While there have been many positive developments coming from 24-hour news networks and the blogopshere, there have also been a few negatives as well. Perhaps the worst is the tendency for the media, particularly the TV news networks, to “swarm” on any allegation of wrongdoing by a celebrity or political figure. Such swarms have existed since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle. In the early 1980s (just as Ted Turner was launching CNN), the news media breathlessly reported allegations of corruption against President Reagan’s first Secretary of Labor, Raymond J. Donovan. After he was acquitted of all charges, Donovan famously quipped, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?”
It is recalling his history, a good man besmirched by reports by media reports of his corruption, that I initially approached the story of Spokane’s Mayor. Since writing my initial post, I have followed the comments (frequently interjecting my thoughts) on Friday and Sunday evening, read a good deal more about the story on the web. As I’ve considered the allegations, I knew that when I first blogged on this, I did the right thing by bolding and italicizing the word, “But,” to distinguish “normal circumstances” from this one.
Given Secretary Donovan’s experience, I’m wary of jumping to conclusions. We shouldn’t condemn someone merely because he exercised very bad judgment. But, as I pondered the fact that more than one man has alleged that Mayor West molested them when they were minors, I heard a line of Colonel Pickering’s (Wilfred Hyde-White) from “MY FAIR LADY” in my head, “I fear you’ve picked a poor example.” If these charges are true, then this story is indeed a poor example of the case against “outing.” Because then it would no longer a question of alleged hypocrisy, but of one of criminality.
In my initial post, I made clear that the real issues, the newsworthy issues, were whether or not the mayor used city computers to access gay chat sites and whether he was involved in molestation (and solicitation of sex with minors). After learning more about the accusations against him, I would expand upon the first point to include any use of public resources to benefit his lovers.
Sunday night, I watched one of the great movies of all time, “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY” (which incidentally, like the aforementioned “MY FAIR LADY,” was directed by the great George Cukor). (As most great movies, this one truly helped lift my spirits.) In the movie, “SPY” magazine editor Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell) has threatened to publish allegations of Seth Lord’s (John Halliday) dalliance with a Broadway dancer unless his family allows Macauley Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) to get an inside story (with photos) of his daughter Tracy’s (the great Katharine Hepburn) wedding. This movie both shows that the practice of “outing” has antecedents at least as far back as the 1930s. (Examples of this also abound in Cukor’s 1939 flick, “THE WOMEN.”) (All this goes to my point about the mayor’s poor judgment.)
With Ray Donovan in mind, I am wary of calling Mayor West a criminal. Allegations have been made, but not proven. Yet, these are very serious charges. If the story were merely the case of a conservative Republican Mayor using his computer to chat up and meet young men of legal age, then those seeking to expose him would be no different than reporters snooping around at the private gathering of a socialite or publishing the details of a romance of a celebrity or politician. Perhaps, knowing what a reasonable person should know about the media, the mayor should have been on his guard for such snooping around. That still doesn’t justify, in the absence of criminal activity, the snooping around.
In this case, however, a number of individuals have come forward to allege such activity. I believe those charges should be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted by the evidence, criminal charges against the mayor should be filed.
In “MY FAIR LADY,” when Colonel Higgins speculates that Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) picked a poor example, Higgins replies with the question, “Have I?” Given Ray Donovan’s experience, all who are following this case owe it to the mayor to ask a similar question.
Is this more than a question of the “outing” of a conservative Republican for alleged hypocrisy?
If the answer is in the negative, once the charges are investigated, they will be dismissed and Mr. West, whose name has been dragged through the mud, would have some work to do to get his reputation back. But, if the answer is in the affirmative and the charges are proven, then “THE SPOKESMAN REVIEW“‘s investigation would have been thoroughly warranted as it will have exposed the criminal wrongdoing of a public figure.
UPDATE: Reader Andre comments “Dan, if you’re going to use a quote from a musical, it’s absolutely necessary that you get it right. Otherwise you might have your gay card revoked. Pickering says, ‘Come sir, I think you’ve picked a poor example.’ to which Henry Higgins replies, ‘Did I?’” I just popped in my DVD of that great musical and, yes, indeed, I did get it wrong. And Andre got it right. Thanks for alerting me to this.
Yesterday,as I was planning a post on “outing” and hypocrisy, I heard the words as I reported them above. I guess they served more to remind me that I had picked a “poor example” for the point I had wanted to make (in that yet-to-written post) than of the actual words of the film.