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bill morlin

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Morlin was The Spokesman-Review's lead reporter in the investigation of Jim West. In this interview, he talks about the origins of the investigation and the paper's decision to hire a computer forensics expert to pose as a 17-year old named Moto-Brock on a gay chat site. He also talks about his interview with Jim West the night before the paper ran its story charging the mayor with abusing his office and sexually molesting boys in the '70s. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted Nov. 12, 2005.

Tell how you first got involved in this story.

In early 2003, we in the newsroom ... were working on stories involving ... abuse of boys by Catholic priests, and we were just talking about various other venues that that story would lead us. Along the way I remembered that there had been an abuse story about 20 years earlier involving Boy Scout officials and a sheriff's deputy.

So in early 2003 I decided on my own, without direction from my editors, to -- I consulted with them, but it wasn't an assignment -- to take another look at the 1981 suicide of sheriff's deputy David Hahn. ... He was a Boy Scout leader and close friend with Jim West, and Jim West was a sheriff's deputy and a Boy Scout leader and the man who had since become our mayor. ...

We published the first story in June of 2003, which was the result of about six months' worth of work. That focused on three men who said that they had been sexually abused as young boys by sheriff's deputy David Hahn. They made no allegations against Jim West.

When did Jim West first become linked to that story?

He was actually mentioned in that story, and I interviewed him for that story because he was a close friend of Hahn's. 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. ... So I felt it fitting and proper to approach Jim West, ... and [I] asked him about his late friend David Hahn, and did you know, Mr. West, that your friend was an accused or alleged child molester? ...

When did he first become linked to the actual abuse?

After that story was published, we received several e-mails, phone calls and letters, anonymous and otherwise, people saying we needed to look a little deeper and look at Jim West's connections to David Hahn, and I shared that information with my editors. ...

... But in terms of ... alleging there had been sexual abuse of minors, did any of those original sources indicate that had happened?

... No one came forward and said, "Jim West sexually abused me." They suggested that he was in the midst of an atmosphere where sexually inappropriate things were occurring between Boy Scout leaders and young boys who were in the Scouts. ... I would talk to one Scout and get the names of two more, then talk to those and get the names of two more, and started developing lengthy lists of people who are now middle-aged men.

“The intention wasn't to bait anyone; the purpose of our investigation was a search for the truth.”

... At some point did the association of West ... develop into something more sinister? ...

He was pretty much in the background ... until late summer of '04. At that time we identified a young man ... who we were told may have some information about all this. ... He's the man who we were calling Dannyboy. ... He went on to tell me that he in fact had not only met Jim West through Gay.com, but that he'd gone on a date with him.

I should point out that when he met him on Gay.com, he didn't realize the man he was talking to was the mayor of Spokane. ... He explained to me that he went on a date with Cobra82nd, and while on the date he thought the man looked a little familiar and kept asking him what he did. And the man ... said, "Can I trust you?" And the young man said, "Well, of course you can trust me." And he said, "I'm the mayor of Spokane." ...

When you talked to Jim West the night before the story, you told him you weren't sure you believed Dannyboy. Tell me about that.

... He was very convincing, but he's telling me a story that was just too hard to believe: He's saying that he met the mayor online and that they'd gone on a date and engaged in consensual sex. And I'm thinking, holy mackerel! ...

Editor's Note: In an interview conducted subsequent to this one, Dannyboy disputed the paper's characterization that he had engaged in consensual sex with West. He also told FRONTLINE that the newspaper lowered his age at the time of his chats with the mayor from 20 to 18. In a follow-up interview, Morlin denied that he intentionally changed Dannyboy's age.

... Tell me a little bit about Gay.com. ... How does it work? ...

... Each person that becomes a member of Gay.com has what's called a profile page, and the profile page can include a picture of yourself, and it can include your age and your political leanings and your interests, your hobbies. ... Some of them are rather sexually explicit; others are just sort of bland, and they look like a page out of a catalog. ...

... What was West's profile page like?

Well, his initial profile page was Cobra82nd, and that was the page that he initially spoke with Dannyboy over. When Dannyboy first told me that, I was immediately intrigued and pulled our own files here in the newspaper library. I saw that Jim West had been in the 82nd Airborne, and the 82nd Airborne ... had Cobra helicopters. It made me further believe Dannyboy, because Cobra82nd, I could see that somebody who was remembering maybe his military days, would be a plausible screen name for him to use. ... His interests included ... outdoor activities and scuba diving, and I knew that Jim West had been interested in scuba diving and had been a scuba instructor. ... But at that time I still had no proof that Cobra82nd was in fact James E. West. ...

... You have this information, but you don't feel you can prove it. Tell me about the next step and how you decided to move forward.

The first step that I decided to make was, when I'm talking with Dannyboy, I said, "Next time, if you happen to be in the chat room and Cobra82nd is there, would you record the conversation for me?" And he did, ... and those conversations corroborated to some extent what Dannyboy had told me. ... They also revealed that Cobra82nd had now recast himself under a new screen name, that being TheRightBi-Guy. ... But they didn't tell me who Cobra82nd and TheRightBi-Guy was. Was the man behind those screen names Jim West? We weren't there yet. I couldn't prove that.

So what did you do next?

Well, in journalism, one of the libel standards has to do with reckless disregard for the truth, so I had to attempt to find out, is Jim West the person behind those screen names? ... I figured, maybe there's a way that we can go into Gay.com and let someone talk to TheRightBi-Guy and capture that protocol address and then find out if that's in fact the same IP address that's being used by the mayor.

This is going on at the same time that I'm also researching allegations involving past conduct of sexual abuse by Jim West as a sheriff's deputy and a Scout leader. So this wasn't parceled out into neat little compartments; there were several things going on at once. ...

... What made you decide to approach the forensic computer expert?

By the time I'd interviewed Dannyboy, I of course immediately briefed my editors that I had identified a young man who said that he'd met the mayor online and they'd gone on a date and they'd had consensual sex together. My editors were in total disbelief, and they were basically challenging me: How in the heck can we prove this? ... I said, "I need somebody with some forensic computer expertise," and we discussed that and what that person might be able to do for us. ...

I know you can't identify this expert, but tell me a little bit about him and what gave you confidence in him.

From previous news stories, I had come to know who this person was. ... I knew of his work in the professional arena, in connection with law enforcement specifically. So I called him up and asked him ... if he could develop IP addresses and capture discussions that might be occurring online. We didn't tell him who TheRightBi-Guy was; we didn't even tell him who we suspected TheRightBi-Guy was. We just asked him, "Is that the sort of work you can do?" ...

What happened to make you have to take the next step to have to create Moto-Brock?

We told the consultant, "Your charge is to find out who is TheRightBi-Guy." We told him that we believed TheRightBi-Guy was a regular visitor to Gay.com and that he would particularly check into the chat room for 18- to 20-year-olds. ... And the computer expert, on his own, decided that he would have to become a member of Gay.com; he couldn't sign up and say, "I'm a computer expert working for The Spokesman-Review." ...

Did he consult with you about that decision?

He told us what he was doing. He said, "Here's how we've got to do this," and we concurred. ...

But as a journalist, you must have known that the decision to create an identity that was not authentic was a big decision. ... Did you consult anybody about that decision? Did you have concerns about taking that step?

Of course we had concerns about it. I knew I couldn't do it; our code of ethics prohibit[s] 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, I don't have a problem with that. ... I shared that information with our editors, and we knew what was going on. We knew that some deception was involved, being carried out by our consultant, and we figured that that was the way to avoid reckless disregard for the truth. ...

... Tell me about the profile page on Moto-Brock.

The profile page on Moto-Brock -- again, it was the consultant's decision, ... and so he decided he would be a 17-year-old Ferris High School senior who had an interest in Motocross motorcycles, ... and his name on his profile page was Brock Stewart. ...

I should point out that to become a member of Gay.com, you have to tell the Web host that you're 18. So Moto-Brock, in a bit of other deception, told Gay.com that in fact he was 18, but then when he went online and was chatting with the others, he told them that he was 17, almost 18. ...

But at this point there's no evidence that the mayor, online anyway, is courting people under 18. Why create someone under 18? Isn't that baiting him a little bit?

... The intention wasn't to bait anyone; the purpose of our investigation was a search for the truth. We wanted to know, do we have a mayor trolling on the Internet for underage boys? If he's only interested in men who are 18 or older, then that's a different matter, and we'll let the facts stand on their own. ...

... When the mayor and Moto-Brock began to engage online, who approached whom, and when did that happen?

It happened in mid-February [2005]. I wasn't there, of course, when the conversation occurred, and was told about it after the fact. ... There was a discussion about the photograph on TheRightBi-Guy's profile page; Moto-Brock had pulled up that profile and saw that instead of a picture of a person, there's a picture of a mountain there, and so a discussion ensued in the chat room about, is that Mount St. Helens or is it Mount Rainier? ...

... I'm just asking, because from what I remember, ... the paper's position has been that everything was initiated by the mayor.

The sexual discussions certainly were initiated by the mayor, and the transcripts bear that out. ...

Do you think it is a relevant question, who initiated the contact?

... I don't think it's of any great significance. The fact is that you have a 54-year-old man talking to 18- to 20-year-olds. Whether they're talking about mountains or sex, ... we're interested in finding out, is he in that room, and is he talking to people? ...

... Is the story about a 54-year-old man courting 18-, 19-, 20-year-old young men?

No, the story's not about that. The story's not about him being gay and courting young men. If he were to do that in his private life and that's all there were to it, it wouldn't be a story. The story here is that he's offering sports memorabilia, trips, gifts, influence and City Hall jobs and appointments, and that's what certainly caught our attention.

Of course, that track is running at the same time we're looking into what he may have known back in the '70s when he was a Boy Scout leader and a sheriff's deputy, when his close friend was heavily involved in what we now believe was, substantially, incidents of sexual abuse of young boys. ...

... Did you feel people deserved to know?

Well, he's a public figure and was a public figure and has been a public figure for the last 30 years. So yes, I thought they deserved the truth. We had to very carefully approach that to find out is this true or not, and who is this fellow? More importantly, is he leading, in fact, a double life? Is he somebody that we don't think he is? He'd come across as this sheriff's deputy, Boy Scout leader, very conservative Republican politician, and now we find him in Gay.com. The juxtaposition of those two, and the apparent hypocrisy of all that, certainly interested me. ...

... If he had been looking at women, ... younger women, and had been the mayor, and he had been in a dating service online, would it not have been appropriate for him to mention his car, people he had met in the past, contacts? ... Is it really that egregious that he was talking about footballs and signed memorabilia to a kid?

I'm not judge and jury; it's not for me to say. But if he'd been approaching young women, we'd have done the same story. It just so happens he was approaching young men. But if he'd have been offering gifts and travel and jobs and City Hall appointments [to] young women, we'd have done the same story. ...

... How involved were you in Moto-Brock's dialogue with the mayor?

I wasn't directly involved at all. I knew that the computer expert was there, and I knew he was posing as a teenage boy and that he was hoping to have conversations. When the first conversation occurred and it was recorded by screen captures, I was astonished. ...

Did you read each chat carefully? How involved were you in that process?

These chats, many of them occurred late at night, frequently on weekends, so I would find out about them the following Monday when I returned to work. The contents would be given to me; I would obtain them from our consultant on a computer disk, and I of course would read them, share the contents with our editors and with my supervisors. ...

... The tone of the chats is striking, because Moto-Brock is such a participant. ... It felt like he was egging him on a little bit, that this expert was looking for ways to get the mayor going, as opposed to just being passively there. ...

I can see how people might view it that way. We made it real clear to him that we didn't want him to at all entrap the mayor, but obviously he had to engage the mayor in a conversation. ... Obviously the computer expert had to pretend to be interested, and he couldn't have turned him off or turned away from the subject matter.

So there are places where fair-minded people might think he "egged him on," but I think in totality, when you look at it all and you read all these -- and we invite everyone to do that; it's all on our Web site -- that it's pretty clear that the mayor thought he was having explicit online sexual conversations with what he thought was a teenage kid.

You have to ask yourself, if Moto-Brock didn't exist, would the mayor have behaved this way?

We believe he has behaved this way, and in fact the turn of events has proven that he has behaved this way, because after all this occurred, other real-life people stepped forward and said: "We had the same conversations with him. We had sexually explicit conversations with him after we met him on Gay.com, and he proceeded to offer us jobs at City Hall." ...

Were there times, as the chat went on, ... that you wrestled with it as you read the transcripts and saw how aggressive a role Moto-Brock was playing? ...

It is unusual to be in this position, and yes, we were constantly raising questions involving [the] ethics surrounding it all. ... But sometimes, to get to the truth of the matter, you sometimes have to use some deception. We would continue to remind the expert that we didn't want him to initiate the conversations pertaining to sex and didn't want to do anything that could be viewed as entrapment, because we knew that would probably be one of the first things that was thrown back at us, that we somehow had tricked the mayor or led him into all of this. ...

... But there are moments in the transcript where the initiation of talk about sex was by Moto-Brock. Did you flag those?

We saw those; they don't cause me any great concern. He was on there under the guise of a teenager who was questioning his own sexuality. After the sexual discussions occurred, it would have been unusual for them not to continue. That's why people are on that Web site, to have those sorts of discussions. ...

... There is an unfortunate piece of transcript that's missing, which is the first time the internship idea is raised. ... It's disturbing, from the outside anyway. What's your response to that?

I can see why an outsider might think that's disturbing. I can tell you there's no reason to be disturbed. ... The initial conversations in Gay.com were saved as screen captures, so it wasn't just the text; it was the whole screen. And he, our expert, was having to very quickly take pictures with his computer of the conversations that were on his screen. ...

It was late in that conversation where TheRightBi-Guy said, "I have a friend who might be able to line you up with a job or an internship." He didn't take the photograph before the dialogue ended in the Gay.com chat room, so he doesn't have screen capture of that. ...

The following Monday, when he gave me those screen captures, he told me about it in an e-mail. He said, "I lost the last page, and it disappeared before I could take that screen capture." ... And then in the subsequent conversation, you can see that there's been a previous discussion as to an internship; the conversation comes up like it's been previously discussed. So that corroborates the missing portion. ...

... How do you know that Moto-Brock didn't say, "Do you know of any internship opportunities?" How do you know that the mayor offered that up?

Well, I wasn't there, so I can't say with absolute certainty that didn't happen. I have no reason to believe that. I know our consultant to be an honest, credible person. And in the subsequent conversations, it's clear that TheRightBi-Guy says, "I have a friend who might be able to get you a job." So the context is borne out in the subsequent interviews. If there was any hint there that that wasn't the case, it would have been apparent. ...

The Internet expert and the mayor had online sex. ... Can you tell that story?

On Saturday, March 19, 2005, Moto-Brock and TheRightBi-Guy, ... through AOL instant messaging, had a chat. ... They end up deciding that they are each going to masturbate while talking to each other online, which is subject matter I hadn't covered before as a reporter, and it all ends with a big string of "mmm's" on the screen, where both of them are supposedly climaxing.

Then there's some discussion about, "Well, I've got to go now because I've got a social event tonight." And our consultant was glad that had to end, because he had a social event to go to also that night. It turns out they both ended up at the same social event: ... a jazz concert at the Spokane Met. It was literally 90 minutes to two hours after they'd had online sex that our consultant, going to the event with his wife, sees the mayor anchoring it with a woman television personality here in town; they were co-hosting it. ... Our city editor had a line for this. I can't use her exact words, but it's like, "You can't make this stuff up." ...

At what point did the forensic expert know it was the mayor he was dealing with? ...

Well into it, he sensed that this person was involved in government or was involved in City Hall politics or something. ... At some time we confirmed to our consultant that we believed TheRightBi-Guy was the mayor of the city of Spokane, ... so by the time the concert event occurred, he knew ... that we suspected TheRightBi-Guy was the mayor of Spokane. There still was a possibility, though, that it could have been somebody hacking his computer. We didn't have the sort of courtroom proof that we needed.

... At what point did you decide to publish the story?

Well, we didn't confirm it was Jim West until April 10, when he actually showed up at Indian Canyon Golf Course. ...

Tell about the meeting that was arranged. Who showed up on your end? ...

The decision was made by our editors, which I concurred with, that it would not be appropriate for me to show up at the rendezvous. So on April 9, the online discussion is held: TheRightBi-Guy tells Moto-Brock that he wants to meet him to hit some golf balls the next day, ... and Moto-Brock agreed and said, "I'll see you there."

In that conversation of April 9 is when TheRightBi-Guy sent his photograph, and the photograph arrived, and it's a photograph of Jim West. Moto-Brock played dumb and didn't recognize the person, and it appeared that TheRightBi-Guy was insulted that Moto-Brock didn't know who he was. He went on to say, "Here's who I am," and he sends a hyperlink to the City Hall Web page.

That was pretty convincing information to us, and right after that occurred, our consultant called me immediately at home and advised me of that. I consulted with our editors, and the decision was made to have a photographer at the golf course at 10:00 the next morning, surreptitiously filming the mayor as he arrived. ...

So he took a picture of the mayor waiting for Moto-Brock?

He took a picture on April 10 of TheRightBi-Guy arriving, and TheRightBi-Guy, lo and behold, was Jim West. ...

... When did you decide you were ready to approach Jim West?

... By late April he was in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia on city business, and we couldn't talk to him. He returned in early May, and we left messages that we wanted to interview him. ... Upon his return, ... he had his staff call us and wanted to know what did we want to talk to him about. ...

... And he called you back himself?

He did. He called me back and wanted to know what's this all about. At some point he also called [Spokesman-Review editor] Steve Smith. ... We weren't about to tell him until he agreed to an interview and agreed to a time, so late in the day on May 4, ... he said, "I'll agree to an interview, but it's got to be tonight." ... It was about 6:30, and he said, "I'll be at your office in 15 minutes."

You were surprised?

I was very surprised. I knew that ... he was dying to know what it was we wanted to talk to him about. But I don't think he was at all prepared for exactly the information we had for him when he showed up here. ...

... Tell me the story of the mayor arriving.

I personally was a little nervous about it. Not only are we going to be confronting the highest elected official in our city with some pretty serious allegations, there were just issues of personal safety. I didn't want him doing anything rash. There had been other instances where news reporters have confronted people similar to this; in a situation in Seattle, for example, [something] similar to this occurred, and the point of the probe took his own life. ...

What was the atmosphere when he walked in?

I don't think the mayor has ever had a particular warm spot in his heart for me. He knows that I do investigative work and that I keep track of elected officials like him. That's my job, and it's nothing personal; I've made that very clear to him. I made it clear to him in the conversation that I'm merely doing public-watchdog journalism.

I have no idea what he was thinking when he walked into that room, but he appeared to me to be very nervous at the outset. He sat down at the head of a long conference table. I was on one side, [reporter] Karen Dorn Steele was on the other, and Brian Plonka of our photography staff was also there. The mayor made it clear at the outset that he wouldn't allow photographs, but Brian, who had worked with us on this project, agreed to stay for the interview, and Karen and I turned on our tape recorders and began asking him questions.

Did you ask him right away about his online chats?

We didn't get to that right away, as I recall. It took a while before I brought up the topic of Moto-Brock. And when I asked him, "Do you know who Moto-Brock is?," and I believe I said something to the effect that "I'm Moto-Brock." He certainly had a very ashen look on his face. The gravity of the whole event, I think, very clearly and quickly was sinking in.

Did his demeanor change when you showed him the transcripts?

I had the transcripts in a three-ring binder, and I said: "Mr. Mayor, would you like to go through these transcripts? Do you want to dispute any of the notion that you've had various discussions with Moto-Brock online?" ... He didn't want to see them. He tacitly was admitting that yes, he was TheRightBi-Guy and that he was now somewhat sad to realize that we were Moto-Brock. He was caught.

Did he look upset?

He looked very nervous. It's one of those things that probably occurs in people's life where suddenly everything is changing for you. In hindsight, he appeared [to realize] that "My life is changing with what's happening right now." That was my sense.

I personally felt sorry for him. ... 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. We made it clear that we were doing this because he was a public figure and that he'd been offering jobs and gifts to young people and that that was the focus of our interest. We reminded him, "Mr. Mayor, this isn't personal." ...

You told me he was sweating.

He was sweating. ... It was late in the day; he'd been traveling. We also were very tired, but yeah, I recall that he was perspiring, and I remember seeing a drop of perspiration fall from his chin onto his necktie or his chest. The gravity of it was very apparent to us.

Did you tell him this wasn't about his sexuality or his sexual orientation?

We did. We said it wasn't about his sexual orientation; that it had to do with him offering jobs and trinkets and internships and gifts. ... We tried to hammer that point with him over and over again. ...

Did you talk about ... his political positions versus his personal choices and lifestyle?

Yes. Karen [Dorn Steele] ... asked him several questions about him opposing the hiring of gays for public jobs and his opposition to equal benefits at City Hall. He's been pretty open in his anti-gay stance as a politician, so clearly that was part of the story. ... And his response was, "My private life is my private life, and what I do as a politician has nothing to do with my private life." He couldn't bring the two components together.

... How much did he admit?

He admitted that he was TheRightBi-Guy, but he responded to a lot of questions [with] "Let's get to the point," "Whatever," "So what's your point?" He was evasive to many of the questions, and he didn't want to elaborate as to the reasons. I would still like to know, why the secret? Why did he have to lead these dual lives? ... And why in particular is he interested in young men, and why is he offering them City Hall jobs and gifts? He's never answered those questions.

But he didn't deny it.

He didn't deny it.

How did the meeting end?

The meeting ended -- I believe it lasted approximately an hour -- and it ended with him getting up, walking to the elevator. ... He appeared to me to be a broken man. He was very nervous, and beneath the surface I sensed some anger. He didn't yell or wasn't making any threats, but I sensed those vibes.

I was personally concerned about his well-being. In fact, we told our editors, who weren't there for this meeting, ... that they should advise the police chief or police department officials about what had occurred, and that they ought to check on his well-being. I was worried that he was going to commit suicide. ...

... And then you had to write the story.

And then we had to write the story.

For the next morning?

For the next morning's paper. The decision was that if we didn't write the story, it would give him the opportunity to go proactive on us in some other direction. ... It was my opinion at least that he knew that if he came over late in the day we wouldn't have time to get the story in the next morning's paper. ...

So you stayed here how late that night?

I was here until 2:00 in the morning and in fact saw the first pages come off the press.

How many people here knew you were working on this?

Only the senior editors: the editor, Steve Smith; the managing editor, Gary Graham; and the city editor, Carla Savalli, who I should point out was directly involved with all this. ... Our other reporting colleagues, some of them had gotten an inkling that it had something to do with Jim West, the mayor. Others were completely in the dark and had no clue.

At the direction of the editor, Karen and I were moved out of the newsroom and were ordered not to do any of this work in the newsroom. ... The proximity to other reporters here in the newsroom is such that every reporter knows what every other reporter is working on, and this was a story the boss thought we should be elsewhere for. So some of them were very surprised when they came to work that Thursday morning and saw the front-page story about Jim West.

What was it like that Thursday morning in the newsroom, and for several days after?

Well, everyone wanted to know, what's next? Is he going to quit? Is he going to do something rash? No one could really understand. And of course we're also interested in what other media attention [there would be], what the community's reaction would be. It was totally unpredictable. I think the general sense was that he would resign or that there would be a quick end to it, and that didn't happen.

What did happen?

Well, it's been protracted now seven months, and he has fought this every turn of the way. The man who I thought was going to take his life the next day or that night turned out to be a very tenacious street fighter. And even though he's admitted a lot of the conduct we confronted him about, he's denied other aspects of it and is involved in the political fight of his life.

It gave rise to a grassroots citizen recall, something this community has never seen before. The case went all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court. There were epic, historic aspects about this whole thing, and now we're on the eve of a recall election which polls indicate is probably going to be successful and that Jim West will be removed from office.

Forcibly.

Forcibly.

Why do you think he refuses to step down?

Well, in part I think it's economic. He's an ill man, unfortunately. While this is going on he's been battling cancer, and for that I wish him the best. It just adds one more dimension to this whole tragedy. He needs health insurance; he needs a paycheck; he needs a retirement. And without two years as mayor at $140,000 a year, he doesn't have much of a parachute out there.

He's resisted calls [to step down] from his own Republican Party, from the Chamber of Commerce, from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, from virtually every corner of this community, including the gay community, who I might point out was very vocal and very supportive of the work that Karen and I had done. ... He hasn't done that, and now we look forward to what's going to happen next.

... [You told the mayor during your interview you thought] the mayor could have come out at any point and would have been supported by the community. It's a striking statement, because it's a conservative community. ... It remains, at least from the perspective of an outsider, a fairly closeted community.

... I don't think he could have gotten elected as a gay person, but I would remind you that this city has had a black mayor, has had ... one woman mayor. I think that even though it is conservative that it's also accepting and understanding. If, after he was elected mayor, I believe if he'd have told the community that, ... my view is there would have been a groundswell of sympathy for him, and understanding. ...

People, I think, of any political persuasion have the most trouble dealing with people who are someone that they're really not. ... That's the issue here, that he's been so vehemently anti-gay, and he's used his legislative gavel to denounce gays and to stand in the way of gay rights. ... That's the core issue here.

The national media attention: Could you describe to me the kinds of places that were calling and the appeal of this story to the national media?

The appeal to the national media clearly was the hypocrisy issue and the fact that a very conservative Republican lawmaker who had been in state politics for 20 years -- he had been the Senate majority leader; he was a close confidant of the man who had a very close gubernatorial race in the previous year -- and had been an open opponent of gay rights was now leading a gay lifestyle. That clearly was the story that The New York Times and the various networks zoomed in on. It was the same story we zoomed in on.

Actually, the national interest probably surprised many of us in the newsroom. It was just a matter of days after our story broke. By that weekend, the national media television crews were here in the newsroom. ...

How did you react to that? ...

The editor of the paper, thank goodness, agreed to be the lead person on all that, because Karen and I and the other reporters who had become involved in this, we had more follow-up stories to do. As [New York Times reporter] Judith Miller said recently, "The news is not the reporters." The news can't be the reporters. We have a job to do, and, with exceptions like this, we ought not be in the public limelight. I'm not a newsmaker; I'm a news reporter. ...

You say you're not the news, but in this you really are. You've made yourselves part of the story, a very important part of the story, don't you agree?

If ... people are interested in how we did our jobs, we're here to explain how we did our jobs. But we're not the news. I'm not the one who went on Gay.com; I'm not the one who offered public jobs to private individuals. I'm merely the one who exposed all that. ...

You aren't the news, but your expert is. He went on Gay.com; he talked to the mayor; he created something that did not exist before. So in a sense, as you said [to the mayor], you are Moto-Brock.

Well, that is true, but little did we know that we'd be offered jobs. ... We had no idea we'd be offered jobs and trips and trinkets. Those are byproducts of our work; rest assured, we had no clue that would be happening.

You haven't spoken to the mayor directly since the story broke, correct?

No, I have exchanged e-mails. I have attempted to call him. There have been some follow-up stories where we wanted to get his reaction. I sent him some e-mail questions, and he responded to my e-mail questions, and we quoted him at length in his response.

Has there been any meaningful conversation about the stories?

Absolutely not. No, we've asked the mayor for a follow-up, sit-down interview. ... He's only held one news conference, and it was a very controlled news conference. Unfortunately, I was out of town when that happened. ... Karen and I would stand ready, even on 15 minutes' notice, to go talk to him again.

You said that he's like a street fighter. What do you think is fueling him now?

We've heard that -- and he's told people apparently -- that we're helping give him a will to live, to fight his cancer, a grave illness. It saddens me to know that he's involved in that, but if we're giving him a will to live, ... then that's great. He's always been a politician who has been known to be very tenacious and very asserting.

He has clearly in the past attempted to bulldoze people he disagrees with. He once told a lobbyist that, "I'm going to kill you, you S.O.B.," and he in fact was convicted of a crime associated with that. So he's a crafty, knowledgeable, highly skilled politician. We knew that going into it, and we've seen it for the last seven months.

Do you get any sense that he's very alone right now?

I do sense he's very alone. I think, in fact, he's been very alone for a long time, which I think led to some of the conduct that we've seen here. He's a lonely man in his 50s who's grappled with his sexual identity -- still hasn't come to terms with it, in my opinion -- and is very much alone. ... I know this past summer he's been shunned by many people, ... not because he's gay, but because he's brought national media attention and embarrassment to our city. And only he can answer to that.

He has "played the gay card" during and since this thing happened. ... Carry any water in your mind?

I don't think so. He early on said he had been "brutally outed"; those were his words. The gay community -- and I can't speak for the gay community, but ... the folks that we talked to were laughing at that. He ran to the very people he opposed. He also ran to the human rights community, and he had stood in their way. He attempted to largely dismantle the city human rights office. ... The majority of those folks just laughed him off, said: "You're a little late, Johnny. ... We understand, and we hope you can come to grips with your sexuality issues, but don't come to us for political help now that you find yourself in this box." ...

Ryan Oelrich: Who is he? When did you first encounter him, and what is his story?

The weekend after our story appeared, I got a phone call. We had ... dozens of phone calls and e-mails. ... One of those was from a source who told us there had been a young man that was appointed by Jim West to the Human Rights Commission, and that the same thing had happened to him that happened to Moto-Brock, and that this young man's name was Ryan Oelrich. ...

He said [in an interview] that he, too, had been a frequent visitor to Gay.com, that he'd encountered someone named TheRightBi-Guy, had no clue it was the mayor, and then suddenly ... was actually offered to be a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission. ...

It wasn't long after getting the appointment, Ryan Oelrich told us in that interview, that Mayor Jim West let it be known to him that in fact he was TheRightBi-Guy. ... Then, according to Ryan Oelrich, the mayor proceeded to make other overtures to him. ... Oelrich told us that the mayor in fact had even driven by his house, and he was rather freaked out by that. ... He thought that he actually was being stalked.

He told us he resisted the advances from the mayor. He had recorded several of those e-mail and online chats that he'd had with the mayor, which further corroborated the work that our expert had done with Moto-Brock and TheRightBi-Guy. ...

... The mayor has invoked religion, in part because of his cancer and in part because of his experience with the paper. Can you tell me a little bit about that? ...

After all this occurred, the mayor went running to various corners of our community: to the gay community, to the human rights community and to the religious community. He showed up at the prayer breakfast saying, "Pray for me; I'm changing my ways." I'm a person of faith also, and he's certainly entitled to reach out for help in any place that he can or needs to. There are some of us, though, that see some hypocrisy in that, just like he went running to the gay community.

But yes, members of the Christian community, some of them at least, have reached out to him and said they forgive him. ... There are other Christians who have pointed out that although God offers forgiveness, he also holds us accountable for our actions. That's the issue that a lot of people are still asking about.

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posted nov. 14, 2006

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