Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Great Expectations

Greg convinced me to sit down and watch last night's Frontline special on PBS, "A Hidden Life," which detailed the outing of Jim West, the former Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington. West passed away in July of colon cancer, months after being outed by a local newspaper and recalled from office in a whirlwind of troubling events reminiscent of "The Crucible." The show did a remarkable job in demonstrating how American politics has become a sad spectacle, an arena where the media refuses to make genuine judgments about political leaders' personal lives, allows rumor to become headline, and in some cases actively works to create facts to then sensationalize. It is amazing to me how willingly cynical some journalists are, to throw their hands up and put things into the public sphere without discretion, as if left with no option.

West was guilty of being a closeted homosexual, and little else. When the local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, learned of West's true sexuality it determined his Party affiliation and past support for anti-gay legislation were enough to warrant ruining the man, first by entrapping him and then by printing details of the entrapment in addition to awful allegations of sexual child abuse (that were never proven). West's quiet hypocrisy was not illegal, and in a real sense no different than the political against-interest posturing of African-American or homosexual Republicans or even wealthy Democrats across the nation. Nor was his hypocrisy immoral; West was not married and had no children. While the paper sought to prove West used the power of his office to find government work for young men, the FBI investigation that followed found nothing wrong occurred and cleared West's name. West died just months after the investigation ended.

The most striking aspect of this uncomforting, sad report from Frontline was that the newspaper's reporting on West achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, but a ruined and broken man. If there was any evidence at any stage that West had actually behaved illegally, I would understand the effort to scrutinize him. But I couldn't help but wonder how different West's life would have been if he had lived a country where personal privacy extended to every citizen, and not just those who throw the most stones. It's something to think about as we enter the 2008 presidential race--there is something cruel and unusual about expecting our political leaders to be inhuman and then being disillusioned when they prove to be the opposite.

No comments: