A Hidden Life
NEWSCASTER: Good evening. The Spokesman-Review drops a bombshell on the city of Spokane-
NEWSCASTER: Spokane, Washington, is being rocked by a city hall scandal-
ANNOUNCER: It was a local story that became a national scandal.
NEWSCASTER: Tonight, the secrets, which are no longer secrets, belong to a public figure-
ANNOUNCER: The Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington, James West, had been caught living a double life.
BILL MORLIN, Reporter, The Spokesman-Review: He's saying that he met the mayor on line and that they'd gone a date and engaged in consensual sex. And I'm thinking, "Holy mackerel."
ANNOUNCER: But how had the deepest secrets of a private man been uncovered?
DAVID POSTMAN, Reporter, The Seattle Times: The newspaper relied on this expert to design the sting.
BILL MORLIN: The intention wasn't to bait anyone, the purpose of our investigation was to search for the truth.
Mayor JAMES WEST, Mayor of Spokane: Regardless of what the newspaper thinks, people do have a right to privacy.
PROTESTERS: West must go!
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the real story behind a scandal.
STEVEN SMITH: He talked to me about living this dual life, the hellishness of this dual life. It was really quite extraordinary.
ATTORNEY AT PRESS CONFERENCE: This is inappropriate, and you will be asked to leave!
DAVID AMMONS, Reporter, The Associated Press: His coming apart, the demise- it was absolutely Shakespearean. He had come from so high and now he's exiled in disgrace.
PETER PERKINS: Gay people in Spokane are marginalized. When I first came here, I was, like, I don't who would to be able to accept me. And so it was probably as far back in the closet as I've been.
NARRATOR: For years, to be gay in Spokane, Washington, was to live in the shadows. But then came the Internet.
PETER PERKINS: All of a sudden, here's a place where everybody could gather and meet electronically. All of a sudden, Spokane didn't seem to be that isolated.
RYAN OELRICH: It can be incredibly encouraging because you realize, "Wow, I'm not alone." And it's also a little scary because, obviously, they're just words on the screen. You don't know who's behind the computer that's typing those words.
NARRATOR: One night in 2003, a new member signed on to Spokane's most popular gay chat room. He called himself "Rightbiguy," or more often, "Cobra82."
PETER PERKINS: Talking to this person, I could sense that this was somebody who had been in the military. The name Cobra82 on there- now, I'm a history teacher. I know what a Cobra is. It's a helicopter. Cobra82- this was somebody politically I didn't seem to have anything in common with, and I really was curious why he was talking to me. I think it was just dead time, filling time until he could talk to somebody else.
RYAN OELRICH: I would get on, and it just seemed like in the evenings, he was always there. He was always there. He was always very private. He told me that he wasn't out. He didn't tell me what position he was in, but that he didn't think he ever would have been able to attain the position he was in if he had been out or if people knew that he was gay. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
NARRATOR: There was someone else interested in Cobra82's on-line chats. Bill Morlin, a reporter with Spokane's local paper, The Spokesman-Review, was following a tip that the real identity behind Cobra82 was the town's Republican mayor, Jim West.
BILL MORLIN, The Spokesman-Review: My editors were in total disbelief and they were basically challenging me, "How in the heck can we prove this?" Jim West came across as this, you know, sheriff's deputy, Boy Scout leader, very conservative Republican politician, and now we think he might be on Gay.com. And so the juxtaposition of those two and the apparent hypocrisy of all that certainly interested me.
NARRATOR: The Spokesman-Review might never have probed Jim West's private life but for another, very different story involving a shameful secret from Spokane's past. In the 1970s, a wave of child sexual abuse had swept through some of Spokane's most trusted institutions: the Catholic church, the sheriff's department and the Boy Scouts.
ROB BREWSTER, Former Boy Scout: There were people around who, for instance, were in my Boy Scout troop, boys in my Boy Scout troop who had been molested. And there's no question about it, they were. I mean, there were boys that were being taken out on a boat into Lake Coeur d'Alene and being molested. And people knew it was going on and nobody said anything.
STEVEN SMITH, Editor, The Spokesman-Review: We felt this community was haunted, in many ways, by the ghosts of this abuse scandal from the �70s and �80s involving the church, the Boy Scouts and the sheriff's department of Spokane County.
NARRATOR: Steven Smith became editor of The Spokesman Review in the summer of 2002. Disturbed by the paper's failure to cover the scandal when it happened, he encouraged investigative reporter Bill Morlin to seek out the original victims.
BILL MORLIN: We published the first story in June of 2003, and that focused on three men who said that they had been sexually abused as young boys by sheriff's deputy David Hahn.
NARRATOR: David Hahn was the golden boy of the Spokane sheriff's department in the late �70s, a decorated Vietnam veteran and Boy Scout troop leader. But in 1981, after being accused of abusing several boys, Hahn shot himself.
Morlin tracked down three of Hahn's accusers. One of them, a 34-year-old former Boy Scout named Robert Galliher, said he'd been molested by Hahn for three years, starting at the age of 8. In the course of his reporting, Morlin discovered an even more interesting fact: Hahn's close friend in the sheriff's department was fellow Boy Scout troop leader and future mayor Jim West.
BILL MORLIN: Sources that I interviewed said that the two were peas in a pod, that they were inseparable. At the sheriff's department, they were close partners. They were Boy Scout leaders of the same troop together. And they were seen together socially frequently. The question that's occurring to me is how could Jim West not know his good friend was sexually molesting boys?
STEVEN SMITH: In Morlin's first story, West was a peripheral figure, essentially quoted as saying that he knew nothing about David Hahn's activities. And it was in the days following the publication of that story Morlin's sources told him if he potentially dug a little deeper, he'd be able to draw a tighter connection between West and abuse that West might have committed himself.
NARRATOR: But after more than a year-and-a-half, Morlin had found no one who directly linked West with sexual abuse. The trail might have ended there but for an unexpected tip, not about West's activities in the distant past but in his present as mayor.
STEVEN SMITH: Morlin was told by one of his sources that he had met Jim West in an on-line chat room, had communicated with him over time, had had a date with him and had engaged in consensual sex. And that was a bit of startling information.
"DANNYBOY": I was on Gay.com and just his name or screen name or whatever popped up and, you know, said hi. So we just started, you know, talking a little bit.
NARRATOR: Morlin's source, a 20-year-old college student, described going on a drive with West, ending in an awkward encounter in a parking lot.
"DANNYBOY": He just kind of sat there and looked at me, and then eventually asked if he could kiss me. And then the next part- I don't know who initiated it, how we got to that point, but we went to a darker part of the parking lot and masturbated.
BILL MORLIN: He was very convincing and- but he's telling me a story that was just too hard to believe. He's saying that he met the mayor on line and that they'd gone on a date and engaged in consensual sex. And I'm thinking, "Holy mackerel."
NARRATOR: Smith and Morlin decided there was reason to investigate further.
STEVEN SMITH: At this point, we have a young man who's telling us he had sex with the mayor. What if he's using the Internet to identify and have sex with underage boys? If he's engaged in this activity, if he's violating the law, if he's abusing children today, we need to know that. If he's not, there's no story.
NARRATOR: But before any story could be written, Morlin and Smith had to confirm that Cobra82 was indeed the mayor. For help, they turned to an outside computer consultant, a veteran of FBI Internet sting operations later reported to be Marcus Lawson.
DAVID POSTMAN, Reporter, The Seattle Times: The newspaper relied on this expert to design the sting, or what Smith likes to call a ruse.
NARRATOR: David Postman covered the story for The Seattle Times.
DAVID POSTMAN: They didn't tell him who it was they were after. They say they just said, "Here's his on-line persona. Here's his handle. Tell us who it is."
NARRATOR: To unmask West, the paper's consultant proposed going on line himself, posing as a member of Gay.com.
STEVEN SMITH: Essentially, what I was told was there is no way we're going to be able to say with absolute certainty that the target of our inquiries is Jim West unless we're able to go into Gay.com as an individual the mayor might want to connect with and draw him out through conversation to the point where he tells us who he is.
INTERVIEWER: The decision to create an identity that was not authentic was a big decision.
BILL MORLIN: Oh, it was a big decision.
INTERVIEWER: Did you consult anybody about that decision? Did you have concerns about making that step?
BILL MORLIN: Well, of course we had concerns about it. I knew I couldn't do it. Our code of ethics prohibit me from pretending to be somebody I'm not, and I'm mindful of those ethics. But we're not prevented from hiring consultants, and what those consultants do to accomplish their jobs, as long as it's legal, you know, I don't have a problem with that.
NARRATOR: Significantly, the newspaper and its consultant decided to make their on-line character 17 years old.
INTERVIEWER: At this point, there's no evidence that the mayor is courting people under 18. Why create someone under 18? Isn't that baiting him a little bit?
BILL MORLIN: The intention wasn't to bait anyone. The purpose of our investigation was to search for the truth. And we wanted to know, do we have a mayor trolling on the Internet for underage boys? And if he's only interested in men who are 18 or older, then that's a different matter.
NARRATOR: In the winter of 2005, the newspaper's consultant posted his profile on Gay.com under the screen name Motobrock.
COBRA82: My name is Jim, by the way.
MOTOBROCK34: I'm Brock. What do you do, or can you tell me?
COBRA82: I'd rather not say right now, OK?
NARRATOR: Motobrock and Cobra82 began to chat regularly.
COBRA82: Do your friends know you like guys?
MOTOBROCK34: No definitely not. No one knows. Do people know you are?
COBRA82: No. And please don't tell!
NARRATOR: Before long, Motobrock suggested that they meet in person.
MOTOBROCK34: Here's a question for you. How do you meet people, especially from something like a chat?
COBRA82: So you're asking me to meet you?
STEVEN SMITH: What we're trying to do is elicit behavior which we have every reason to believe has occurred but not generate new or unusual behavior. And so Motobrock, as you read the transcripts, responds in a legitimately youthful way.
COBRA82: Maybe we could go to a Mariners game this year.
MOTOBROCK34: That would be so flippin' awesome.
NARRATOR: The two men flirted on line, but nothing more. Then the consultant decided to have Motobrock turn 18.
DAVID POSTMAN: I think you start with 17 because they want to see, again, if the mayor is going to go after a boy as opposed to a man. And it doesn't really happen. And so Motobrock has a birthday and he's 18, and they're waiting to see. And then talk does turn around to sex.
BILL MORLIN: On Saturday, March 19th, they had a chat and they end up deciding that they are each going to masturbate while talking to each other on line, which is the sort of subject matter I hadn't covered before as a reporter. And it all it occurs and it ends with a big string of "mmm's" on the screen.
STEVEN SMITH: That was a bit surprising, but is it really a story? If what we're dealing with, in the end, is a dirty old man chasing young but legal, to use that terminology, sex partners, is that a story? That's arguable. But as it turned out, the story takes a right turn on us.
COBRA82: Happy birthday. Where do i send the present?
NARRATOR: Around the time of Motobrock's birthday, Cobra82 seemed to offer the young man a gift.
COBRA82: What do you want? My autographed football from the 2002 Seahawks? My autographed basketball from the 2003-2004 Zags?
NARRATOR: There was also talk of an unpaid city hall internship, which West, still disguising his identity, said he could arrange for Motobrock through a friend.
MOTOBROCK34: Did you think about that internship at your work anymore?
COBRA82: I'm thinking of having a friend set you up at his work. It'll be more interesting.
MOTOBROCK34: What kind of job is it? Is it an internship or more like a job?
COBRA82: Internship: It's sort of political or public service.
[www.pbs.org: Read the on-line chats]
STEVEN SMITH: While we never confirm sexual activity with underage boys, what we find ourselves dealing with is abuse of office and official corruption, insofar as the mayor appears to have been offering rewards and benefits and even jobs in return for sexual favors.
BILL MORLIN: That's what made the story. The story here is not about the mayor being gay, the story's about public abuse of office.
NARRATOR: Some six months into their on-line sting operation, Morlin and Smith decided it was time to expose Cobra82's identity once and for all.
STEVEN SMITH: Our consultant agreed to a meeting. It was a date at a local golf course. The mayor arrived, took two buckets of balls, went out to the driving range, waited for 20 minutes for Motobrock. Motobrock didn't arrive.
INTERVIEWER: And you took his picture.
STEVEN SMITH: Yes. Yes, indeed.
INTERVIEWER: And what was what you needed.
STEVEN SMITH: That's what I needed.
NARRATOR: At 6:PM 30 on May 4th, 2005, a security guard escorted Jim West to the fifth floor conference room in the Spokesman-Review offices, where Morlin and a colleague, Karen Dorn Steele, were waiting for him.
KAREN DORN STEELE, Reporter, The Spokesman-Review: It was very stressful. We both felt that it was an important story that the citizens of Spokane needed to hear, and we also knew that it was going to ruin this man's life.
BILL MORLIN: First of all I want to tell you in the most direct, simplest of terms what we're going to talk to you about here today is nothing personal. Do you understand that?
PROTESTERS: Yes. Go ahead. Let's get to it.
BILL MORLIN: I knew that he was dying to know what we were onto, but I don't think he was at all prepared for exactly the information we had for him when he showed up here.
BILL MORLIN: Do you belong to the Web site Gay.com?
Mayor JAMES WEST: I've visited it.
BILL MORLIN: Who's Motobrock, Jim?
Mayor JAMES WEST: He's interesting. He's supposedly an 18-year-old student at Ferris.
KAREN DORN STEELE: When Bill asked him, "Do you want to see these transcripts"- he told him we had actual- you know, we'd captured some of these conversations- "Do you want to see them?" And he said no. He got very quiet.
BILL MORLIN: I remember seeing drop of perspiration fall from his chin onto his necktie or his chest.
BILL MORLIN: So you've chatted with Motobrock.
Mayor JAMES WEST: Yeah.
BILL MORLIN: And in fact, you've offered him a city hall job.
Mayor JAMES WEST: No. But I have lots of interns, internships. I mentor people.
BILL MORLIN: OK. We have the transcripts here where you're offering him a city hall job.
Mayor JAMES WEST: It's not a job, it's an internship.
BILL MORLIN: OK, well-
Mayor JAMES WEST: It's an unpaid internship. Come down, get the application, da, da, da, da, da, da.
BILL MORLIN: Jim, why don't you- why don't you just come clean with this and tell us what's happened here? You've offered this young man the trappings of your office-
Mayor JAMES WEST: No, Bill, I haven't offered this young man - or whoever this supposed young man is - the trappings of my office.
Mayor JAMES WEST: In this book are two sessions of on-line sex, and you're not going to talk about it? Why don't you just come clean and tell me that it happened and that that's part of who you are?
Mayor JAMES WEST: Because that's my personal life and the kid was 18.
BILL MORLIN: And you don't want to talk about it?
Mayor JAMES WEST: No.
BILL MORLIN: The meeting ended. He appeared to me to be a broken man. I felt really sorry that he had carried around this secret all these years and that we were bringing him to grips with the hypocrisy of his own life.
NARRATOR: The next morning, The Spokesman-Review published its story.
RICH HADLEY, Pres., Chamber of Commerce: I run every morning, 5:00 o'clock, brought the paper in, threw it down and sort of went, "Oh, my golly. What is this?"
NARRATOR: In one headline, the paper not only charged the mayor with abusing his office but with sexually molesting boys in the 1970s. Just before publication, Morlin had finally turned up two sources. The main one was Robert Galliher. The man who had first accused West's friend, David Hahn, of sexual abuse more than 20 years earlier was now also accusing West himself.
Taken together, the charges were devastating.
NEWSCASTER: Good evening. The Spokesman-Review drops a bombshell on the city of Spokane-
NEWSCASTER: The newspaper paints a picture of Mayor Jim West living a double life.
NEWSCASTER: Spokane, Washington, is being rocked by a city hall scandal that's making headlines-
NARRATOR: The story was picked up around the country, and Mayor West became a national punchline.
JAY LENO, Tonight Show: Wow, this is a great story. The anti-gay mayor, very conservative anti-gay mayor-
JON STEWART, The Daily Show: West was caught by a local newspaper that hired someone to pose as a 17-year-old boy on Gay.com.
NARRATOR: Steven Smith of _The Spokesman-Review became a frequent guest on national TV shows.
HOST: Do you believe that he is a sexual predator?
STEVEN SMITH: He's been trolling on line at a Web site called Gay.com, seeking out young men for sexual liaisons.
NEWSCASTER: West has declined to answer questions-
NARRATOR: Mayor West flatly denied the charges of pedophilia, but said very little else about the story.
NEWSCASTER: -and did not address allegations he abused his power of office by offering internships-
NARRATOR: Then early one morning, a few days after the scandal hit, the phone rang at Steven Smith's suburban home.
STEVEN SMITH: I answered and it was Jim West. The call lasted 40-some minutes. What I remember less than the actual comments is just the legitimate anguish in his voice, the emotion, the crying, the sobbing. He talked to me about living this dual life and the hellishness of this dual life. It was really quite extraordinary.
NARRATOR: Smith took notes on the conversation. He gave them to Bill Morlin, who published them in the paper, quoting West as saying, "I led a life of hell. I know the rumors have been out there for a long time. It has been hell. Oh, God. Oh, God. I don't know what to do."
NEWSCASTER: The pressure that the mayor step aside is growing. The city council voted unanimously that he resign-
NEWSCASTER: The FBI is investigating allegations that James West offered city jobs to men he met in gay chat rooms-
NEWSCASTER: West offered him an internship at city hall and-
NARRATOR: Over the next few weeks, the furor over West only grew. Prompted by allegations in the newspaper, the FBI launched an investigation into abuse of office.
MAN AT PRESS CONFERENCE: At this juncture, we can no longer support-
NARRATOR: And one by one, West's political allies renounced him.
MAN AT PRESS CONFERENCE: -and therefore we must insist that he resign.
NARRATOR: A few weeks after the scandal hit, the mayor scheduled a major press conference.
BILL MORLIN: Everyone wanted to know what's next. Is he going to quit? It was totally unpredictable. And I think the general sense was that something- that he would resign.
Mayor JAMES WEST: [June 3, 2005] This has been an embarrassing, humiliating and painful experience, but it does not distract me from doing my job, from leading, and it doesn't need to distract the city.
NARRATOR: West disputed the charges made by Robert Galliher.
Mayor JAMES WEST: It was only after I was elected mayor in the fall of 2003 that my name was mentioned by Mr. Galliher.
NARRATOR: And insisted he had nothing further to explain.
Mayor JAMES WEST: I know what I haven't done. I know the allegations against me are false. And so I'm at peace with that. And as far as my sexual orientation is, that really is still nobody's business.
RICH HADLEY, Pres., Chamber of Commerce: He's a fighter. That is who he is. I mean, I think of this sort of like a boxer- you know, when a boxer gets hit and they sort of bob around a little bit, and then they right themselves and they're ready to fight again. And that's sort of how I think I saw Jim.
PROTESTERS: West must go! West must go!
NARRATOR: But West faced an uphill struggle. A citizens' recall effort soon began to gather steam.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Jim West has disgraced the City of Spokane. He has offended its citizens and made a mockery of the mayor's office.
NARRATOR: The recall centered around the charge that West had abused his office when he offered Motobrock an internship.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Recall Jim West. Paid for by the Committee to Recall Jim West.
1st COMMITTEE MEMBER: Here's a thousand dollars-
2nd COMMITTEE MEMBER: We have $2,205 in the kitty so far.
NARRATOR: The Committee to Recall Jim West was comprised of prominent members of the community from both parties.
3rd COMMITTEE MEMBER: -that the mayor of Spokane was on line, offering internships-
NARRATOR: Although they talked of abuse of office, it seemed clear that the case against West was about much more than that.
4th COMMITTEE MEMBER: The very idea that the mayor of this community is trolling for dates in district 81 schoolchildren- I mean, that's nuts!
5th COMMITTEE MEMBER: That Motobrock- he and Motobrock had had on-line sex, or at least what Jim West believed to be on-line sex-
2nd COMMITTEE MEMBER: What the hell is on-line sex?
5th COMMITTEE MEMBER: Now, hold on. Well, whatever. I don't know.
4th COMMITTEE MEMBER: You want my opinion? I think he stinks! I think he killed- not killed- I think he diddled the little boys. I believe everything that people say to him because I've looked in his eyes and the guy's a sociopath!
2nd COMMITTEE MEMBER: Absolutely.
4th COMMITTEE MEMBER: He's spooky!
NARRATOR: By the time he agreed to speak to FRONTLINE, Jim West's political future looked bleak. Adding to his problems, he'd suffered a recurrence of colon cancer and was undergoing regular chemotherapy. Still, he showed up at work each day, insisting that the newspaper's story didn't add up.
Mayor JIM WEST: You know, people can think what they want and I can't help that. And people can have preconceived notions and they can have ideas that it has to fit this and they can try to cram the square peg into the round hole, when in fact, it doesn't fit. But they can- they can take this and shape it, they can connect the dots that, frankly, aren't connectable.
NARRATOR: While the mayor admitted visiting gay chat rooms, he strongly denied the paper's allegation that he had molested boys.
Mayor JIM WEST: That's the preconceived notion The Spokesman-Review went into the story with. They were convinced that I had abused young children years ago. In their mind, this was the main story. And in fact, I didn't.
[www.pbs.org: Read the paper's coverage of the story]
NARRATOR: To West, the scandal came down to a personal battle with the paper and its editor, Steven Smith.
Mayor JIM WEST: The only way he can prove he's right is by running me out of office or killing me off. And so it's all about his pride. All of it.
INTERVIEWER: Some might think it's inappropriate for a 54-year-old man and an 18-year-old to become so intimate. What's your reaction to that?
Mayor JIM WEST: I have no- no reaction to that.
INTERVIEWER: You don't think it's inappropriate?
Mayor JIM WEST: I have no reaction.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Spokane is the essence of the inland empire. Its churches tower above the valley, thrusting their spires toward the blue sky sweeping in from the distant mountains.
NARRATOR: In the world in which Jim West grew up, sex was not talked about and homosexuality forbidden. The son of a postal worker, West's boyhood was a conventional one: a Boy Scout in grade school, manager of the football team in high school and member of the ROTC by the time he reached college.
Mayor JIM WEST: Growing up in those days, you know, in grade school or junior high, if you wanted to demean somebody on the playground, you might call them a "queer" or something like that, and you know, "Well, I don't want to be one of those." I knew- in my fraternity house, there was one guy who everybody said, "That guy is." I think he had trouble coping with himself because I think that sometimes he was suicidal or potentially suicidal.
NARRATOR: In some of the on-line chats captured by The Spokesman-Review, West spoke about his college years.
DANNYBOY: Have you always been interested in guys?
RIGHTBIGUY: Don't know.
DANNYBOY: How do you not know?
RIGHTBIGUY: Wasn't all that interested in sex until college, and then I was into girls. Curious about guys but interested in girls. Would never be gay.
DANNYBOY: Why not?
RIGHTBIGUY: Because in those days, it was like death.
PETER PERKINS: I think the attitude of intolerance that existed for a young man growing up, where if you're going to be gay you're going to have to lead a double life, you're going to have to keep that part of your life quiet.
NARRATOR: Like West, Peter Perkins grew up in eastern Washington in the 1950s and �60s.
PETER PERKINS: It's incredibly lonely, incredibly lonely. I think it's debilitating. I think it cripples people, that loneliness.
NARRATOR: After graduating from college, West gravitated toward a series of all-American institutions. He became a Boy Scout leader, a paratrooper in the Army, and finally a deputy sheriff. It was during this period that West befriended sheriff's deputy David Hahn, who would later be accused of molesting boys. West and Hahn led a Scout troop together in the late 1970s. It was these years that would become the focus of the Spokesman-Review's questioning more than two decades later.
KAREN DORN STEELE, Reporter, The Spokesman-Review: When you were a Boy Scout leader and you had associations with probably thousands of young boys, did you ever do anything inappropriate with those boys?
Mayor JIM WEST: Never. Never. Absolutely not. You interviewed the kids in my Scout troop. Did any of them say that I'd done anything?
BILL MORLIN: Not specifically, But they did say you would have audiences with them at your house, have pizza, and then select some of them to go out on one-on-one dates at a later occasion. Did that happen?
Mayor JIM WEST: No. No. I would have kids over for dinner as groups and stuff, but I don't remember ever taking a kid by himself.
BILL MORLIN: So people who said, "We met through the Cub Scouts and we even got involved in his campaign, he'd have us over to his house, and then later he would ask one or two of us to go out exclusively, you know, to go to a show with him"- you're saying that didn't happen?
Mayor JIM WEST: I don't recall.
BILL MORLIN: OK.
Mayor JIM WEST: No, seriously, I don't recall.
INTERVIEWER: In terms of specifically really alleging that there had been sexual abuse of minors, did anybody indicate that that had happened?
BILL MORLIN: No one came forward and said, "Jim West sexually abused me." They suggested that he was in the midst of an atmosphere where, you know, sexually inappropriate things were occurring between Boy Scout leaders and young boys who were in the Scouts. No one specifically said, "Jim West abused me."
NARRATOR: Although Morlin did eventually turn up two sources who claimed to have been abused by West, West says that much of their story should have troubled the paper, particularly the testimony of Morlin's main source, Robert Galliher. In 1981, Galliher's family reported abuse by David Hahn to Spokane's sheriff's department. In 1984, they made a claim for damages resulting from that abuse. In neither case did they mention West.
Then in 2003, when Bill Morlin first interviewed Galliher, he again made no mention of West. It was not until 2005, as part of another claim for damages, that Galliher first formally accused West of molesting him. Robert Galliher would not speak to FRONTLINE or any media other than The Spokesman-Review.
The paper quoted Galliher as saying he was "not really sure" why he'd gone 25 years without naming West, but partly, Galliher said, it was because he was afraid of West's power.
Steven Smith says he chose to believe Galliher in part because his allegations seemed consistent with West's behavior on line.
STEVEN SMITH: In my view, these stories were supportive of one another. If we have allegations that Jim West abused young boys 25 or 30 years ago and we have an indication that he's pursuing young boys now, then each of those elements supports the other.
[www.pbs.org: Read Smith's extended interview]
NARRATOR: In the months after the story broke, Steven Smith speculated that more victims of abuse by West might go public, but none did. And the pedophilia story began to slip from the paper's pages.
DAVID POSTMAN, Reporter, The Seattle Times: Day one starts with this big hit about child abuse, which is the most heinous allegation, almost, you could level against somebody in this country, in any country, and then you don't hear about it really again.
NARRATOR: But the paper did not stop publishing articles on the scandal- 189 in the eight months after their first story, many of them focused on charges of abuse of office and political hypocrisy. West fought back, at one point claiming he'd been the target of "a brutal outing." West's attempt to cast himself as a victim of discrimination didn't go over well with the city's small but increasingly assertive gay population. Trying to gain acceptance in a conservative town, many gays feared that the West scandal would create a backlash against them.
[Spokane Vision Committee meeting]
1st COMMITTEE MEMBER: The whole situation I think is just pitiful and sad-
2nd COMMITTEE MEMBER: It is.
3rd COMMITTEE MEMBER: -because this man has gotten to this point over many, many years of suppressing who he is.
4th COMMITTEE MEMBER: However we want to debate about what he did or what he has done, what has happened is I think very detrimental and negative to what we're trying to do because whether we own him or not, the community has owned him to us.
5th COMMITTEE MEMBER: We all know that he's gay, but we also all know that he hates himself and hates being gay. We all know what kind of internalized homophobia he's acting out.
6th COMMITTEE MEMBER: I think I can appreciate where he's at. Having been transgendered and lived a hidden life for 55 years, you- it's a horrible burden to carry around a secret like that.
7th COMMITTEE MEMBER: I'm not ready to just forgive him for everything he's done. As a human being, I know that we're all prone to mistakes, but he hasn't owned up to them.
NARRATOR: More than anything, what infuriated the gay community was the impression that West had hidden his sexuality while opposing gay rights at every turn.
8th COMMITTEE MEMBER: In order to protect his closetedness, he went out of his way to destroy the gay community.
9th COMMITTEE MEMBER: He was in a position of power, trying to legislate us out of existence in a lot of cases, and so I think his sexuality became fair game.
NARRATOR: Much of the outrage felt by the gay community focused on West's years in Olympia as a state legislator, in particular on one piece of legislation. In 1986, 15 Republicans, including West, introduced a bill that would have denied gays the right to teach in public schools in Washington.
PETER PERKINS: This is somebody that made staying in the closet very necessary because I had just joined the profession of teaching that this man was going to say "You can't do."
NARRATOR: Peter Perkins became a teacher the year that West's bill was introduced and ultimately defeated in the legislature. For decades before and after, Perkins lived a completely closeted life.
PETER PERKINS: I think there's a number of people that suspected, and there were actually some students and also fellow teachers along the way that just came up and said, "Are you gay?" And I lied and said that I wasn't. I would make jokes. I would tell hurtful jokes as it relates to gay people so that it wouldn't be about me.
NARRATOR: As a state legislator, West voted on a handful of other bills relating to homosexuality, opposing state-funded AIDS education, gay marriage and the broadening of anti-discrimination statutes to include gays and lesbians. But West says his anti-gay record has been overstated.
Mayor JIM WEST: I wasn't this champion of any kind of a movement one way or the other when it comes to gay rights. And you know, I think they only identified maybe five votes over a 20-year career and tried to make that out as a pattern. I mean, that's a pretty thin pattern, if it is a pattern at all.
DAVID POSTMAN, Reporter, The Seattle Times: The Republican Party in the �80s in this state was very, very conservative. The party was all but controlled by Christian conservatives for years. And I think that even Republicans who weren't necessarily of that ilk tended to gravitate that way. That was the way to be a Republican in those days.
PETER PERKINS: I think it's concealment. I think you conceal yourself amongst those folks who would come for you and be against you. You would conceal yourself in their midst. You're hiding in plain sight.
NARRATOR: In 1990, at the age of 39, West proposed to a girlfriend, Ginger Marshall, on the floor of the state senate before an audience of legislators
GINGER MARSHALL: I was tapped on the shoulder and one of the pages handed me a note. And I opened it up and it said, "Will you marry me? Love, Jim." And I looked down at him sitting on the floor and shook my head "Yes." And this group of people behind him started cheering! He was somebody I enjoyed being with. At the core, we probably are very similar in terms of our beliefs, how we think the world should be.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever suspect he had a sexual interest in men during the time you were married or before?
GINGER MARSHALL: He has said to me, and I absolutely believe him, that there was nothing that ever happened during our marriage or before. And I believe that to be so. There's nothing that would lead me to believe otherwise.
NARRATOR: In fact, West was pushing to have children, but Ginger, focused on her career, was hesitant. When she became pregnant and then miscarried, the marriage faltered.
Mayor JIM WEST: When we lost the baby, it was, like, just really a lot of stress, a lot of- a lot of trauma to all that. And then, you know, just this whole- after that, it's, like, you know, "What am I doing here?"
Mayor JIM WEST: I grew up in this neighborhood. It's like coming home.
NARRATOR: After his divorce, West came back to his beloved home town to twice run for the mayor's office.
Mayor JIM WEST: I wanted to give the kids in this neighborhood kind of the same hope I had as a kid, that you'd grow up and be anything you wanted to be in Spokane. You can imagine being a kid and having this as your back yard. So you go out there and you can play forts and army all kinds of stuff.
NARRATOR: Early in his successful second campaign, West was diagnosed with late stage colon cancer. He was sworn in as mayor nine months later. It was at this moment, he says, that he first began to actively explore his homosexuality.
Mayor JIM WEST: You know, after the marriage, it's kind of, like, "Well, what's wrong with me? Why did this fail? What's- is there something wrong with me? " You know- you know, " What's- what's going on here?" And so, yeah. Yeah.
NARRATOR: West posted no photograph on his Gay.com profile page. Although he was in his early 50s, he described himself as 47, bisexual, and politically conservative.
Mayor JIM WEST: A lot of it was fantasy. You know, a lot of it was make-believe. You're in a world that's not a real world, and so you can be anybody you want to be. Not necessarily who you are, but who you- anything.
RYAN OELRICH: It was towards the end of my junior year, I first started talking to this individual who I believe at that time was the "Rightbiguy."
NARRATOR: Ryan Oelrich was a student at Spokane's Gonzaga University when he first encountered West on line.
RYAN OELRICH: I mean, we had some great conversations. You know, there were definitely great conversations.
NARRATOR: The newly elected mayor and the 22-year-old college junior found they had much in common. Like West, Ryan had grown up in an environment hostile to homosexuality. The son of evangelical Christians in Helena, Montana, he had repressed his feelings for years.
RYAN OELRICH: I hated it. I mean, this was this part of myself that I didn't want to be there. I did not want to have these feelings, and so I hated it. And because they were there, I started to hate those feelings. And if it was going to label it gay, if those were gay feelings, then I hated being gay. So I'm here because I'm very passionate about, I guess, changing stereotypes that still exist in the community.
NARRATOR: When Ryan came out of the closet, he founded a group to help other gay men make the difficult passage.
RYAN OELRICH: I want to do my part to show society, to show my friends and family, that we're not- we're not freaks, we're not monsters. We're individuals just like everybody else.
NARRATOR: It was soon after he had come out that Ryan began to talk to West on line. At first, he didn't know who the older man was.
RYAN OELRICH: He would talk about how he could never be out and that nobody knows and he has to be very, very careful. And so I just got the feeling that, well, this is a person who has this whole other life. But there was definitely times that he would be very flirtatious. And as time progressed, he'd suggest we go on a date. You know, I'd ask him who he was and he would tell me, "I'm not going to tell you who I am," and yet then in the next conversation, he'd say, "Well, let's meet at Arnie's." And I'd tell him, "Well, I'm not about to meet you. I'm not interested." I knew how old he was, I knew a little bit about him, and I just didn't see any romantic connection there at all.
NARRATOR: Then, in the spring of 2004, Ryan got an unexpected call. An unsalaried position on a city commission had opened up. The mayor's office wondered if Ryan would be interested in applying.
RYAN OELRICH: The mayor had mentioned my name, and they talked about maybe I could fill that position. So I went in and met with the mayor in person and I handed my application to him, and he put it on his desk and told me that he would love to appoint me to the commission.
NARRATOR: Soon after, Ryan realized that the mayor and the man he'd known only as "Rightbiguy" were one and the same.
RYAN OELRICH: When I confronted him on line, he told me- his exact words I still remember, "I didn't believe that I would ever have the opportunity to meet a person like you and that you would ever meet a guy like me. And so that's why I appointed you to the commission."
Mayor JIM WEST: There was no connection. There wasn't anything there. There wasn't anything meant to be. There was no, like, "Hey, if you- if you do this, I'll do this," you know, or, "If I do this, you should do that." There was never any of that. There was never any mention of it. In fact, all during that time, Ryan didn't know that I was one and the same.
RYAN OELRICH: I remember one conversation we had where I asked him, "Think about just the role model that you could be, the example you could set if you were out." I would love to have an openly gay mayor, and part of me wondered if maybe some day, he could be that. He just said, "Well, I can't do that. I have this image to uphold. And everybody sees me as a tough guy and I have to keep that image. I have to hold that image."
NARRATOR: Finally, Ryan could no longer abide the mayor's public deception. When The Spokesman-Review report broke, Ryan decided he had to come forward.
RYAN OELRICH: There wasn't any bone in my body that wanted to go and be a part of this. I didn't want to be responsible for outing a gay man, not in any way. But what would people think if they did find out that I was appointed to the commission not because of my skills or my qualifications but because the mayor was romantically interested in me?
NEWSCASTER: Our in-depth coverage continues tonight-
RYAN OELRICH: -the commission by Mayor Jim West's own admission, which he told me, because he thought I was attractive and-
NEWSCASTER: Oelrich's story is the latest twist in the ongoing drama of Spokane's conservative mayor-
NARRATOR: To many in Spokane, Ryan's revelation sealed the abuse of office charge against Mayor West.
RYAN OELRICH: -an abuse of power-
NEWSCASTER: The mayor has said essentially nothing about this latest round of accusation-
NARRATOR: By the early fall, West's isolation was almost complete. One of the few places he could reliably be seen in public was in the church of Pastor Lonnie Mitchell, whom he had met shortly after the first headlines had hit.
Pastor LONNIE MITCHELL: You know, he was obviously hurting. But at the same time, he said, you know, "It's- it's good that this have come out because I didn't know how to deal with my lifestyle."
NARRATOR: West soon become a regular at Mitchell's largely African-American church.
Pastor LONNIE MITCHELL: Who are you going to call when life slaps you around? We believe that homosexuality is wrong. We believe that it's- it's sin. But at the same time, we do not condemn the person.
Pastor LONNIE MITCHELL: Let the church say amen! Thank you, Jesus!
INTERVIEWER: It's interesting that at a time in your life where this was- you were struggling with this, you chose to go to a church that was opposed to it. Why?
Mayor JIM WEST: Because they invited me to. Because they welcomed me into their family. Because it fulfilled a need that- that I needed.
INTERVIEWER: What about what they preaching about- did you feel like they were telling you you had sinned?
Mayor JIM WEST: I don't think they were telling me that I had sinned, but there's part of me that- that feels like I have.
[www.pbs.org: Read West's extended interview]
NARRATOR: Seven months after the scandal broke, Jim West seemed a ghostly presence in his city hall office.
DAVID AMMONS, Reporter, The Associated Press: His coming apart, the demise- I mean it, it was absolutely Shakespearean, I would say he was the most important Republican in the state for a while, and now he's exiled in disgrace.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel disappointed, abandoned by any of your former-
Mayor JIM WEST: No.
INTERVIEWER: -colleagues, friends?
Mayor JIM WEST: No. I'm sure there are people who couldn't talk to me or wouldn't talk to me, but I couldn't tell you who they were. They certainly never called me or wrote me and said, "I can no longer trust you," or this or that. Or there may have been one or two. But if they did, it's, like, "How could I blame you." You know? If what was true- if what was printed in the newspaper and said on the radio was true, I'd abandon me. You know, I'd say, "How could I be near this person?" But I knew that it wasn't, and the majority of my friends did, too.
NARRATOR: We asked West if he felt contrite about the votes he had made opposing gay rights, particularly his bill to ban gays from teaching.
Mayor JIM WEST: I wonder- you know I- I don't know, but I wonder about some of the legislation I sponsored. And so, you know- but I never took a lead in it. And it wasn't- I wasn't a champion of it and it never went anywhere.
INTERVIEWER: But if it were brought to the floor today and you could vote on it?
Mayor JIM WEST: Probably not. Probably not.
NEWSCASTER: Stay with News 4. We'll have continuing Mayor West recall coverage throughout this newscast and throughout the evening.
NARRATOR: On December 6, 2005, the citizens of Spokane finally voted on the political fate of Jim West. West watched the returns with a few friends and colleagues.
NEWSCASTER: -official results. You are seeing them as we are seeing them.
Mayor JIM WEST: I lost big-time. That's huge.
NEWSCASTER: That's 30,718 to 20,681. That's 65 percent to 35-
Mayor JIM WEST: My God, that's huge.
NEWSCASTER: -percent, as we take a look at those. So those are the unofficial results-
FRIEND: You'll probably live longer, Jim.
STEVEN SMITH: "Voters Recall West." I'm not coming up with anything that feels better. Hope we've got something livelier.
EDITORIAL STAFF MEMBER: "Bye-bye Bi Guy." [laughter]
EDITORIAL STAFF MEMBER: "West Goes Down." [laughter]
EDITORIAL STAFF MEMBER: We just need to be straight and take the high neutral road.
STEVEN SMITH: "We Were right"? [laughter]>
INTERVIEWER: You guys have destroyed his political career.
STEVEN SMITH: Probably.
INTERVIEWER: How does it feel?
STEVEN SMITH: Feels terrible. I'm very cognizant of the fact that we've caused Jim West enormous personal pain at the same time, he's battling for both his political career and his life. Having said that, I have more sympathy for young men that I believed he sexually abused and his lives I believe he ruined. And I'm enormously sympathetic to our community, which has I think suffered at his narcissistic refusal to leave office and move on and let the community move forward.
Mayor JIM WEST: [to friends] Here's the city of Spokane, and it's a great place, good people. We made great progress. We had a good year-and-a-half, two years. And you know, this place deserves to be excellent. So do your best, keep up the good work, and thanks for being there. I remember many years ago, somebody saying, you know, you love the sinner and hate the sin. And so you don't- you don't cast them off, you don't scorn them, you don't ridicule them. And so I think that's where I'm at.
INTERVIEWER: You mean politically that's where you're at?
Mayor JIM WEST: I mean emotionally. Emotionally, politically, whatever, I mean, live and let live. You know, what business is it of mine? What business is it of yours?
INTERVIEWER: You haven't always felt that way.
Mayor JIM WEST: No, I guess not. But I guess with age, you kind of mellow out a little bit. You see things, you learn things, you know, so you- you know, you grow.
[On February 16, 2006, the FBI closed its investigation, finding no evidence to charge West with abuse of office. Five months later, on July 22, West died of cancer.]
ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you can watch the full program again on line, read extended interviews with Jim West, journalists from The Spokesman-Review and others, learn more about the newspaper's investigation, West's on-line chats and the FBI's dismissal of charges, explore reactions to the story in the gay community and among journalists and Spokane residents. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE:
ESTELLE STRONGIN, 94 Years Old: I remember being repulsed by wrinkles, but now they're just a part of life.
ANNOUNCER: We're living longer-
DAVID MULLER, M.D., Dean of Medical Education, Mt. Sinai: Another bypass surgery, another transplant.
ANNOUNCER: -but are we living better?
Dr. DAVID MULLER: Nobody's bothered to think about what the repercussions are of trying to keep people alive longer and longer with such a limited ability to function.
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE confronts the new realities of Living Old next time on FRONTLINE.
To order FRONTLINE's A Hidden Life on videocassette or DVD, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY PBS. [$29.99 plus s&h]
Funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the Park Foundation, committed to raising public awareness.
FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.
STILLS ANIMATION AND GRAPHICS
DIRECTOR OF BROADCAST
POST PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
ON AIR PROMOTION PRODUCER
POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
WEBSITE ASSOCIATE DEVELOPER
WEBSITE PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
WEBSITE COORDINATING PRODUCER
DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
SENIOR PRODUCER SPECIAL PROJECTS
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER SPECIAL PROJECTS
A FRONTLINE co-production with Ark Media
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY