If it matters to Oregonians, it’s in (The Washington Post) Willamette Week

For those of you who don’t remember, Bob Packwood was the first.

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

On Nov. 22, 1992, the Washington Post reported that 10 women had accused Sen. Bob Packwood of sexual harassment. Even though one of The Oregonian’s own reporters was among the 10, and the paper had gotten tips about Packwood’s behavior, incredibly it had failed to aggressively pursue the matter. The Oregonian’s failure to break the story was mortifying for the entire paper.

Adding to the shame was a bumper sticker that began appearing around Portland:

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Oregonian editor, Bill Hilliard, later told the Washington Post, in a massive understatement, that his paper “should have been a little more aggressive… We were worried about ruining a man’s career.”

Neil Goldschmidt was second.

Neil Goldschmidt

Neil Goldschmidt

Nigel Jaquiss, a reporter at Willamette Week, was researching the role of former Oregon Governor, and later power player, Neil Goldschmidt, in efforts to take over Portland General Electric. He was making good progress on the story, but got hints there was more.

“It was shaping up to be a pretty good story,” Jaquiss told the American Journalism Review, “but I kept getting pushed by people… ‘There’s more you ought to be looking at… There’s a girl..'”

Jaquiss’ aggressive digging eventually revealed that Goldschmidt, when he was the married Mayor of Portland, had begun raping a neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter on a regular basis over a three-year period. Sources said Goldschmidt often took the girl to her parents’ basement, to hotels and other private spots for sex.

When Willamette week posted a summary of the story on its website, it spread like wildfire. The Oregonian had been beaten again.

Not only had The Oregonian been beaten again, this time by a local alternative weekly, but The Oregonian made things even worse. When it ran the Goldschmidt story it appeared to many readers to soft-pedal Goldschmidt’s actions as “an affair” with “a high school student”. Oregonians went ballistic.

A memo of a staff meeting at the Oregonian revealed that there was a lot of internal angst, too. The memo noted: “Steve Duin felt strongly that our coverage today was too reverential. We are dealing with a child molester. He made a very impassioned plea for doing the who knew what when story — lots of people became rich riding Goldschmidt’s coat tails — and why they kept it secret. He suggested that readers might think we’d learned nothing from Packwood and that we are hands off people in power.”

And now the Kitzhaber-Cylvia Hayes scandal.

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

Again, it was Nigel Jaquiss and Willamette Week that broke the story and followed up with bombshell after bombshell.

The Oregonian followed up with some revelations, but it was late to the party. It’s most significant role in the evolving saga was to run an editorial on Feb. 4, 2015 calling on Kitzhaber to resign, arguing, “…it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.”

What’s happening to The Oregonian, once the state’s dominant paper of record, now a mere shadow of its former self?

It may sound hackneyed, but great newspapers like the Oregonian were once the indispensable guardians of our freedom. Seasoned reporters have served as watchdogs to ensure good government and reinforce good citizenship. The Oregonian has been a key ingredient of  civic dialogue and discourse in the state.

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created the award-winning HBO series The Wire, warned at a U.S. Senate hearing on the “Future of Journalism”, that “high-end journalism is dying in America.”  Oregon can’t afford for The Oregonian to be among those at death’s door.

 

Disclosure: I worked as a reporter at The Oregonian during the 80s and 90s.

Killing Trust: Kitzhaber the unobservant

John Kitzhaber’s latest tour of duty in the governor’s chair has exposed him as an empty suit in terms of faithfully overseeing the government he runs.

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First, he hired education czar Rudy Crew. Remember him?

Rudy Crew (R) with Governor Kitzhaber

Rudy Crew (R) with Governor Kitzhaber

Crew checked in to his $280,000 a year job as Oregon’s first chief education officer in June 2012. Hailed by Kitzhaber as a man with a track record of leadership and innovation, his collapse as a leader was quick and dramatic.

Crew spent a year travelling extensively, often first class, on the state’s dime to speak at non-Oregon related events, took vacations at every turn, and made the scrambled eggs-and-bacon circuit around the state, telling the same heartwarming stories over and over again, while he continued to make money on the side. On July 1, 2013, Crew checked out and headed back East, a failed experiment in every way.

“How big of a setback was the Rudy Crew fiasco?” Portland Business Journal Publisher Craig Wessel asked Kitzhaber in January 2014. “It had to be difficult.”
“It was,” Kitzhaber responded. “It was an embarrassment.”

It was more than that. It was a complete failure to exercise good judgment and to oversee the performance of a key figure in Kitzhaber’s administration.

Then there’s Cover Oregon, another debacle.

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Millions were spent there on a disastrous website, ubiquitous advertising and highly paid top staff (The total compensation of the each of the top ten highest paid of Cover Oregon’s employees in early 2014 was between $154,000 and $229,000, more than their boss, Kitzhaber.) In April 2014, Cover Oregon’s board of directors voted to close the state-run exchange and adopt the Federal HealthCare.gov exchange in 2015.

Cover Oregon’s troubles were compounded when the state tried shenanigans to avoid making public a scathing report on the program by consultant, Clyde Hamstreet. The report was made available to the media only after it was requested under Oregon Public Records Law.

“In retrospect, I should have been more engaged in the (Cover Oregon) project,” Kitzhaber said in November 2013. I’ll say.

Then there’s the matter of First Lady Cylvia Hayes.

Cylvia Hayes at an Oct. 9. 2014 press conference where she admitted entering into an illegal marriage in 1997.

Cylvia Hayes at an Oct. 9. 2014 press conference where she admitted entering into an illegal marriage in 1997.

On Oct. 8, Willamette Week raised serious questions about her business dealings and possible conflicts of interest while associated with Kitzhaber. Subsequent stories have disclosed that, unknown to Kitzhaber, Hayes accepted $5,000 as payment for illegally marrying an Ethiopian immigrant in 1997, allowing the man to remain in the U.S.

On Oct. 12, Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to determine whether Hayes is subject to state ethics laws and, if so, whether she has broken them.

A better question is why is he only paying attention now? Where has he been since his third term began on ensuring that all of Hayes’ business relationships comported fully with state ethics rules?

Pay attention, John.