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Frontline Fallout 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he big loser in the Frontline story about Jim West wasn't Jim West, the accused, but the Spokesman-Review, the accuser -- especially editor Steve Smith and lead reporter Bill Morlin. Unfortunately, Spokane gets drawn into the paper's wake.





Given the mountain of e-mails on the Frontline Web site denouncing the editor's sting operation and his reporters' tactics, you would think that the Review might show at least some reflection. Taken together with the FBI investigation, which concluded that Mayor West's so-called abuses of power were of trivial importance, we might even expect some contrition. But no, Smith goes on the attack and offers up a rambling defense, which serves only to dig the hole deeper. Surely he must be troubled to find that the harshest criticism actually comes from his peers. The Boston Globe and Seattle Times took serious issue with the way our daily handled the story. New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan, after reviewing the program, wrote that West was "a victim of a contemporary line of Kafkaesque persecution and in the end an almost wholly sympathetic figure."





What the Frontline report makes clear is that the paper's charges were always much thinner, based on far more innuendo and reliant on far weaker sources than I, or, for that matter, most of the Spokane public ever understood. West had set himself up, no doubt about that. His record of supporting gay-bashing legislation made him vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. While Bill Morlin will tell Frontline that his story was always about "abuse of power," he, perhaps accidentally, admits that his original interest in West was piqued by reports that West had led a public life of hypocrisy. Translated, Morlin knew that he had a juicy "outing" story on his hands.





To obtain more evidence, Smith approves the sting operation, using a former law enforcement official to pose as a 17-year-old boy on Gay.com. Morlin, in response to a Frontline question, then draws a truly astonishing distinction. He admits that his own professional code of ethics wouldn't permit him to present himself as someone he wasn't; however, if the paper hires a consultant who has no such scruples, well, he says, "I have no problem with that."





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t was the sting that led the Review to what would become the "abuse of power" charge. Morlin and his colleague Karen Dorn Steele dropped the net on West in an interview conducted in the Review Tower in May of 2005. The audio recording of Morlin in action, replayed by Frontline, was deeply disturbing:





Morlin: "Who is Motobrock, Jim?"





West: Long pause, and then a brief acknowledgment as someone "interesting."





Morlin: "In fact, you offered him a city job?"





West denies the charge and reiterates that the position was an unpaid internship. Says West: "I have lots of interns."





Morlin (voice rising): "Jim, why don't you just come clean with us and tell us what happened here." (That's word for word -- not even respect for the office, not even "Mayor West.")





Morlin: "You just offered this man the trappings of your office... In this book are two sessions of on-line sex."





Very distressing stuff. Morlin comes off like a wannabe cop giving the third degree. I can almost see the light bulb swaying overhead. This wasn't an interview; it was an inquisition bordering on thuggery.





It gets worse: In his interview with Frontline, Morlin plays the Louis role in Casablanca: He was shocked -- shocked! -- to learn about all that "Internet sex" (which, of course, isn't sex at all; it's fantasy).





But so what? The "so what" is that the Review uses it blithely to segue from shock to the "smoking gun." Next came the charges, based largely on guilt by association, about what happened at Camp Cowles more than 20 years ago. The paper used innuendo to buttress its now expanding list of charges (predatory sex, etc.), and by wrapping all this together and calling it "fact," the writers and editors manage to pull off a sleight of hand that masks what now seems clear was always their objective: As I said, a juicy outing.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & bout what took place 20 years ago: Who knows? Yes, West was a close buddy of Deputy David Hahn, who was no doubt a pedophile. But what now seems clear is that whatever happened or didn't happen more than 20 years ago isn't known, and, in any case, never had anything to do with Motobrock other than to provide the Review with more grist for its mill.





By rounding out West, Frontline did what the Review should have done. Rather than a crime uncovered (abuse of office), Frontline discovered that the more important story was about a human tragedy that lay hidden down deep in a pile of social and personal dung. My wife, Barre, frustrated by the Review's failure to see the obvious humanity in the story, summed things up when she angrily muttered: "Haven't any of those people read Death in Venice?"





That few, if any, at the Review (Spokane's face to the nation) will know what in the hell she is talking about, or care even if they do, explains much about why Spokane also comes off as a big loser. Thanks to the Review, the impression is left that Spokane is an unsophisticated train town, overly influenced by an overzealous daily paper that traffics in sensationalism.





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