Entrapment Methods Draw Journalistic Scrutiny
Newspapers Smear Republicans With Shady Tactics
A day after bombshell child sex and gay chat room participation allegations against Spokane Mayor Jim West rocked the Pacific Northwest, the focus is now turning to the tactics used to entrap him, as well as the effort to smear other Republicans by association.
Spokane's liberal, family-owned Spokesman-Review, has long had an adversarial relationship with the politically conservative region of about a half-million residents.
Was it fair to purposely lure the mayor into an Internet trap set by the paper? Have ethical boundaries been crossed?
Additionally, is it reasonable for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to use this story to smear all Republicans by association, as anti-gay hypocrites?
If West was a liberal Democrat, the news media wouldn't dream of luring him into a chat room with with a hired 18-year-old male, all to supposedly suggest he molested boys as a scout leader in the 1970s.
While West admits falling into the Internet trap, he denies the main allegations, saying they've been made by two convicted felons. Whether West molested them as boys is unclear and this entrapment provides no insight into that. For now, he's guilty of hypocrisy, not a felony.
Seattle's two daily newspapers took markedly different approaches to both angles of this story, the allegations themselves and the ethics of journalistic entrapment.
While the Seattle Times tread carefully into the matter, understanding the backlash potential, the partisan Seattle Post-Intelligencer seemed downright giddy about the opportunity for a Republican smear-fest.
The P-I was shameless in emphasizing West's GOP ties and "anti-gay agenda" in the very first sentence, while the Times rightly focused on the allegations themselves and immediate civic fallout.
(Seattle Times- Jonathan Martin- Andrew Garber- Ralph Thomas- 6 May 2005)
SPOKANE — Jim West, the mayor of the state's second-largest city and a powerful former legislator, hunkered down in his City Hall office yesterday as allegations that he molested two boys in the 1970s touched off what one state senator called an "earthquake in Spokane politics."
West strongly denied reports in yesterday's Spokesman-Review newspaper accusing him of pedophilia and of using the perks of his office to entice young men in a gay chat room.
At a noontime news conference yesterday, he called the molestation allegations "incidents that supposedly occurred 24 years ago as alleged by two convicted felons and about which I have no knowledge."
He acknowledged visiting a gay chat line on the Internet and said he had "relations with adult men." The Spokesman-Review hired a computer expert to pose as an 18-year-old in the chat room to help establish West's participation in the online forum.
Spokane Mayor Jim West, who championed an anti-gay agenda during his tenure as one of the most powerful Republicans in the Legislature, yesterday admitted to using the trappings of his current office to entice what he thought was a young adult man but denied allegations that he molested two young boys more than 20 years ago.
West confirmed to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane that he offered gifts, favors and a City Hall internship during Internet chats with a man he believed was 18. The online pen pal was actually a forensic computer expert working for the newspaper. After the story hit the newsstands yesterday, West sent city staffers a remorseful e-mail.
"I want to sincerely apologize to you personally for the shame I have brought to the Mayor's office and the city," West wrote. "I stumbled and let you down."
The accusations of child molestation stem from The Spokesman-Review's three-year investigation and interviews with two felons who said West fondled them and forced them to perform sexual acts on him when they were Boy Scouts.
Notice the papers can't even agree on whether West admits or denies the chat room allegations?
The P-I also wrongly hedged the lead paragraph to their ethics story, claiming experts were divided on the tactics used, while the Times was clear that this isn't a generally accepted journalistic practice.
The use by The Spokesman-Review of a computer expert posing as an 18-year-old man in a gay chat room raises ethical questions about whether or under what circumstances news organizations should use such techniques.
"I think it's a risk, a journalistic risk, to ask people to believe you're telling the truth when you're engaging in a fictional approach," said Aly Colon, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla., school dedicated to teaching journalists. "The threshold has to be very high."
The paper reported that Spokane Mayor Jim West used his public position to entice young men he met in an online chat room on a gay Web site. The newspaper detailed West's activities at the site.
Ethics experts were divided yesterday whether The Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper acted properly when it hired an investigator to pose online as an underage gay boy, who was then solicited for sex by Spokane Mayor Jim West.
West was targeted yesterday in a major Spokesman-Review story alleging that the mayor has a 25-year history of using positions of public trust to develop sexual relationships with boys and young men.
For part of that story, the paper in November hired a Spokane-based forensic computer expert who has helped track child pornography through the use of online chat technology. The computer expert, whose name the paper did not reveal, posed as Moto-Brock, a 17-year-old high school student, first on the Gay.com Web site and later on AOL Instant Messenger.
The computer expert, a former U.S. Customs Service agent, kept records of the conversations showing that West offered Moto-Brock a City Hall internship, raising the question of whether the mayor was abusing his office.
The P-I reporter manages to find another instructor from the Poynter Institute to partially defend the Spokesman-Review's practices, but nobody seems to be singing the paper's praises, so how are experts divided?
However this story ultimately plays out for Mayor West, the newspapers in charge of informing the public, outside of perhaps the Seattle Times, cannot be trusted due to personal agendas made instantly clear in their coverage so far.
Update: Seattle P-I columnist Joel Connelly, never one to miss the party, uses this as an excuse for a below-the-belt slam job on Spokane and Eastern Washington.
What does any of this have to do with the allegations against Jim West? It's just another arrogant Seattle attack on a conservative region of Washington state:
Surface impressions suggest that Spokane is a city of propriety, peace and order, "a well-groomed town on a tight leash," as Inland Empire native Timothy Egan dubbed it in his 1992 book, "Breaking Blue."
Look in the city's closets, however, and you'll find secrets divulged in the last 25 years.
The infamous "South Hill Rapist," who stalked Spokane's prosperous neighborhoods from 1979 to early 1981, turned out to be Kevin Coe, son of the managing editor of the now-defunct Spokane Chronicle.
In a bizarre twist, the rapist's imperious and influential mother went to prison after trying to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor who convicted her son.
Oklahoma-born jazz musician Billy Tipton played at clubs around the country, married and adopted children, and finally settled in the Spokane Valley. A frantic call from Tipton's adopted son in 1989 summoned paramedics to his home.
As the dying musician was laid out, and stripped of his clothes, one paramedic turned and asked, "Son, did your father have a sex change operation?" Both learned, at that moment, the ultra-secret of Tipton's life. "He" was really a she.
Working on a master's degree in the late 1980s -- a history of sheriffs who preceded him -- Pend Oreille County Sheriff Anthony Bamonte came upon an unsolved half-century-old murder. It was the fatal 1935 shooting of a marshal in the town of Metaline Falls. As detailed by Egan, Bamonte uncovered an extensive cover-up involving the Spokane police. It centered on a detective who took bribes, was linked to a theft ring and may have shot more than one man.
Check here, Orbusmax, NorthWest Republican, Drunken Republican of Spokane and the liberal Blatherwatch, for the latest on this saga. Matt of Rosenblog fame has his own analysis now up at Sound Politics.