Tuesday, February 21, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Last May, The Spokesman-Review outed Jim West, Spokane's Republican mayor, and it seemed like an open and shut case. In a series of breathless articles, the newspaper accused him of luring young gay men online with promises of jobs and gifts and also insinuated that West was a pedophile.
Last week, however, the U.S. Department of Justice ended its nine-month investigation of West without bringing criminal charges. It found that the powerful politician had not traded jobs for sex and there was no link to pedophilia, even after they confiscated three personal computers and 60 computer disks.
Upon further examination, it appears that Jim West may have gotten a raw deal fueled by soft homophobia, prurient reporting and maybe political revenge. The newspaper did more than simply "out" West - it obliterated him and then stomped on his remains.
I still have nothing but contempt for West and view him as a vile and repugnant human being. While in Olympia, as Senate majority leader, he was infamous for his foul temper and his virulent hatred of anything remotely gay. West is a portrait of a self-loathing closet case that protected his career by gay bashing.
In 1986, West sponsored a bill that would have banned gay men and lesbians from working in day-care centers, schools and some state agencies. This legislation called for screening prospective employees for their sexuality and firing employees who were out of the closet. The bill, in effect, would have forced thousands of state workers to live the same empty double-life as West.
West also proposed a much-ridiculed bill to criminalize teen sex - even though he apparently has no problem hitting on boys in their late teens. The bill failed and he was nearly laughed out of office.
With such a heinous record, it was a huge shock to the citizens of Washington when The Spokesman-Review launched a series of articles with the devastating banner headline: "West Tied To Sex Abuse In 70's, Using Office to Lure Young Men."
The article goes on to make West appear to be Satan. Here is how it begins:
"For a quarter century, the man who is now Spokane's mayor has used positions of public trust -- as a sheriff's deputy, Boy Scout leader and powerful politician -- to develop relationships with boys and young men."
The Spokesman Review also hired a private investigator to pose as an 18-year-old boy to catch West trolling for sex on Gay.com.
Now, let's strip away the rightful glee at West's glorious and well-deserved downfall and dispassionately review the evidence.
First, The Spokesman-Review was correct to "out" West, given his prominent role in opposing gay rights. His public votes were cast to deflect his private lies, and thus his hypocrisy was rightfully brought to light.
Second, the charges of child sexual abuse seem to be reckless, based on no more than innuendo and witnesses with dubious credibility. Indeed the two men who came forth to accuse West of child molestation both, as the newspaper pointed out, struggled with drug addiction and incarceration. This is not to say that the witnesses were necessarily lying. But they never pressed charges and the evidence was so flimsy, that the accusations should not have been printed in the newspaper.
Third, having read the transcript of the online chat, the feds were right to close this case. The mayor never promised a job in exchange for sex. Indeed, the online investigator is the one who brought up the topic of working for West exclaiming, "I want an internship!" If anything, this was entrapment and releasing the tawdry transcript gratuitously humiliated West by making his private conversations public. How many critics of West would like their most intimate on-line chats printed in their hometown daily newspaper?
Beyond West's sickening hypocrisy, he is guilty of no more than using city computers to cruise for young men - luring them by name-dropping and offering gifts of sports memorabilia. This is no different than what goes on with millions of straight men that search online and at bars for younger women and drive corvettes to impress them. The assumption that this unquestionably legal behavior tied him in any way to the unspeakable crime of pedophilia strikes me as somewhat anti-gay, in that the newspaper was too quick to link homosexuality with potential child abuse.
The former mayor's behavior was dishonest and unseemly, but not illegal. It pains me to defend Jim West, but The Spokesman-Review unfairly dragged this man's reputation through the dirt, which is unfair, even for a pig like Jim West who has spent his entire career wallowing in the mud.