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david postman

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A political reporter for The Seattle Times, David Postman covered Jim West during the years when he was a Washington state legislator. Here, Postman talks about West and his political career. He also offers background on the city of Spokane and The Spokesman-Review, its owners and its new editor Steven Smith -- all of which factor into the story of the newspaper's aggressive investigation of Jim West. And Postman raises questions about how that investigation was conducted. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted Jan. 30, 2006. [Note: Also read Postman's Times profile of West that was published a few weeks before the recall vote.]

Let's talk about the legislative years. If you had to describe West's political style to someone, how would describe him?

I always thought he was one of those guys ... who were more interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations. ... Much more than, "I want to change the world," it was "I won today," or "I won that vote." ... So I think there was a little sense of [his] wanting to be the big thinker, but it was really more of the mechanic. And he was applauded for it. The Democrats looked to him as the Republicans' smart strategist and gave him his props for that. ...

In the paper, I said something about he's from the "Dennis the Menace school of politics," because I always thought of him as plotting the next way to poke the other [side]. And he got really upset about that. He called me and [said]: "Why would you say that? That's so embarrassing, and I've climbed to this high position." I said, "Well, I think that's you, every word." And I think that I've been proven largely true about that. ...

There was a scorecard running in his head, would you say?

Yeah, and I saw that even when I went back to see him recently. When he would talk about the people that were involved in his big scandal in Spokane, everything in his mind would go back to 1972 or 1978, or "This guy doesn't like me because of that." ... That's what got him in trouble with the alleged threat that he left on an answering machine.

... Tell me that story.

I can't remember the year this was -- '98 or '99, I think it was. There was a piece of legislation that the home builders in the state opposed, ... and West was on the other side of the issue than the home builders. Normally they would be allies; in this case, he was against them.

In Spokane, they took out an ad in the newspaper attacking him and essentially saying something like, "He's going to rob your children of a future." He went ballistic.

What he did was he called the head of the Building [Industry] Association of Washington, a man named Tom McCabe, probably one of the best political strategists in the state. ... West called him and left a message ... that said something like, "McCabe, you'd better hope you get me, because if not, you're a dead man." ... And so McCabe called the police. ... The police investigated, and essentially, after the thing got kicked around through jurisdictions a little bit, West had a plea agreement and was on probation.

It was a big deal for him. I think that West wanted people to see that as he's a victim of Tom McCabe's bullying ways, and some people did. ... But I also think people thought: "Wow, what would make a guy do that? What would make a state senator who is at that point in his career ... do such a dumb thing?"

There is that streak of recklessness in him. ... Did you see that in his legislative years, a loss of control?

That's the best example. ... He said something to me about that right before the recall election. He was trying to joke about his troubles and said, "You know me -- I always want to put a little extra weight in the saddle before the race," or something. He seems to recognize his own kind of self-destructive ways.

“... there was a large piece of this reporting that essentially was subcontracted out. It happened outside of that newsroom, without Bill Morlin or Steve Smith looking over [the hired consultant]'s shoulder for the most part. ...”

Even just some of the things he said: the fact that he signed on to this bill to ban all teen sex and talked about it and things like that, the sorts of things you'd think a more seasoned politician would think about it for a second and then go, "I'm not going to say that." But West would say it. ...

... Give us a sense of how powerful Jim West ultimately became. ...

He was powerful in a couple of ways. Even before Republicans took control of the Senate, he was powerful, ... because he was a good behind-the-scenes mechanic, and he could make things happen or stop things from happening. When he really came to be known statewide was when he was head of the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, and he was clearly powerful then. I think that's probably his most powerful position, even though he went on to be majority leader. When you're writing the budget in Olympia, you're doing everything. ...

Why would a person like that leave to run for mayor of Spokane, Wash.?

... As early as '94 or '95, he talked about wanting to be governor. He actually had a slogan -- he might even have put out buttons -- "West for the Millennium." ... I think that there was that part of him that wanted the respect and the standing that comes from being an elected executive. ...

Now, that's not to say that it was only those craven reasons. He was raised in Spokane; he loved Spokane. He says now that's the job he always wanted. I think, clearly, he saw himself as a Spokane guy more than an Olympia guy. ...

What shocked me about the decision was when he ran for mayor the first time, he came in, I think, fifth. ... And then he goes and does it again. I don't know exactly what that says about him, but it's something he really wanted. He was willing to try again in the face of that defeat. ...

He always says he's a fighter.

Everybody says he's a fighter. When I was in Spokane, someone said, "Don't count him out on this recall; he survives for a living." Some of that, I think, again, is hindsight. ... This was not a guy who had to fight to win re-election to the Legislature. That was pretty easy, and after a while all but automatic. So I don't know where we get this, but certainly losing the mayor's race that badly and coming back and winning gave him a back story for his victory. ...

... Was he an intimidating guy to his colleagues, would you say?

I don't think so. ... There was a little bit of awkwardness about him all the time, even when he was Ways and Means chairman and when he was majority leader. There was always a sense that this was a guy who was a little bit lonely, a little bit hungry for respect and maybe attention. ...

Elaborate on that sense of loneliness. ... It's fascinating.

At some level, a lot of politicians are like that; you don't go into that business unless you like some adulation. ... But because of his almost adolescent awkwardness, ... I think he was isolated. Now we know a lot more about his life, and somehow it seems more understandable why he was so isolated.

He was a Boy Scout leader, even as an adult, and talked about the Boy Scouts a lot. ... For a long time this wasn't just a hobby for him; that was how he made his money. ... So there was always that kind of oddness, of a grown man in the boy's uniform. ...

... There were rumors ... that he was gay. How prevalent were they, and how seriously did you take them?

There was gossip about his sexual orientation. And again, that goes back to just the circumstances of who he is. He's a single man. He had a short marriage. He's a Boy Scout leader. He did surround himself with young men. Some of his aides were young women as well, but there was a sense that there was a male, macho thing going on there.

There were jokes, and there was gossip, but there was never even what I would consider even a hint of an allegation of any wrongdoing. And that's one thing that I think The Spokesman-[Review] didn't nail at first. They had a quote in their very first story from a Democratic political consultant who said, "This was the worst kept secret in Washington politics." Well, that came after their shocking headline about pedophilia and his online cruising, and I can tell you there was never an allegation of that. ...

The way he tells it was, when he was in Olympia was a time where he really was repressing this. In fact, at one point he talks about the evolution of his sexual orientation. He didn't even have a sense of repression; it just was dead. And then he, through the Internet, started cultivating it. ...

Does that ring true to you?

I don't know. Given the amount of time that The Spokesman-Review spent reviewing his time in Olympia over the last year -- and we did, too -- we looked at it; people looked at thousands of e-mails he sent and talked to interns and legislative aides and lobbyists, and there's just nothing. So it's a mystery to me. ... If there was ... some sort of homosexual activity that West wanted to hide at that point, we may never know that. I don't think he's ever going to say it.

... His ideological background: ... Was this man a passionate social conservative? ...

There certainly were times where he seemed to almost be grandstanding on some of those issues. What he says now is, "Well, I never really cared about it." I would say prior to this story breaking, if someone had asked me that question, I would have thought he's not really known for those social issues. ...

The Republican Party in the '80s in this state was very, very conservative. Pat Robertson was the choice of Republicans here in the caucus in 1988. The party was all but controlled by Christian conservatives for years. 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. ...

He spoke openly about wanting to ban all teen sex, petting, the anti-petting bill. He is embarrassed by that one today, I think. He sort of shrugs it off, but he chose that fight; that's not something that was thrown on him. He says that he didn't really know about the bill that had to do with prohibiting homosexuals from teaching. ...

But it was not his natural inclination certainly; that's not where he was from. He's not a guy who ever went to church before this scandal. ... And I think that his name was on things that maybe we never would have really put much weight in except for what we now know. ...

Do you give any credence to the view that he was compensating in some way? ...

... I asked him as directly as I could: Were you doing these things to try to show people you're not gay? It's a hard question for him because he's not really yet accepting that he's gay today, and certainly not accepting that he was gay when he was in Olympia; there's a demarcation there for him. But in any case, he says no, that's not what it was about. But I think it's hard to imagine that those things are totally disconnected. ...

... In a general sense, how was he doing as mayor before all this hit the fan?

He was doing pretty well. Just as when he became budget chair, there was another step up in his maturity. ... He talked a lot about his decision when he became elected to not put his portrait up on the wall. He probably told you guys about it, because he told me many times. ... But I think he was trying to show the people of Spokane and to show the chattering classes that he had reached some level of maturity and that he was ready to be a manager. ...

Now, Spokane has had struggles; they've had money struggles, and economic development has not gone well there. When Seattle was booming, Spokane really felt left out, and he didn't turn any of that around. But part of it was image; part of it was a positive feeling that the mayor had. ...

Tell me something about [Spokesman-Review editor] Steve Smith: Who is he? Where did he come from?

Steve Smith is, to me, an old-fashioned newspaper guy in a lot of ways, which is a really likable part of him. When I first met him, ... he was wearing a fedora and a trench coat, and he had this, like, gallon cup of coffee in his hand. It's like, there's a newspaper reporter, and he loves that. In his office he keeps an old typewriter that's only used for writing "attaboy" notes to his staff. He's really into the craft and the history and the culture, and I admire that in a guy. ...

He's been at a fair number of newspapers; I think he said seven or something. ... By his own telling, he was fired from one. He's an abrasive guy. He's a confident, maybe even cocky guy -- again, not unheard of in the ranks of newspaper editors. I don't doubt for a second that when he got to Spokane and heard about this story, ... he knew what this story could mean for him and The Spokesman-Review and for his staff, and he embraced it.

What sort of relationship ... exists or existed between the newspaper and the community? It hasn't been entirely smooth.

No, no. In fact, I don't know that I've ever been in a town that had the kind of relationship Spokane has with The Spokesman-Review. People there believe it to be the Star Chamber. That's because it's still owned by a family, the Cowleses. They have other interests, including real estate and timber, and they own a TV station. They are very powerful; everything in town is named after them. They were involved in a very controversial downtown development deal. ... So there's really a sense that they were all-powerful, that they picked who the mayor was; they picked who the City Council was.

This sense that the Cowleses own everything and the paper is speaking for the Cowleses, connect that to ... [the sense] that Smith really saw this story as a chance to connect with readers and show that the paper wasn't afraid to take on power.

When Smith came to Spokane, ... he said he had read some of the stories about this real estate deal and how people in town were unhappy with the Cowleses. ... He wanted to show the community that the newspaper could go after the powers that be without fear or favor, but he also wanted to show his staff that they could do that again. He talked to me a lot about "unleashing his staff." ... I think he also was trying to send a message to the publisher, too, to say there's a new sheriff in town; I can't help but hear that phrase in my head when Smith talks about coming to town. ...

He said, from talking to his reporters and other people in town, that there was a sense, when some of the allegations of sex abuse in powerful institutions in Spokane came up in the 1970s and '80s, that The Spokesman-Review might not have done all that they should have to find out about that. He said to me over dinner one night, "If we had, if the paper had, we might have protected some children." That's a pretty big thing to have on your shoulders. ...

... I asked Stacy Cowles, who's the publisher of the paper today, whose father was the publisher of the paper then, what did he think about that? ... Stacy Cowles said first, "No, I can't imagine my father ever would have said, 'Look, we're not going to go there and turn away from that.'" But it doesn't even take any follow-up question, and all of a sudden Cowles is going: "Well, I don't know. Spokane back then, ... is it possible that maybe somebody was afraid of upsetting the Catholic Church? Yeah, it's possible." So in 30 seconds he goes from saying, "No, there's no way," to going, "Well, maybe."

There's just such self-doubt there about what they've done in the past. And not just the newspaper, but the whole town is like that -- just this sense of, "Yeah, maybe we didn't do it right; I don't know."

... You wrote that Spokane has a little bit of an inferiority complex. Tell me about it.

This is one of the things I didn't really know about Spokane before I went over there. All second and third cities have a little bit of that inferiority complex, but when you go over, ... everybody talks about it, some very directly; some just exhibit the behavior. ... It's an isolated city. When you go there, everybody tells you, "We're the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis." That may be true, but I'm not sure what it means. ...

How might that have conditioned the story in some way?

There is this sense that Spokane doesn't deserve any better; we get the leaders we deserve. I'm not an expert on Spokane, ... but again, [when] everybody says the same thing, you start to believe it. People have examples of things that have happened in the past, from the '70s until today, where there were allegations of wrongdoing in these powerful institutions, where not much happened about it. The newspaper didn't go after them; there was no crusading local prosecutor who went after them; there was no citizen uprising to say, "We're not going to take this anymore." ... Somehow, with the West story, it was different. ...

... [Steve Smith talks about how] these two stories -- pedophilia allegations and trolling for men online -- support one another. ...

... You look at The Spokesman-Review day-one story, the big story brings together 25-year-old-plus allegations of child sex abuse and much more recent allegations of the mayor online cruising for dates with young men. ... The Spokesman-Review saw those recent activities as bolstering the allegations of pedophilia. ...

There's some leap there certainly, and that's what got them on this story. I think, and [Steve Smith] says this, if they hadn't had those chats that came to their attention, the abuse allegations might never have gotten in the paper. The Spokesman did not want this story to slip away, for good reasons: ... Steve Smith didn't want to be at the helm at a time where The Spokesman looked the other way, so he embraced what they found.

... As far as the pedophilia allegations go, ... what do you feel about the evidence? ...

I did no investigation of my own of those allegations; what I did was I looked very carefully at everything The Spokesman-Review has provided. They've been great about putting things on their Web site for their readers to see. ... I talked to West to see what he had in the way of evidence to refute that, which frankly is nothing. ... His lawyers told him not to talk about it. ... I tried to talk to [Robert] Galliher, [who accused West of abusing him in the 1970s], and his attorney never returned my calls. ...

When you read their story and took a look at Galliher's tale, there's parts of that that seem believable. This is a guy who had some evidence before this story ever broke of being at least in the orbit with Jim West; it's not something totally out of the blue. There's certainly questions: Why didn't you name West earlier? And when Galliher sued the county for allowing [sheriff's deputy] David Hahn to molest him, West is named as a witness but not as a perpetrator. ...

You read the story on the first day and it says, essentially in shorthand, West abused two boys when he was a sheriff, and he cruises online for men and offered an internship to one of those. Now the internship turns out to be the focus, really, of The Spokesman's work, because that's what the recall focused on -- because the recall has to have a legal basis in this state. ... Then there was an FBI investigation that also was on this abuse-of-power thing.

So day one starts with this big hit about child abuse, which is the most heinous allegation almost [that] you could level against somebody in this country, in any country, and then you don't hear about it again. ...

What do you make of West's primary defense, which is simply that ... "If I'm abusing children, there are going to be others"? ...

... It struck me as a little odd. ... It was like, what an odd defense for something, that there should be more people accusing you. ... It just seemed like an oddly technical defense. I don't know how unusual it is, though, when you have somebody who's in high public office. People are afraid to come forward, even many years later. ... So I wouldn't discount it just because there were only these allegations.

The Spokesman-Review created a high bar with that part of the story. What Steve Smith said was, when we write about allegations of child abuse, no unnamed sources. ... I asked about that because it almost seemed backwards to me, because if you're writing about child sex abuse, who better to protect than the victim of abuse, even as an adult today? And Smith just said those allegations are so explosive, we want somebody's name attached to them. ...

What is the significance of "Dannyboy" to the story?

That's the key to what brought everything. When The Spokesman-Review first heard and then actually saw that West was going online and essentially looking for young men in Spokane to have sex with, that rang a lot of bells, ... and it became the green light for this whole story that we're talking about. ...

We interviewed him, and ... he says [lead reporter Bill] Morlin changed his age downward two years. ... If The Spokesman-Review changed his age from 20 to 18, is that important to you?

Yes, ... it is important, because the whole story is about that level of, where is this wrong, where is this inappropriate? ... We see this in the Moto-Brock transcripts and in talking to the newspaper, when they talk about how they moved his age from 17 to 18 to see if West's behavior would change with that age. ...

Dannyboy was outraged by this change of age. He was also outraged by how The Spokesman-Review depicted the sexual encounter. He said that they ... masturbated in front of each other. He said The Spokesman-Review called it consensual sex, and that was deeply embarrassing to him and not true.

... It's certainly not the best description of what that is. Again, in the context of what they're writing about, it does matter. In some ways, it's a distinction without a difference for the mayor. I don't think, frankly, that from his perspective he's any better off if that story said accurately the first time they sat in the car and each masturbated in front of each other, ... which leads you to question, why did they do it? You should just say what it is, and I don't know why they didn't do that.

Editor's Note: In a follow-up interview Bill Morlin denied changing Dannyboy's age intentionally.

It begins to raise a question, ... that the paper tends to take a situation and depict it in the worst light for the mayor. ...

... Everything The Spokesman-Review did is seen, though, through the lens of pedophilia allegations, and everything looks different then. If those allegations never existed, if Jim West never knew David Hahn, if nobody ever raised any questions about his own behavior when he was in a sheriff's uniform or a Boy Scout uniform, the rest of this would look very different. You still might say there's a story here: You've got a conservative Republican politician who spoke out against gays, and guess what? He's gay. You could do that story, but it's a different story. ...

... What do you think of the decision to create Moto-Brock?

There's people much smarter than me who are going to debate about that, but I can tell you this: I don't think it was necessary. ... Maybe it would have taken a little longer, maybe they wouldn't have gotten everything they wanted, but are there other ways to do it? I think there were. It seems, I think, different to us and other people in hindsight than it did to them at the time inside The Spokesman-Review, because this was the key to everything, they felt. They needed this contemporary record to bring in the rest of the story of Jim West. ...

... Why make him 17 years old?

... The newspaper relied on this expert to essentially design the sting, or what Smith likes to call a ruse. ... But they moved his age from 17 to 18, and 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. So Moto-Brock has a birthday, and he's 18, and they're waiting to see, and then talk does turn around to sex.

... Do you find that odd at all, the amount of oversight, or lack thereof, in this case?

Yeah. They put a lot of trust in their expert, who's really only been identified as "the expert." ... But yeah, there was a large piece of this reporting that essentially was subcontracted out. It happened outside of that newsroom, without Bill Morlin or Steve Smith looking over this guy's shoulder for the most part. ...

Doesn't it matter how he did it, how he engaged with the mayor, the tactics he used, the words he used? ...

It does. Once the ruse begins, it's an important part of the story, both to the story that The Spokesman's going to tell ... as well as the story that I want to try to tell, and you're trying to tell, and that others are asking in Spokane. What did The Spokesman do here, and how do they fit into that? Everything, every word in those chats, is important. ...

That first story has a line in it that says something about the mayor offered an internship and did these other things, according to Internet chats captured by da-da-da -- except that piece wasn't captured by it. There is no offer of an internship recorded by the expert. That wasn't clear at first from The Spokesman's stories. The transcript that that happened in, ... they had to add something to it:

"The final two minutes of the chat are not transcribed here because a technical problem prevented the consultant from recording it. However, the consultant provided the newspaper with a summary of the entire conversation for its records. In the last minutes of this chat, according to the consultant, Jim West offered a potential internship to Moto-Brock."

So you have an expert. You're doing it online; you're capturing it, but you don't have the key piece. You have to rely on the consultant's notes given to a reporter, and that's not reflected in the story. ... Subsequent conversations do make it seem like the mayor has offered an internship of some sort. Whether or not it was as the mayor said -- the kind of offer he gives to lots of young people -- or something more nefarious, we don't know. ...

... There's no question that the mayor offers him an internship eventually. But where did the idea come from? And how much encouragement or goading is there from the fictional 17-year-old to the mayor?

Well, throughout the chats with Moto-Brock, it's not a case of the mayor ... hitting on this 17- or 18-year-old who's just sitting there. ... There's a flirtation going on there from the very start. The other issue is, who raised the issue of sex first? ... They're talking about this fantasy of masturbating each other, and the mayor's the one who goes, "Would rather be in person." Moto-Brock: "I would like that, too, I think." The mayor: "We should be careful." And he does this throughout.

One of the things I found really interesting here is the role the mayor plays in trying to both seduce and caution this kid. When you read it, he's drifting back and forth between these roles there.

What do you make of that?

... There's parts that just struck me as so sad and pathetic on the part of West. They're sort of having phone sex, but it's more like, "I just want to hug you and stuff." And I thought, wow, how sad. Here he is, even in his secret life, he's not being open about the sex and stuff.

But I've got to say, as I started researching this story, ... it's not unusual. That's what you do; that's how an older man can get closer to somebody who's younger. You don't go online and say: "Hi. I'm 42 years old. I want to have sex with you. Let me tell you what I want to do to you." It's, "Be careful out there." ...

... West says, in describing the chat and his behavior with Moto-Brock, that he was just a mentor. ... Do you read those transcripts and see this as a man trying to mentor a kid?

No, I don't read them as that. There are parts of the transcripts where West appears to be trying to mentor this kid, but it's never far from West also flirting with this kid, seducing this kid, clearly lying to this kid about who he is. ... He does try to warn him about other people online and things of that sort, but I don't see it as him mentoring. I think he's cruising online for relationships. ...

... If that's the case, ... how do you explain that the mayor resists meeting [Moto-Brock]? He's offered meetings by Moto-Brock, and he says no.

... I don't know. There's many levels here that I don't pretend to understand at all. ... If you can see Jim West as somebody who is in turmoil, who's tortured about his orientation and his sexuality, ... you can read it as a guy fighting his own urges. Moto-Brock does say, "Oh, let's get together," and it's like, "Oh, slow down there, buddy." When you get to the final day, when they're talking about going to play golf, I think it's Moto-Brock who says, "I want to come," ... but West says OK. ...

... Did you feel ... that West was being lured into doing something or saying something that he wouldn't have done otherwise?

That's what I don't know. There's certainly passages there that you read that look like Moto-Brock is luring the mayor, as opposed to the mayor luring Moto-Brock. There's both, depending on where you're reading. But the other part of that question is "that the mayor would not have done otherwise." There is other evidence that the mayor did do those sorts of things, so when I look at it, I look at it in light of Dannyboy's transcripts; I look at it in light of what Ryan Oelrich told me. ...

But again, this all underscores to you the difficulty, the treachery, of doing this kind of story.

Right -- what as readers of the paper and The Spokesman itself learned after their first story came out: There were other people out there. Ryan Oelrich was a young man in Spokane who also had chats with the mayor, who also felt the mayor had crossed the line with him, both in terms of offering positions in City Hall to essentially sexual harassment. And Ryan Oelrich was willing to talk about that with his name attached to it. ...

If you had Ryan Oelrich, would you have needed Moto-Brock? I'm not sure you would. You would know that the mayor was online, was talking to young men about sex, and was mixing City Hall business with a sexual seduction, really. It was a ham-handed seduction of Ryan Oelrich that Ryan said seemed like sexual harassment. But that existed outside of Moto-Brock. So do you need Moto-Brock? ...

... Are you troubled that The Spokesman-Review has not revealed Moto-Brock's identity for cross-examination? ...

I would have liked to talk to him. I'm not sure why they do that. ... It's not like protecting a source; ... it's somebody who's a major player in the story. I think they would be helped if they had come out from the start to say, "Here's our expert; here's his credentials." ...

What this story is about has kept changing: ... Is it a scandal about sexual misconduct? Is it about misconduct in office? Does it matter?

It certainly matters, and it should matter to everybody in Spokane what this story really is about, because the mayor's political career rested on that. ... Is it about a secret, closeted homosexual life? Is it about hypocrisy in a politician? Is it about misuse of office? Is it about pedophilia? It could be about all of those things, but you don't have to be in Spokane very long to learn everybody's got something that they see this story. It's about Spokane's past. It's about overcoming this second- and third-city syndrome. It's about making up for the Catholic Church abuse, or the newspaper's failure to address it. ...

The Spokesman-Review clearly saw it from the start as the three prongs: the hypocrisy, pedophilia and the abuse of office. Pedophilia sort of started and stopped on day one. And the hypocrisy, there's no currency in the [recall] political campaign ... for that. It all became about abuse of power. The recall focuses on that; the investigation by the feds focuses on that. ...

Do you think that, given all that, that West never had a shot at defeating the recall?

No. West never had a shot, probably not even if it were just the things that he admitted to. ... He has these frank sexual conversations with people who are pretty young, who he doesn't really know, online. ... So that alone, if you're Jim West and you're in Spokane and you're the mayor, is a tough, tough thing to overcome in a recall.

Everyone very strenuously says it's not about homosexuality or being gay, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that in this community, that played a part. ...

It is hard to imagine that it had no part, ... but I didn't see evidence that the mayor was being treated unfairly because he was gay. I think the newspaper, because it's a conservative kind of newspaper in a conservative kind of town, you do sense in reading it that there's a little uncomfortableness on their part when they write about "had sex with men" and "photos of male genitalia." Seemingly a little sensational there, which I don't know if it were women if it would be the same way. But I think that even if it were women and girls, the mayor would be recalled; his political career would have been over. It was a lot to overcome.

Were you struck afterwards about how isolated he became? ... What happened to West in the wake of the scandal?

First you've got to understand that he has a certain amount of isolation about him already. ... Here was a guy who couldn't really be himself in front of anybody. He's still yet to talk to his father, who lives in Spokane, about his sexual identity. He hasn't talked to him about this scandal last time I asked him. ...

He had friends, and he dated some. But he's mayor, and he's doing a pretty good job, and he's kind of the toast of the town, if there could be such a thing. And then this hits, and boy, they were gone. There really were not a lot of people coming forward. ...

He still was able to carry on, go through the motions at least of running the city. The first morning that I saw him, he wanted me to come to the Cabinet meeting. ... He seemed like he did a pretty good job. ... But boy, we left that Cabinet meeting and walked across City Hall to his office, and we're not in the door before he had in his hand the chats transcripts and the transcript of his interview and the e-mails that supporters have sent and the good clippings that he could find. He's just so obviously obsessed with that story. How could you not be? But everything else had to be such an effort to try to do, because he could not stop talking about this story.

The Spokesman-Review was also a little bit obsessed, weren't they? ... There's this op-ed piece Smith wrote the community that sort of says, what's the matter with you? Wake up!

Yeah. ... I was really shocked. It was a real scolding, and not a general but a fairly specific [one]: And you in the clergy, is it because of his embrace of Christianity that you won't talk? And where are the school leaders who were worried about the children of Spokane? And the youth group, how come? Just wagging his finger at these people because they weren't upset enough about what his paper has done.

When I finally got over to Spokane -- now, this is many months after that column ran -- I wanted to ask him about it. I barely got a chance. He said: "I regret it. I'm sorry I wrote it." He said: "I believe it. I wish somebody else had said it." ... He recognized that that was not what he should be doing: You don't want to make this about Steve Smith or about The Spokesman-Review, but it clearly was. People in the town talked about West versus Spokesman-Review, like somehow this was a battle between the two of them.

Did The Spokesman-Review become too invested in the outcome of the story, judging by their coverage?

I really don't know if it was that they were too invested in the outcome, in the sense that they had to see him be recalled in order to kind of justify their work, because there was a federal investigation; that certainly is something that newspapers like to see. ...

I do think that it was a crusade. There was a sense of a growing crusade. You look at the breadth of stories. You have to try to even separate out the straight news stories, which was one part of this. Then there were editorials, and there were columns, and there was a parody song, "I Did It Bi Way," ... that was on their Web site that one of their columnists wrote. ...

There was the sense that it was a referendum on The Spokesman-Review. It became that, and I think that that was OK with Steve Smith. I don't say that now as a bad thing: He went in there, saw what happened in the past, didn't like it, didn't want to repeat those mistakes and said we're doing it differently: "I'm unleashing my reporters." You could tell how much he loved the work that Bill Morlin was doing on this story. He was proud of it. He stands up and defends it in front of criticism from all sorts of journalism experts and academics. But the story became at least part about The Spokesman-Review.

... Tell me the story you tell in your piece about West and this church [he went to].

I'm not sure how it first came up, but in one of my interviews with West, when ... there had been word that he had had "a newly developed relationship with God," I think is how he put it, he told me that he had been invited to a church in his old neighborhood, a prayer breakfast, soon after the scandal broke, and he decided to go, and he felt really welcome there and that he tries to go every Sunday.

I said, "What church is it?," because I wanted to call the pastor. And he said, "It's Bethel [African Methodist Episcopal (AME)]." I thought, wow, here's this middle-aged white guy going to a traditional black church. ...

So I went with him, ... and he was very welcome there. People hugged him and knew who he was. It's predominantly black, but there were other people there, and there were mixed-race couples as well. The mayor made a joke to me about being a white guy with no rhythm, because there was this great choir singing and a band, and the pastor really does a rousing job.

And the sermon is about sin, ... and he's just going on and on about the perils of the Internet. ... It's interesting, because at that church, what he gets is a pretty scary tale of burning in hell unless he changes his ways.

... Looking back at his life, there is some ability to dissociate himself from his actions. ...

Yeah, there were a couple of places where that was clear to me. Soon after the scandal, he did describe himself as gay and said he was being persecuted: "It was a brutal outing." But by the time I got there, he had moved on from that. He said: "I'm not gay, and I'm not bisexual. I never was. I was curious. I'm asexual. I just don't care." ...

I was totally confused by it. ... He talks about different times in his life when he acted on impulses and then didn't. But he talks about really personal things about while he was married and thoughts that he had then. Clearly he was thinking about sex with men a lot at different points in his life.

What do you think the truth is?

I don't know, and I'm convinced he doesn't know. I think he's really far from knowing what his sexuality is, much less being able to explain it to somebody else. I don't know how he gets there, but I don't think he knows. ...

He talks about being an asexual, but what comes clear then as we meet day after day is he's just sworn off sex. This is not so much "I don't have sexual feelings," but "I can't do this." And he would always combine it with the Internet, ... that somehow it was the computer here that he was fighting and not some urge or confusion on his own part. ... Those two things, the computer and sex, just seem like they became one in his mind.

And there is also this weird bifurcation between him and the character he's playing online. ...

We're in his office in the conference room next to his private office -- again, never without transcripts and notes and all these documents -- and looking at the chat transcripts, he said, "That's not me," gesturing to the chat. "That's make-believe; that's role-playing." I said at one point, "But you know you would meet these guys sometimes, that would be you meeting them, not TheRightBi-Guy," and he said, "That's role-playing; that's make-believe. I'm for real."

Sometimes, very rarely, the two would cross, but only very rarely. That was really striking to me, like he really had drawn some line here. ... TheRightBi-Guy would talk about Mayor Jim West. He would say to some of these guys, "Did you see the mayor on TV last night? He's so ugly, don't you think? I think he's a homophobe." ... That is really pretty disconnected from yourself.

... There's so much shame for a man from his generation. ... Maybe this is some kind of self-protection? ...

... When you start to ask about some of these things, ... he said to me, "Don't you think it makes me question myself?" I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Like, what did I do to put myself in that cosmic time and place?" ... That was another one of those passages that to me was so striking. It's like he's not sure what that means. ...

I think he would like to answer those questions, but he says, "Therapy, that's not for me." He's not going to explore it that way. His way of doing it is to cut off sex, to cut off the Internet and go to church. Through that he's hoping he will figure out who he really is and what his role in this whole thing is. ...

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posted nov. 14, 2006

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