What are your thoughts on this story --- your views of the newspaper's investigation? Mayor Jim West? Where does one draw the line on the issue of a politician's private life and the public's right to know?
Kudos for a documentary, very well done. When the Jim West story first broke, I was as shocked as most Washingtonians. I had worked with Jim West in my role as a news reporter both in Spokane and at the legislature. I found the Spokesman-Review's foundation for publishing details of the Mayor's secret life a little unsettling. What emerged were sketchy implications of an abuse of power and a question of how will the story best serve the community's interests. The real story here is the hypocracy of Jim West's politics and opposing forces of a latent secret life that emerged in him. As with recent disclosures of Republican congressional figures and right-wing evangelicals, the Jim West story should be remembered the next time someone attempts to influence voters or patrons with a radical anti-homosexual agenda. Thanks again to Frontline for providing a comprehensive story about the story.
Thank you, (from a 68-year-old, female, heterosexual, mother and Christian woman,) for your portrayal of two slices of human nature in such a way as to educate (hopefully) and provoke compassion and empathy, even deep respect----for the dignity of a fellow human being, who while being falsely vilified, became the only noble, honorable person in the whole story! Thank God for those in the community who knew Jim West, and /or just embraced him for himself, with Christlike, and the highest of human, love and acceptance! My response was a torrent of sadness for the lowest, basest of our human instincts, until I chose to focus on the beauty and nobility of this tortured, yet very strong man, Jim West.
What has happened to our American foundation of "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law"?
As modern people, are we now too busy and inwardly focused to unquestioningly accept all that media feeds us? I did not see a conviction of Mr. West of a crime in a court of law, and I did not see investigative reporting by the Spokane newspaper in this matter.
Thank you for reporting this complex story with a quality that I admire and respect. Now, when I hear that old media sound bite "and so and so has just..." I will say "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law". I hope others do too.
I see in this man the self-hatred and denial that occurs in a society that thrives on cohesiveness through the vilification of select minorities. There is a difference between homosexuality and pedophilia. Sexually molesting an 8 year old is different than masturbating with a 20 year old.
I believe the section on Ryan Oelrich is telling. The online chats and the conversations conveyed by Ryan seem more akin to a man struggling to find others to relate to. Jim West suppressed his true sexuality for decades. The kinship and attraction he felt toward younger men coincides with the period of their lives when they are also discovering themselves and coming to grips with their homosexuality.
The true impact of this report is different than the title might suggest. It is less about exposing the evilness of Jim West and more about the irresponsibility of parts of the media. How can Steve Smith talk about feeling "awful" about ruining a mans life and turn a 45 minute breakdown into an expose; and a recall into validation of their "crusade."
I, too, am an editor. However, I would never approve of a reporter so blatantly destroying a man's life - and certainly never with so little evidence. Prior to (and after) his engaging in conversations on gay.com, Jim West seemed to have fulfilled his duty to his constituents. Voter dissatisfaction was an apparent result of confidential, personal information unethically obtained by a newspaper. The issue was clearly homosexuality and not abuse of office.
Gay.com is an open forum that prohibits underage participation. West never attempted to solicit sex from minors, nor did he seem to initiate contact with the newspaper's "spy." When confronted with evidence, he denied nothing. Attempts to connect him with a pedophile were extraordinarily inappropriate and were never supported by any concrete evidence.
Your story has given me pause as an editor, a reporter, and as a citizen. Are we all susceptible to such wholesale character assassination?
While it is unlikely that the reporter or his editors have lost much sleep over the destruction of this man's life (having decided the man's fate in a conversation that occurred over "2-3 days"), I do hope that your vivid, objective story alerts others about the "power of the pen."
I have been reading the online discussion with interest, as a gay man living in Spokane, who chatted with Mayor West online (unknowingly). Just for the record, the paper, which has been staunchly conservative for its entire history, and endorses Republicans for nearly every office, endorsed Jim West for mayor. After the fact, it turned out that the paper had information about West's sexual orientation during the campaign, which they never questioned him about. Jim West pledged to assist the paper in a public/private partnership gone sour, while his opponent pledged to make the paper's owners accountable. Two weeks after Jim West succeeded in arbitrating a agreement between the city and the paper, one which was favorable for the paper's owners, this article appeared. Coincidence? You decide....... This was decidedly NOT a witch hunt of a liberal paper out to demonize a conservative politician. Jim West's hypocrisy did him in, but there's another story, which remains untold, which is the hypocrisy of the paper, the editor, and the owners who used Jim West and when his usefulness to them was over, discarded him like yesterday's trash.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Congratulations to FRONTLINE for examining an issue that may very well have been relegated to history's salacious tabloid scrap heap, for this story had so much more.
This story evoked a range of emotions. Certainly their was disgust at yet another example of the hypocrisy of an elected official or church leader. The lessons here are really for the young people. Beware that things you may do, whether it be teasing a kid in the playground or sponsoring mean spirited legislation, could cause you pain and regret for a lifetime. In the end of Jim West's life, I am sure the pain from his cancer could be somewhat eased with medications, but the pain caused by his decades old hypocrisy probably lingered.
I was also disgusted with the newspaper reporting, especially their insistence that there must be a connection between Jim West's homosexuality and child molestation. They really gave legitimate journalism a black eye. My final disgust was at the abuse of the election recall process. An election recall should be limited to misfeasance, malfeasance, or criminal activity of an elected official. Newspaper driven hysteria should not fall into that category.
In the end, I had to admire Jim West for his courage and desire to finish the job he was elected to do. He could have taken the easy way out by resigning, jumping on a plane, checking himself into some kind of rehabilitation clinic and having a spokesman speak for him. At least this, yet-another-story-of-hypocrisy, ended with a fresh twist.
Yes, Mr. West had a secret life. Yes, in some ways he was a hypocrit. Yes, as an elective official he can expect exposure. Nevertheless, he did not commit any crimes, and he did not really offer jobs for sex. He was accused by a newspaper with an agenda, they kept forcing their agenda on him, and the public.
As a middle class American male who is not gay, my verdict is to find the newspaper guilty of abuse of power and responsibility. This is not the first time the media has ruined someone and it will not be the last. This is , in my view, the lesson of your story.
Los Angeles, CA
Poor Jim West! Poor heterosexual american world who hate so much! Jim is just one of many hundreds/thousends of people who suffered their whole life long and as a lesbian I can testify to that. Poor power and control freaks who are only interested in one thing: publish hate! Poor religious fanatics who preach love but exercise hate! Who is the "sinner" here!
As a very gay, very out, very politically liberal, I was especially disturbed by the absence of compassion and solidarity from a gay community succumbing to the pressure of an entire community that had found a scapegoat--the perfect, moralizing, self-righteous, conservative burger--for all the festering bias and irrationality against homosexuality.
It was appalling to see the vengeance against a humiliated gay man terrorized by intolerance and hatred by ordinary people against being a homosexual that he saw his entire life; even participating in to stay suspicion and the tireiron.
There is little wonder he would seek protection in the darkness of the closet. For gay people who move in and out of the closet at work, at the gym, in the bank, at the gas station, to a neighbor, to a stranger, to a store clerk, etc. 7 time 70 times a day. There should be no judgment against those wto find comfort there too, especially for those who are too fearful to step outside to even find affection and surcease from loneliness, let alone find fulfillment as people of dignity.
It seems he was the mayor that wouldn't quit. Did the man ever stop to think about what the fine city of Spokane felt? How embarresed and ashamed they were? I am sorry that he had to be outed that way, but I do not wish for my tax paying dollars to be spent on favors for someone whom he met in a chat room, gay or not!!!!!!!!!
What an incredibly sad story this was; but also, unfortunately, an accurate picture of America now, and what we've all become. How that rotten little newspaper, Spokane's 'Spokesman-Review', from it's reporter to,and especially, it's editor, so exemplifies where we've evolved in news-reporting/journalism.(That editors story sure was transparent and lame) And it was great how you showed that at-home gathering of 'concerned Spokane citizens'(circa 1692); just 'gaining momentum' everytime they interrupted each other with more, and better, lies/fuel/hate.(How proud that group of friends must be with themselves!) Your program tonight was, as I've always found it, insightful and unbiased. I thought you painted a complete picture of all involved, including the main character/victim.(Not that it does, or should, matter; but I'm an unapologetic, straight, heterosexual.) Thank you, very much.
The United States can always be counted on for a bloodthirsty, hysteria-driven public spectacle. Like the Salem tribunals and the McCarthy hearings, this toxic cauldron of self-righteousness exposes much much more about the formidable power of American paranoia than the hypocrisy of any one man or woman's private life. Most fascinating of all here, in light of McGreevey, Foley, Haggard, and now West, is how the politically-correct, gay-friendly left has wholeheartedly, unironically co-opted the Puritan paradigm of public shaming. A new kind of bullet in a new kind of bible.
Jim West publicly admitted his moral guilt in being bisexual. He admitted his torment in struggling against it. I do not believe that he ever molested any children. However, he should have resigned from being Mayor. I feel sorry for the man. Nothing remains hidden for long, whether good or bad.
I met with you when you were in Spokane, I am the women who started the recall against former Mayor James West. It was a long and hard road, and uphill battle if you will. To fight the "system", and not having a legal degree, and VERY few people in the community wanting to help, or stand up to the powers of James West. It was NEVER an issue, for me whether he was gay or not. It was CLEARLY an abuse of public office. The Recall took 6 months. I went from an average mother, to my "private" life being exposed to the entire city of Spokane.I certainly feel for the man. I can not image what hell he went though in the depths of his soul. I am truely sorry for the hidden life he felt the need to live, in order to achive his political asspurations. But when you are a public offical, your private life is not private any longer. I stand firm on the Recall. He was a good mayor, but a hypocrite and a public disgrace to our city.Thank you for sharing your story.
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