Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Wagons Are Circling, But it Isn’t Media Bias

Once again, Southwest Washington is seeing an unexpected resignation of an elected official under cloudy circumstances. Democrat 49th legislative district representative Jim Jacks abruptly tendered his resignation Friday, March 25, 2011 citing, “personal reasons he did not want to publicly discuss about the details.”

Given the scandalous resignations in the past, such a statement automatically raises red flags and a few eyebrows, you would think. Not so with the Columbian and other newspapers it appears. The Columbian took it a little further than did the Seattle Times, the Olympian and other news agencies in the state such as KOMO News. The Columbian chose to portray Jacks as a “dedicated family man,” choosing a 3 year old file photo of him showing his small daughters his desk in Olympia from back in 2009, while others simply used file photos of him from his legislative web page that rapidly disappeared almost as soon as his resignation was announced.

All articles portrayed this as a surprise resignation, seemingly from out of the blue. But, KOMO News quoted 49th legislative district Senator Craig Pridemore, a fellow Democrat saying, “his resignation had been discussed for a couple of days,” while house majority leader Pat Sullivan said, “He said he needed to take care of some things at home, There's not much more to say about it. We supported his decision.” KOMO added, “Sullivan refused to divulge any more details.”

Fellow Democrat49th legislative district representative Jim Moeller, who also “declined” to discuss reasons behind the sudden resignation “out of respect for his privacy,” said, “I think he will be sharing that publicly when the time is right for him,” to the Oregonian.

What about all of his constituents, who donated funds to him, supported him, campaigned for him and voted for him? Asking about them being owed an explanation of such a sudden resignation in the middle of the legislative session elicited a comment of “Jack owes you squat!” from a Mike O’Connor on facebook and “if there is anything inappropriate, it will come out in due course. But for now, butt out and let Jim Jacks take care of his family” from an anonymous commenter calling themselves cwajga on the Columbian article.

Even the Columbian’s newly selected social media coordinator, Matt Wastradowski cautioned “we won't entertain any more speculation on this story from this point on. Please refrain from speculating in the comment box. Any comments along those lines will be removed” clarified to “If there is found to be any wrongdoing pertaining to Jacks’ duties as a public official, we will certainly write about them. But there have been no confirmed wrongdoings, and we won’t print rumors. And we won’t tolerate them on our website.”

Recalling how others were treated in the pages of the Columbian just a couple years ago, this struck me as odd, considering how often editor Lou Brancaccio opines in his Saturday column about how “middle of the road” they are and saying just this morning in his latest column, Keep us close. Very close, “Essentially, we try not to be anybody’s friend or anybody’s enemy.”

While they are all too ready to “respect the privacy” of Jim Jacks and his family, what about their coverage of the scandalous resignation of Republican Richard Curtis in 2007? Or, the embarrassing conduct of Republican Jim Dunn around the same time?

Besides naming Curtis’ scandal and subsequent resignation the top story of 2007, the Columbian published some 14 articles in the span of less than 5 days covering his scandal, even to the point of interviewing citizens of La Center, where Curtis lived, November 2, 2007 and headlined “La Center ponders politician’s actions.”

In regards to Jim Dunn’s embarrassing gaffe towards a female legislator, the Columbian treated us to 9 articles over a much longer period, almost a month with such titles as November 7, 2007 “In our view: An Embarrassment,”November 9, 2007 “Dunn’s gaffe no surprise to insiders” to November 23, 2007 “Dunn’s woes: Witch hunt or just desserts?” to name just 3.

Both Curtis & Dunn were featured in acerbic, Republican hating editorial page editor John Laird’s December 16, 2007 Column “Of scandals, obesity and leather lungs.”

October 29, 2007 the Columbian ran the article, “Curtis denies wrongdoing, says he is not gay,” where we were told Curtis, approached by Columbian editor Lou Brancaccio said to Lou, “I am not gay. I have not had sex with a guy,” in regards to word coming out of Spokane that same day of an investigation into extortion allegations by a male prostitute towards Curtis.

October 30, 2007 brought the article, “Curtis denies sexual encounter” from the Columbian were in the first sentence we read, “State Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, caught in a statewide media frenzy over an ongoing extortion investigation in Spokane, said Monday he did nothing wrong. Curtis denied a report that he was involved in a sexual encounter with another man and emphatically said he is not gay.”

Again, October 30, 2007 and apparently later in the day we saw from the Columbian “Police report sheds new light on Curtis encounter” where we were told, “State Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, admitted to having sex with a man he met at an adult video store in Spokane last week, according to a police report released Tuesday afternoon. The police report offers a damning and far different version of events from the brief account Curtis gave to The Columbian Monday, one that seems likely to threaten Curtis’ political future.”

Curtis, who was also married with two daughters, like Jim Jacks, was spared no intrusions, granted no rights to privacy for his family and him as efforts unfolded to expose his scandalous behavior, leading to his resignation on October 31, 2007.

There were no calls to temper speculation by commenter’s. There didn’t have to be, the Columbian was doing it all until he was forced to resign in disgrace. They even went so far as to interview openly gay Democrat 49th legislative district representative Jim Moeller about Curtis’ sexual orientation. I credit Moeller with saying he “has never heard any questions about Curtis' sexual orientation.”

Approaching Republican 18th legislative district senator Joe Zarelli drew the response of, “[I’m] not going to jump to any conclusions until I know more,” and Curtis needs to “come say your piece and then do your thing,” unlike with Jacks were we see no call to come clean from the Columbian or Democratic Party Officials.

After Curtis tendered his resignation, Editor Lou Brancaccio wrote his November 3, 2007 weekly Press Talk column, titling it “Why is the Curtis saga a news story?” Brancaccio wrote, “State Rep. Richard Curtis got caught. Yes, with his pants down. Literally. But why should someone's personal life be news? After all, what does one's personal life have to do with one's job?”

Good question Lou. I did not see any answer in the 14 other articles the paper ran digging up dirt and all but stalking him before and after he resigned.

Leading up to justification for all of the coverage of Curtis that week, Brancaccio said, “So when the Curtis story began to break, we all had to see what we had at play here.”

But, no effort today with Jim Jacks to “see what we had at play here?”

The Capital Campus is awash with word of Jacks inappropriate conduct of “repeated sexual harassment episodes, inappropriate physical contact and all hours “drunken calls” to at least one female staffer.” If I and Clark County Politics are receiving word from those we know in Olympia, is it not logical to believe the Columbian is hearing the same and possibly worse?

Given the nature of the sudden resignation and removal of Jacks name, removing his web site and all but blotting out any mention of him in the legislature, why is there no want to “see what we have at play here” from a supposedly “unbiased newspaper?”

As the Washington State Wire puts it, “State Rep. Jim Jacks abruptly resigns from the Legislature for reasons no one seems to understand. But you know it's serious. They've already taken his name off the vote-board in the House, and he's disappeared as if he was never there in the first place.”

It doesn’t appear all that serious to the Columbian and other news sources around the state, all of whom seem to believe Jacks is entitled to privacy that Richard Curtis wasn’t.

Perhaps it is indicative of what Pia Hansen said in the November 3, 2007 Spokane Spokesman-Review, “It is not about being gay or closeted… what matters is the underlying hypocrisy.”

That should apply to newspapers too!

If the only standards you have are double standards, then you have no standards at all.

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