Was the mayor entrapped?

By Jim Sands

Originally published on Advocate.com June 22 2005 11:00 PM ET

Editor’s note: This letter to Advocate.com commentator Karel was written in response to his June 16 editorial “Jim West as a Role Model.”Karel:I respect your right to an opinion, but in reading the following two paragraphs I must assume that you did not read our coverage of this issue:No, West is under fire simply for being gay—and under FBI investigation for allegedly dangling city jobs and other favors in front of potential male tricks. Essentially, he got caught doing what sugar daddies have been doing since Aristotle’s time: playing the mentor to younger men who might then have paid him back in trade. Did he abuse the power of his office? Maybe. But he wasn’t found out by real reporting; he was set up. Trapped.Again, where’s the ethics when the newspaper creates the news? They hired someone to trap this guy, and it worked. So the paper created the story. It’s exactly like undercover cops wagging their penises in bathrooms across America to pin a lewd-conduct fine of $1,500 or more on some poor guy who responds. It stinks.…The newspaper received accusations from all sorts of individuals about the mayor’s current and decades-old behavior. The only reason the newspaper hired a computer expert to go online at all was to verify the mayor as the person allegedly trolling Web sites looking for dates with young people. This was not a setup, it was not entrapment. Believe it or not, this was a way to protect the mayor from the very real possibility of false accusations. Once the mayor was positively identified by the computer expert, all such communication ceased. This was not the basis for our lengthy series of stories, but a very minor piece. And, it turns out, when faced with evidence, the 54-year-old mayor admitted to having sex with an actual 18-year-old high school student, and hinted that other people probably would come forward.At this point, the 25-year-old allegations of pedophilia remain just that—allegations, which the mayor denies. But other people have come forward since the first stories were published with tales of how he made inappropriate sexual advances in private and/or workplace settings that are arguably illegal and most certainly unethical if true.This has, by the way, absolutely nothing to do with him being gay. If anything, he was given the benefit of the doubt by the media who had not “outed” him in 20-plus years of public office. Believe me, our editors are personally in tune with this issue. This actually would have been a very simple story to write if it had been about heterosexual activity. Why was this so difficult for us to do? We knew that some people (including you, as it turns out) would hear only one small piece of the story and jump to totally erroneous conclusions.As journalists, we’ve done our homework on this story. I wish you’d do the same. You can read complete coverage here:http://www.spokesmanreview.com/jimwest/Beware. It will take you hours to plow through all of it. But truly being informed is what makes opinions valid. If you simply wish to offer a contrarian point of view and ignore the details of the case, well, to use your words, “that stinks.”—Ken SandsOnline publisherThe Spokesman-ReviewKarel responds:Let’s look up the definition of entrapment: “Origin, mid 16th cent. French. Trick or deceive someone, esp. by inducing them to commit a crime in order to secure their prosecution…”Gotta love Webster.You can sugarcoat it however you like to make yourselves feel better as journalists, but you outed the mayor, and you did it by hiring an “expert” to deceive him into doing what you then accused him of doing. You wanted evidence, so you coaxed it into being. It wasn’t a “small part of your story”—it was your story. Your paper acted like digital Peeping Toms, prying into the very private life of a public figure.I will admit, one part of the above definition of “entrapment” doesn’t apply: It’s not a crime to date 18 year olds. Outside of a court of law, it’s not even a crime to lie about it.And please don’t give me the “if he had been heterosexual” line. Fact is, he isn’t. Fact is, you couldn’t resist outing a homophobic Republican operative. You want to uncover a politician’s unsavory sexual exploits? We’ve got a governor here in California ripe for the picking, accusers available, no waiting. Wait—he’s straight, I forgot.I don’t like James West, and I hate that I have to defend him against what was done to him. But you guys put me into this ridiculous situation. Next time, be a good newspaper, stick to uncovering misdeeds, not encouraging them.