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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?


I really enjoyed your story on Mayor Jim West. I have to say that I thought he was getting his just rewards thoughout the entire story until I heard the taped commentary between him and the newspaper reporters. When they accused him of using his position to obtain sex from their undercover agent I thought it was completely insane. When did internships mean anything. Mayor West was clearly enjoying his fantasy of having an encounter with a barely legal guy. When the reporter stated that they themselves could not be the individuals actually corresponding with Mayor West in the Gay Chat rooms because of ethical problems but it was ok to hire outside people to perform these actions it seemed simular to the logic that our current Executive Branch of Government used to ship suspects to Syria because we could not torture them ourselves. I believe these people wanted to bring Mayor West down for reasons that were not covered in the show.

Alexandria, Virginia


The film about Jim West's difficult private life and sad public demise at the hands of an overzealous, overly imaginative newspaper editor and his self-important reporter provoked many feelings in me, and I have thought long and hard about those feelings.

In the end, its a story we have all heard before. An old story, A boring story. A story from decades ago. The closeted public figure and his life destroyed by a witch-hunting small-town press; the crippling anguish of a closeted life and it's mis-steps; the hatred of homosexuals stirred up to act as a means to a terrible end.

Jim West was exonerated by the FBI. No wrongdoing occoured in the way he offered non-paying internships to young men he liked. No acts of child sex-abuse were ever proven in his past. The man was guilty of no crime, this is what has been proven. However, in this world, his guilt was of being homosexual, and that crime needs no court for a conviction.

The most telling moment, and the most disturbing moment, in the entire documentory for me was the group interview of persons connected to the recall effort. In it, one particular man, fists clenched in rage, veins bulging in his neck with anger, and eyes fierce with hatred makes a... "slip" in his vitriolic, unfounded accusations. "...killed" he says. "We know Jim West killed those boys..." he begins to say, then catches himself. "Diddled" he means. We know he's wrong, he knows he's wrong, but still, in the next breath he manages to use the word "sociopath". I was shocked. Killed? Sociopath? How did we get from disproven spurious accusations to... multiple child murder inside this one man's head?Here is a man attacking someone more defenceless than any child. The dead. Here is a man enraged at someone he has never met, has never been harmed by.Here is a man unable to separate in his mind truth (proven innocence) from fiction.

And what a horrible fiction it is. Ancient, disproven, and baseless allegations turn from just that to multiple child murder in this man's brain, albeit for an instant. But in that instant, that momentary slip of the tongue, volumes were spoken, a thousand questions raised... and much made glaringly clear.

In the psychies of most Americans, Homosexuality is inextricably tangled up with child molesters and worse.This is where the true crime, sociopathy and danger lie, in the sociopathic hatred toward homosexuals and the irrational connection made between homosexuality and child abuse, and worse, in the minds of far, far too many Americans. This fellow made a clear demonstration of this sickness in himself for the entire country to see.

It is when the sickness this spitting, hissing viper of an individual inadvertantly exposed in himself, and by extension our society, is cured, and witch-hunts perpetrated upon innocents by the true sociopaths are forever ended, tragic stories like that of Jim West will finally be banished to the dust bins of history, where they truly belong.

It's too late for Jim West. I can only hope he is in a better place now than this cruel world.


Donell McDonell

Donell McDonell
Victoria, BC Canada


As a native of the North Idaho and a conservative (and straight) Republican, may I say that this story reeks of sensationalism. The Spokesman, the "Big City" newspaper when I was growing up, did its readers a disservice by not only baiting the Mayor with an underage young man that the Mayor inconveniently failed to seduce until he was 18, they then broadcast the news that he was involved in a relationship with a 22 year old male - who was also legal!

Let me in on a little secret of big city politics that perhaps has not made it out to the Northwest - favors and friends go together. It's been that way in Spokane, Syracuse, and Sedona since man was invented, whether or not we like it. One's sexual orientation in political favoritism matters only matters to those with an agenda. Like, say, the Spokesman.

Their agenda is really best presented by one of the final scenes, in which the editorial staff displays rampant sexual bias by characterizing the various headlines that could explain the Mayor's recall. They were so comfortable with the "friendly" Frontline cameras, they let their real feelings show. If that were the Washington Post, they would have been fired. Hell, if that had been the Washington Times, they would have been fired. If I had expressed such blatant negative gay sexual sentiment in my workplace, I would probably be fired.

Wake up Spokane. The so-called progressives that run your newspaper are bigots, and they just showed your rears to the nation.

Lance Loewenstein
Kansas City, MO


I've lived in Spokane for over 20 years and have seen many mayors come and go. I found Jim West to be very competent and got the job done, even with the City Council right in his face. He should be remembered as a great leader, not as an alleged pedophile. His sexual orientation and doings behind closed doors shouldn't be of anyone's concern. If he did do the things that made him resign from office, then I say let God punish him. May Jim West finally rest in peace.

Rick Morris
Spokane, WA


As a long-time resident of Spokane, I remain shaken and appalled at the irresponsible actions of Steven Smith and his staff at the Spokesman-Review newspaper. I find it especially disturbing that these "journalists" were able to destroy a man's life and career with a series of allegations without a shred of evidence to back them up. To top it all off, these attacks and this vindictive campaign was conducted against someone who was dying of cancer. I only hope that the last months of Mr. Smith's life are not similarly visited by such hate-filled persecution.

At Jim West's funeral, which I attended, a lone bigot, consumed with hatred for West even after his death, stood up and shouted "Child abuser! THAT'S his legacy!" before being hustled outside. A final, venomous lie about a man whose life was consumed by physical and mental suffering: this is the end result of the efforts of Mr. Smith and his colleagues. May God have mercy on their souls -- the kind of mercy they denied Jim West.

Rey Smith
Spokane, Washington


Spokane has been struggling for at least 25 years, with mixed results, to shed its reputation as a parochial backwater and join the ranks of regional cities like Boise and Portland that have successfully attacted intellectual capital and the smart economic growth that comes with it. Stephen Smith and The Spokesman-Review, aided and abetted by an assortment of local self-aggrandizers who should know better, have now assured us this struggle will continue for many years to come.

Douglas Siddoway
Spokane, Washington


Evidently the Spokesman-Review isn't finished with its efforts to out public officials. In September 2006, the paper ran a front-page piece about the city's deputy mayor, Jack Lynch. The story was loaded with wink-wink, nudge-nudge innuendo that implied that Mr. Lynch was cruising in a local park and had gotten into some kind of altercation that gave him a black eye. Mr. Lynch then took a medical leave of absence for a short period. Steven Smith's website discussion on this article drew strong negative responses from many readers who pretty much skewered the paper for its questionnable judgement and absence of solid facts. Later letters to the editor were equally harsh. I don't know what kind of information the S-R was working from, but they appear to have dropped the story...for now. Many Spokanites -- in the aftermath of West's death -- are feeling some guilt, certainly ambivalence, about these witch hunts. After watching Frontline's excellent program last night, I can't help but wonder -- To whom is the Spokesman-Review accountable? What is the check on their power to ruin lives and destroy reputations? It is very difficult for a public official to win a libel suit against the news media, but perhaps there really has been "a reckless disregard for the truth" in their reporting.

Liz Cox
Veradale, Washington

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Read the Jack Lynch article and the paper's discussion of it.


Thank you for your show about Mayor Jim West. I was born and raised in Spokane and have lived here my entire life. Our city is divided; a majority of white conservative christians, and a minority of liberal thinking, creative, open-minded people. I cringed when I watched the group of "influential citizens" discuss Mayor West -"I know he's guilty, I looked into his eyes!". Great... These are the people who don't know the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality. Once the Spokesman-Review starting slinging accusations, Mayor West never had a chance.

All my life I have heard stories about the Cowles family and their manipulations in the affairs of Spokane. After Mayor West was kicked out of office, another mayor was selected for us to serve out the remainder of his term. Not elected, selected from the dysfunctional City Council (who Mayor West stood up to).

I wish someone would do an investigative piece asking who really profited from the outing/ousting of Mayor Jim West? In the classic words of DeepThroat: "Follow the money."

Jacki Putnam
Spokane, WA


Unlike most of your other respondents, I am ambivalent about your Frontline episode. The Jim West story is a personal tragedy; not a story of the abuse of political power. I wish you and others would simply let the man rest.

On the other hand, you did out an abusive editor - perhaps the final irony of this story. Most of us in Spokane have know this since the beginning of this horrible episode. Smith has taken a credible regional newpaper and relegated it to a sensational tabloid. Your national outing of Smith and the abuse perpetrated on an individual and a city has been a public service. Thank you for that.

Bill Gray
Spokane, Washington


As a 3rd generation Spokane-ite and formerly active Republican during the 80's I recall Senator West's career very well. He was an outstanding legislator and certainly did NOT have an anti-gay agenda in 80's. Like most young Republicans of the time he focused on states rights and the un-controlled growth of government. It was a tragedy to see his life and career end in such a way.

Frontline and I find ourselves on the same side: The Cowles feudalistic domination of Spokane through their personal newsletter - The Spokesman Review. The story is simple: West was not a Review lackey like so many in Spokane city politics. If he was, they would have defended his right to live his chosen lifestyle. It was an old school power struggle.

Their domination is evidenced by the residents of the Spokane Valley formation of home rule ousting the same old city power brokers and the evident economic growth of the north side and the valley while tumbleweeds roll down Spokane's empty streets.

West was not part of their agenda. I cannot envision the enormous difficulties of being gay in Spokane, a leader and not on the Cowles team. Jim found out the hard way.

Patrick Williams
Tacoma, WA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

See our response to Grey Presley's posting for more on the relationship between the Cowles family, the paper and the city.


I found your show utterly appalling, but not for the reasons previous letter-writers have stated. You gave West a pass at every opportunity and you have NO understanding of what it means to be gay in this culture. Your program was instead committed to the maintenance of the closet. We're consistently encouraged to feel that poor Jim West was persecuted by the mean nasty newspaper editors. They were (for once) doing their job as professional journalists. He wasn't doing his -- either as Mayor or as a gay man. That you bought his claim that he never thought about having sexual relations with men until after his colon cancer diagnosis is laughable in the extreme. Likewise hilarious is the regard you show towards his obviously fake marriage.

I am 59 years old and have been out of the closet since high school. I have met a number of closeted men over the years and West fits their profile to a T. The difference is West was in a position of power. Not as much power as Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, or more recently Jim Foley and Ted Haggard, but power nonetheless.

For me the most disgusting part of the program were the excuses made for his voting against gay rights. The look on his face when he said he'd "probably" not vote that way today said it all. He loathed himself for being gay and loathed the out and proud even more.

I have no pity for him whatsoever and neither should any self-respecting member of glbt community.

David Ehrenstein
Los Angeles, California


Dear Frontline,

Congratulations on another excellent production. I lived in Spokane, Washington and worked on economic development downtown from 2003-2005. I worked peripherally with Mayor West but was in a position to watch him BE the Mayor of Spokane. As a skeptical outsider, I was constantly impressed. He was a strong singular leader, and yet was consistently inclusive in processes. He trampled bureaucratic silos in city government and brooked no mediocrity in City Hall. He didn't micromanage, choosing instead to provide an inspiring and realistic vision of Spokane's future. Do you know any Mayors like this? And he adored Spokane. He simply loved his city. This is my memory of him: he was an excellent mayor.

Maggie Bergin
Holyoke, MA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Click here for more impressions of Jim West from those who knew him as mayor and in the state Legislature.


The Sportsman-Review played its own game of "To Catch a Predator." It contracted out its own sting operation, confronted the mayor with all the subtlety of a ham-fisted detective, and "broke" its story with allegations of past sexual molestation. In the end, we learn that one thing is missing - evidence of predatory guilt. Is the editor Steven Smith chastened? Not in the least. His suggestion for his paper's headline after the Mayor's recall - "We Won" - revealed a mentality as duplicitous as the mayor's. The mayor is gone; who is Mr. Smith's next target? Thank you for the great program.

Scott Porter
Seneca Falls, New York


I find the HYPOCRISY of yet another Republican "in the closet" sponsoring fiercely anti-gay legislation to be commendable, but the sense of the Spokane-Statesmen Newspaper's "objection" smelled like a "witch-hunt" in the name of ratings and selling more newspapers, a la The National Enquirer. It's sad that his tormented man had such ambition and yet had to bury that ambition in the name of "pandering to the unwashed, "unintellectual" masses" of suburban Spokane, as though homosexuality didn't exist there, even if in the shadows of gay bars and high school locker rooms and pro-sports.

Homosexuality is never an easy subject, but it is certainly NOT going to just "go away" because parents don't want to admit the truth to themselves, or even "see" it in others they've convinced themselves "must be heterosexual" simply because he doesn't fit into comfortable "stereotypes" of effeminacy or transvestitism or "whatever". This, too, in 2006, is also HIGHLY DISTURBING, considering that Seattle, Spokane's neighbor, is gayer than San Francisco (trust me, I've been there twice, and even I was shocked ! WoW!!)

I'm a democrat, and no fan of either side, especially homophobes. This man brought much of this sorrow upon himself in his ambitious quest for public office. He paid a very steep price, and now he's dead. All around, just a sad commentary on politics, personal life and the UGLY HIDDEN PREJUDICE that still lurks in every suburb in this nation, circa 2006.

Chiloquin, OREGON


This was such a sad story. I found it difficult to hold the hypocrisy of the mayor's past actions against him. It made me think very badly of the people of Spokane, but as I reflected on the rarely acknowledged homophobia that I and others still experience here in San Francisco with a 99.9% straight Police Department and many other homophobic city departments, I guess they are really no less liberal or conservative that we are in this alleged "Gay Mecca".

The show's presentation of the views of some Gay people at what appeared to be a single meeting was distressing to me. I suspect and hope this was not the majority view of the so-called "Gay Community" in Spokane. Again, they seemed to be mostly concerned with what others (straights) thought of them, and how the mayor's acts would reflect on them if they gave him compassion. Their compassion for him seemed to come with the condition of repentance for past acts. Ironically, it too all sounds like stuff learned and drilled in them from the Bible in their early years. It can take a lifetime or more to unlearn those years of brainwashing.

My tearful reaction to the show reminded me of that day-care pedophilia witchhunt story that Frontline did several years ago that also brought me to tears for the lives wrongly destroyed, that time in furtherance of a District Attorney's career.

I think we have no right to judge what the mayor did or did not do for we have not walked in his shoes.

I was also saddened that the young Gay man, Mr. Oelrich, said he outed the mayor because he was worried what people would say about him if they found out he had kept silent. He is still quite young, but I hope he has grown more comfortable with himself since then, and upon reflecting upon the mayor's death. He needs to know that what he thinks of himself is what is important, without all those little voices of judgment that society put in his head. ...

When Mr. Oelrich hits 50, as I recently did, his viewpoint on what he may now consider "dirty old men" (my words, not his) may change. It seems to me they had enough in common to have an intelligent conversation about things other than sex, no matter if that is what the mayor may have preferred. Who hasn't been in the position of attempting to have an intelligent conversation with someone you really enjoy talking to although you know they would prefer sex with you rather than talking to you? Certainly most women and gay men would have for sure, and often in the real workplace where a paycheck is involved. It is not necessarily even sexual harassment, but when it is, how many people actually feel it necessary or best to file a complaint?

I did not come out of the closet to myself or others until I was 24 and had moved away from the "Bible Belt". While never having acted on this myself (yet, I should add), I can certainly understand the concept of there being a difference between the mayor's chronological age and his need to connect with gay guys of the age he spent living someone else's life, instead of his own.

I have never had sex with a woman much less married one to hide my "Gayness" from others, but I did go on two dates with women in my life. I The first one asked me out. Luckily the night I was to pick up the second one to take her with me to a company Christmas party, I met my first male lover (a relationship that lasted 5-1/2 years) and came out of the closet. I was 2 hours late picking her up for the party, but never told her why. Girls, don't look for straight men at the YMCA.

Mark Pope
san francisco, ca


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posted nov. 14, 2006

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