The West case

25 Oct

Good evening,

Our JAMM 341 students finished a two-class review of the Jim West/Spokesman-Review case.

This thread is for students to continue the classroom discussion on the following issues:

Was the newspaper justified in approving the deception that proved Jim West was online seeking sexual encounters with young men?

Was Jim West — is any elected official — entitled to privacy in their personal, non-work related life?

Absent any story on allegations of past child sexual abuse or contemporary online activity, was Jim West’s alleged political hypocrisy — closeted gay man sponsoring anti-gay legislation — a story by itself?

Please feel free to post responses to these or any other questions related to the case.



7 Responses to “The West case”

  1. Samantha Storms October 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Was the newspaper justified in approving the deception that proved Jim West was online seeking sexual encounters with young men?

    After class, I can now see why Steve and the paper did what they did. Posing online was the only way to release the truth about Jim West and his online activity. However, there was evidence from previous activities that could have been presented to show Jim West’s true colors without the use of deception like Tom mentioned.

    Was Jim West — is any elected official — entitled to privacy in their personal, non-work related life?

    Jim West and all other elected officials know that when they run for a political office their private life goes out the window. It is human nature to wonder and people, especiaily reporters are going to do whatever it takes to inform the public what is s going on in and out the office.

    Absent any story on allegations of past child sexual abuse or contemporary online activity, was Jim West’s alleged political hypocrisy — closeted gay man sponsoring anti-gay legislation — a story by itself?

    Absolutely! Jim West needed to be conformed about his position on these issues as it related to his personal life.

  2. Kevin Bingaman October 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    I don’t really think the Newspaper should have used deception like they did. I think they had a decent story before they went to that level and I think it was unnecessary. While I believe West didn’t have much right to privacy, being an elected official, I think the paper should have approached it in a more ethical way.

  3. Caitlin Stagg October 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I agree that the newspaper had a good amount of information, definitely enough to form a good story before they decided to use deception to get more of a story. I do believe that as a public figure in office, West did not have the same right to privacy as another citizen, but that doesn’t mean that the code of ethics does not apply when writing about public figures.
    I also believe that if the paper had decided to just go with what they had a publish the story they had, it would have brought upon more information and let them to new things they could write about and further their story with. I believe that everything they found out from using deception would have come out eventually from simply publishing what they had already.
    I do not think that using deception was a good idea but I definitely see that side of the case. It was a big story that they wanted to get to the bottom of, it just should have been done in a different way.

  4. samanthacampbellpaullas October 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I agree that the paper probably had enough information for a story without using the deception but at the same time I dont think it would have been as good of a story with as much being uncovered as it was. What Jim West was doing was wrong. I personally dont think a person can live a double life and not know that at some point in time they will have to deal with the consequences of it. His sexuality is not the issue and that is why it was left alone for so long. He had some level of privacy with that. It would have been a hard decision either way, to decive or not to decive, but Steve did what he thought needed to be done and produced a very large story that the people of Spokane needed to know about.

  5. kise5805 October 31, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I too agree with Tom and the posts above that the Spokesman Review took the West case a little too far. There was a story already there, that didn’t require the use of deception to complete. In my opinion, the newspaper was not justified in approving the deception that proved West was online seeking sexual encounters with young men. I looked online and reviewed the Spokesman Review’s ethics policy (

    In the portion titled “Deception,” the code states that “journalism should be as transparent as possible. Journalists must identify themselves as agents of the newspaper and be direct with sources about their intentions. Journalists should not use deception in pursuit of a story except for extraordinary circumstances involving public risk.” It also says that exceptions should be made by the editor, who would use a two-part test to determine the warrant of deception: 1) Is the information being sought of such significant public importance that its importance outweighs the use of deceptive practices? and 2) Have all other means of obtaining the information been exhausted?

    I do not believe this was an “extraordinary circumstance involving public risk.” I also do not believe the newspaper had exhausted all other means of obtaining the information. I realize the person who obtained the information was not a direct employee of the Spokesman Review, but since he was hired by the paper, he should have embodied these same ethical principles. If the paper had gone with the original story centered on allegations against West of past child sexual abuse, other information would have eventually presented itself.

    Also, Steve mentioned in class that West needed to be outed in the event that he ran for governor. On the flip side, Tom mentioned that West wouldn’t have even made it through his term as mayor, due to the severity of his cancer.

    West, or any public official for that matter, should know that when they run for public office, their privacy is almost entirely gone. It is in the public’s best interest to know the exact details of an official’s choices.

    Absent any allegations of past child sexual abuse, West’s political hypocrisy is a story in itself. He was using deception himself, but that does not mean the paper should have used deception to obtain the story.

    Sorry for the long post!

  6. Steve October 31, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    I would not dispute any of the above posts. As I have said in class, the decisions in this and other cases are arguable. Rarely is a decision black and white. All of the above make some good points and, trust me on this, I still ask myself some of the same questions even though, on reflection, I generally come back to the same decisions given what I knew at the time.

    That is, of course, the nut of decision making in any professional environment. You make the best decisions you can based on what you know at the time. For academic purposes, you can review, debate and re-argue those decisions. But once made, you have to live with them for better or worse. You still have to look yourself in the mirror. That is the essence of ethical decision making, too…to know you have thought it through ethically, can justify the decision ethically just as we try to do in our classroom cases.

    One point re: the above post — a point of clarification. I certainly hope I did not suggest we were “outing” the mayor in the expectation he might run for governor. I actually do not believe in simply outing gay men or lesbians, even if public officials, solely for the purpose of exposing their sexual orientation. I was among those journalists who knew or suspected West was gay. But it became a story or me only when combined with the other elements.

    Rather, the point I was trying to make is that if we had knowledge West was cruising the web looking for sexual encounters with young men in or barely out of our high schools and that came out after he was governor, we could rightly be criticized and our credibility challenged. That was the point i was trying to make. But simply outing West was never a goal.

    Those concerned about the hypocrisy issue may certainly disagree. As with much of this case, that point is arguable.


  7. kristiatkinson November 8, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    All in all, I think the newspaper was justified in approving the deception that proved Jim West was online seeking sexual encounters with young men? I think they went out of their way to prove this point and took some extra unethical steps, but news is news and it must be reported. But again, like you said, it’s not all black and white. One reason is should be reported is due to his public stance in the community. Also, I especially think it was justified because of some of the issues that West represented such as rights for the homosexual community. I would definitely report the story out of the irony. But, as I said before, the case may have been taken a little too far.

    All public figures deserve some privacy. But when you contradict one thing you stood for in office, it’s pretty ironic and it makes a good/juicy story. Especially when we are dealing with younger men. I don’t think him being “gay” is the story that should be reported to breach privacy. I think it was him contradicting himself to such extremes justifies this story. It was almost like he was asking to be outed with such hypocritical actions.

    But maybe it was the documentary that persuaded me to think this. I guess I would need to know the FULL story to really understand everyone’s actions.

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