo is usually on display in the checkout line, a flushed scripture is small potatoes. What the reporters at Newsweek fail to grasp is that not everybody is American. For all their talk abouut "diversity" and "respect," they're woefully ignorant of their own ignorance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

West edges toward the sunset

It looks like Jim West is going down (if you'll pardon the expression), and the Spokesman is making sure everybody knows it. In fact, the S-R has been so on top of these developments, you'd think they had some stake in the matter themselves. They've been very careful to make clear that the story is not West being gay, but child molestation and misuse of high office. Oh, and that West voted against a liberal (read, gay) agenda in the state senate. Which makes him a hypocrite. Well, actually, it makes him a public official who doesn't vote solely in his own interest. If he were, say, a Fundamentalist who voted against posting the Ten Commandments in public places, this would make him a hero to the left. But as it stands, the S-R has made sure that the "gay community" is firmly against him by playing up his conservative politics, while alienating him from his own fairly conservative voter base by "outing" him.

Let's review the allegations:
1. Jim West has been secretly gay, and picking up partners younger than himself (but still of legal age) online.
He doesn't deny it. Puts him in a category with umpteen million other middle-aged homosexuals, not to mention the straight men who look around for young talent wherever they can find it.

2. Jim West molested two boys at a scout camp.
Two men have surfaced who are willing to say that they were molested back in the 70s. No criminal charges have been filed, and none can, under the Statute of Limitations. No civil case has been brought against West. Because it's not in the courts, no actual evidence has had to be brought into play at all. It's these two guys' word. The two men are hardly what you'd call upstanding members (again, an unfortunate phrase) of the community, although that's not a reason to assume they're lying. But why has nobody looked for corroboration? How about the thousands of other boys who were scouts at Camp Cowles in the 70s? If West really is a chicken hawk, why aren't there more recent allegations? Did he suddenly go on the kiddie-wagon? The conventional wisdom is that there's no such thing as an ex-pedophile – just ask any of the guys at McNeill Island who have served their sentences and are still being detained. Where are the other victims?

I'm not surprised the Spokesman has no answers for these questions. They've got the "money quote," and it's a lulu. But as James Carville said of Paula Jones, "Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find."

3. Jim West offered city jobs to potential partners he met online.
Ryan Oelrich seems to think it was his hot hiney that prompted West to offer him a seat on the Human Rights Commission.Of course! It couldn't have anything to do with Oelrich being the founder of a phenomenally successful gay youth organization. Or his history of organization and community involvement. No, it's the mayor's lust that netted him the job. Uh-huh. Maybe the sight of Oelrich blowing a balloon was more than West could resist.

Notice that the other guy who says he was offered a job by the mayor won't allow himself to be identified. As the SNL Church lady would say, "How conve-e-e-e-enient!"

4. Jim West offered gifts to an ostensible 17-year-old boy (actually a grown-up computer geek planted by the Spokesman).
What you're supposed to infer from this is that West knew the "kid" was underage, and was grooming him. What he actually did was hit on what he thought was an 18-year-old. In reading the pseudo-transcript the Spokesman has online, I don't see any dates that indicate the mayor had made sexual advances to the stooge once he was told he was underage. The absence of dates, I think, is telling. If they corroborated that the mayor was cruising for teens, they surely would have been mentioned. The chronology is left vague, which tells me it's being puffed up to look damning.

Now, I don't care if Jim West is a homosexual. He's got his sins, and I've got mine, and I wouldn't want to trade with him. I also don't care if he cruises for partners. Last I heard, sexual morality wasn't a prerequisite for public office.

I do care if he molested children. So let's see the evidence in a court of law. If it was a priest, there would have been whopping big lawsuits by now. But the alleged victims don't want to play it that way. Fish or cut bait, guys.

As for Ryan Oelrich's insinuations, I have to wonder if he would be saying these things had West been a liberal (read, gay-friendly) politician. West gave him an opportunity, and he repaid it by badmouthing him to the press. "A knife to the back, and more of the same..."

The one big blank spot seems to be the parking garage. It's like the elephant in the living room. Of course, with all the stories on this coming straight from the same newspaper, why would it get mentioned at all? This is why I wish more cities had two daily papers.

I've got no axe to grind in this. I'm neither pro-West nor anti-West. What I am is a newspaperman, and these people at the Spokesman-Review are making me ashamed of it for the first time.

Like Catholic schools needed more negative publicity

I've known a lot of older Catholics who have bad memories of vicious nuns with knuckle-rapping rulers and such, although the few nuns I've ever met seem like really kindly sorts. I've never been to a Catholic school, but I had teachers like this one in my public school. Still, this will only serve to reinforce the stereotype. Bad teacher! Bad! No apple! (Unless there's a razor blade inside.)

I've made the big time!

Two of my favorite blogs – The Bayly Brothers and The Dawn Patrol – have added me to their blogrolls, as well as a third one, Batesline, that I've never read before (though you can bet I'll be reading it from now on!)

I'm honored to be in such company.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Fraudian slip?

On the Columbia Journalism Review website today, editor Steve Smith of the Spokesman-Review, defended his use of anonymous sources who claim to have had gay sex with Mayor West:
Even if we had them by name, the allegation was spurious enough that it required additional investigation.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines "spurious" as "Lacking authenticity or validity in essence or origin; not genuine; false."

Hmmm... Keep talking, Steve.

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.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Get your hanky out

I'm not a terribly sensitive soul, but I couuldn't handle this man's job for five minutes, let alone 23 years. There's a special place in heaven for a man who does a job like this with compassion and grace.

H/T to Jim Romanesko.

If only mayors could marry! If only women could be mayors!

Mark Shea is on hiatus, so I'm borrowing his phrase for this. I half expected the media to refer to Hizzonner as "Father West."

Update: My boss, no amateur in the news business, just pointed out to me that the Spokesman-Review was the paper that broke the story. That's hardly surprising, since it's the local daily. But what's interesting is that the Spokesman is owned by the Cowles family, which has had a long-running, acrimonious feud with the city over a downtown parking garage. The paper ran an "Editor's Note" about how the story came to be, but oddly enough, there's no mention of the Cowles' interest in seeing West's career destroyed. Go figure.

Journalism is a dirty business sometimes.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

New blog

And I do mean new. There's only one post so far. It's a good one, and I'm looking forward to seeing more.

The blogger is a co-worker of mine, a sportswriter at the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest®. It's always a tricky proposition talking religion with somebody of another faith. He's a Mormon, and I'm a Catholic, so our theologies are pretty disparate. Still, we both struggle with trying to maintain orthodoxy in a liberal society, and know the frustration of having to be ready to defend our respective beliefs to people who get their information from people like Jack Chick and Ed Decker. Neither of us is likely to convert to the other's side, which means that we can talk about such things, free of the need to evangelize. Relaxing, that.

Oh, yes, his blog is here. Take a look, and keep checking back.

It's a goldmine

You know those DVD movies that are cropping up at places like Dollar Tree? I found where they're getting them. Apparently a whole mess of films have entered the public domain, and they're at The Internet Archive. You can watch them there, or download them to burn. If you have a DVD burner, you'll never run out of viewing material.

It's not Oscar stuff for the most part; it's just the run-of-the-mill fare that appeared inn theaters in the 30s and 40s and disappeared the next weekend. There are a few gems there, though, including one of my all-time favorites, "His Girl Friday," with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. This is one off the funniest movies ever made, in my opinion, and the inside jokes ("The last fellow who tried to threaten me was Archie Leach. He cut his own throat two weeks later.") are priceless if you're an old film buff. Either way, there's something refreshing about seeing the movies that didn't get famous. And the ones made before the 1934 Hayes Code are an education in themselves.

Not only that, but there is an archive of live music performances. Being a Deadhead, I've been collecting leg tapes since before the spread of the Net. This site has every show I've ever wanted to find, plus a lot I never knew about. Oh, yes, and there are a whole bunch of other artists there as well. But nothing plays as well on bootleg as vintage Dead.

Plan on spending a good long time there, and a veritable buttload of blank disks.

Back in the saddle again...

The week from hell is over, and I'm back to a more or less normal work schedule, which means there will be periodic posts. I used to get irritated when my favorite blogs would slow down; now I understand a whole lot better. Just in case anybody has been checking, I'm sorry it's been so long.