The Oregonian’s editorial board met over the weekend to opine about the fate of Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) as a result of accusations by a former college-age staff member that Mr. Wingard “gave her alcohol when she was underage, drugged her and kept her on his House payroll even after she stopped going to work because she could no longer stand the sight of him.” (Oregonian editorial, June 18,2012) It proved to be a contentious meeting complete with red-faced screaming and table-pounding demands.
First the editorial board member responsible for “spiking” the story of Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s three-year long repetitive sexual abuse of a minor suggested that the whole story was unworthy of the Oregonian and this was fodder for the weekly tabloids like Willamette Week, not serious journalists like those at the Oregonian. That was followed by knowing looks and chin-nods from those who guide the thoughts and opinions of Oregon’s great unwashed – the mushheads that pass for voters – as several members dismissed the issue and reached for next glowing report by Reuters of the wonders of President Barack Obama.
When it was noted that Willamette Week had already published the story and that Mr. Wingard had all but admitted the underlying facts, another editorial board member suggested that the paper publish his original denial. This was the same editorialist who had chosen to publish a press release from Mr. Goldschmidt claiming that his resignation from the Board of Higher Education was for health reasons rather than the eminent publication by Willamette Week of his repeated rape of the fourteen year old daughter of one of his friends.
A third said that this was simply a love affair gone bad and that the Oregonian should suggest that people cut Mr. Wingard some slack by taking into account his years of public service and by appreciating the heart knows no bounds in pursuit of true love – you know, just like the Oregonian did shortly after the full disclosure of Mr. Goldschmidt’s abhorrent conduct, including his payments to his victim to maintain silence.
I agree chimed in another. This is just about sex and the private lives of our public officials shouldn’t be the subject of unending titillation. She reminded the other board members that was the posture of the Oregonian when the sexual escapades of Pres. Bill Clinton with his staffer, Monica Lewinski, came to light – even through the denials of Mr. Clinton (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinski” ) and the revelations of an alternative use for fine cigars.
And a fourth noted that the neither the staffer’s age nor employment by Mr. Wingard should be a factor in this story. He reminded other editorialist that Mayor Sam Adams pursued a minor staffer in the men’s room of City Hall and, though there was kissing, there was no sex until the victim’s eighteenth birthday – a day apparently imprinted vividly on Mr. Adams’ mind, if not some other portions of his lower extremities.
And yet another board member reminded his colleagues that the Oregonian had chosen to overlook allegations of rape by a fellow student when Rep. David Wu was in college and, thereafter, to also ignore persistent bizarre behavior, including hints of sexual misconduct, by Mr. Wu through two election cycles. Only when the leadership of his own party suggested that he resign did the Oregonian agree.
Finally, the chair of the weekend meeting shook his head and stated. “Look, all of that is well and good, but this guy is a Republican and a conservative.”
“Hang him,” the collective voices of outrage answered. “We cannot tolerate such conduct by Republican politicians.”
And so the Oregonian began its editorial thusly:
“There is no way to make this look good.
“Not even if the episode produces no criminal charges, an ankle-low standard for behavior by public officials.”
The editorial continues:
“Yet his conduct — even just the parts he admits — seems far from the standards the Legislature would claim to uphold.”
Really? That’s the standard by which the Oregonian intends to hold politicians accountable? Starting when?
Did this meeting actually take place? No, of course not. Did anyone at the Oregonian recognize the hypocrisy of their editorial position regarding Mr. Wingard? Of course not.
Look, this is one of the few times that I agree with the editorial position of the Oregonian, albeit not necessarily for its hypocritical rationale. I don’t know the facts surrounding the relationship between Mr. Wingard and his accuser. If her allegations about alcohol, drugs, and resulting sex are accurate, then Mr. Wingard should be arrested, tried and jailed. If her allegations about using his position as a legislator and employer are true, he should be sued and judgement should be rendered. In either instance he should be removed from office. If the allegations are true Mr. Wingard has violated the law and the public trust. If just his admission of a sexual relation with a staffer is true he has demonstrated that he is not smart enough to hold public office.
But as much as this is about the conduct of Mr. Wingard, it is also about conduct of the Oregonian.