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Friday, June 03, 2005  

Analysis: Post, Spokesman-Review show need for anonymous sources

Another week has passed, and Jim West is still mayor of Spokane. His attorney, inadvertently explained why in remarks he thought were a good defense of West. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports he said West remains in office to defend himself. Therein lies the rub. Throughout this drama, and perhaps throughout his life, West's focus his been on pleasing himself, whether that meant offensive behavior toward other politicians, or, apparently, one night stands with barely legal teens he met on the Internet. His attitude says: Who cares about the city? I'm the important entity here. This evening, West held a press conference, billed for weeks as an event in which he would exonerate himself from allegations of abuse of office and pedophilia. He did not. Instead, Jim West threatened to sue the Spokesman-Review for its continuing investigative series about him.

The paper covered the event.

The mayor said he believes he can still lead the city, and he'll eventually be exonerated of abuse of office charges and of accusations that he sodomized two boys in the 1970s while a Spokane County sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader.

Friday's press conference, arranged by West's legal defense team, was tightly scripted to be aired live at 5 p.m. on local television stations. City officials, including Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers and Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch were barred from the room. Television remote trucks clustered in the driveway outside the Doubletree Hotel downtown.

"There should be no shouting!" stated the lawyers' advisory announcing the press conference and detailing the ground rules for the media. Reporters were limited to two questions each and told to raise their hands to be recognized by the mayor.

. . .West said he and his lawyers are "in discussions" about possibly filing a lawsuit against the Spokesman-Reviewfor its investigative articles.

Which brings us to another news story receiving national attention. This week we learned a secret three decades old, the identity of Deep Throat. Without the input of the second in command at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Americans might never have known just how corrupt the administration of President Richard M. Nixon was. W. Mark Felt -- the anonymous source for the investigation by the Washington Post that led to the resignation of Nixon -- finally claimed the spotlight. The New York Times reports that the investigation would have stalled but for his contributions. Felt's reasons for becoming the most important source for the probe were mixed. Despite his own conservative beliefs, he deeply objected to the paranoid atmosphere Nixon and his cronies were creating in federal government. He also resented efforts of the Nixon administration to control and dictate to the FBI. Given a choice between keeping mum and telling the truth to the Fourth Estate, often considered an enemy by the FBI, Felt spoke.

The Spokesman-Review's investigative reporting about Jim West also relied on anonymous source. The newspaper was contacted by at least one teenager who had been solicited for sex at Gay.com by West. It hired a forensic computer expert to confirm the mayor's identity and document his behavior on the site, known as a place where older men go to arrange dates with young males, some still in high school. The investigator, who used the screen name 'Moto-Brock,' confirmed that the man seeking teens in Spokane for sex was West. Some commentators have attempted to discredit the newspaper's investigation because of its use of an unnamed person to produce information. However, as in the Watergate investigation, it was necessary to use an anonymous source if the the probe was to succeed. There were no officials that Mark Felt could have gone to with his allegations of illegal activity by the highest ranking people in the executive branch. The powerful were either beholden to or afraid of Nixon. His only option for making the information public was to pass it to the press.

It would have been irresponsible for the Spokesman-Review to report the claims being made about West without confirming both his identity and the nature of his activity at Gay.com. Ideally, one of the homosexual youths who were sources would have agreed to be identified publicly. But, openly stating that one is gay is a delicate matter. The newspaper chose not to publish the names of its young sources. In the absence of a named source, using the unnamed one, Moto-Brock, became necessary. After the articles was published, other gay young men, at least one of whom used his name, confirmed their accuracy.

Both of these situations reveal why a rule of never using anonymous sources is not one media should adopt. Such an edict would ignore the reality of the role power plays in relationships. Nixon was chief executive of a nation. West is one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, after years of being majority leader of the state Senate. Often, the only way to investigate allegations of impropriety or illegal behavior by powerful persons is to allow the sources to remain confidential.

What's the art?

The paraphernalia of Sherlock Holmes.

11:00 PM