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Great things come in small packages.

Back to the beginning.


An internal Oregonian memorandum obtained by Inside Portland reveals infighting and anger over the “reverential” treatment the largest daily newspaper in Oregon extended to the former governor.


Former Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt was labeled a "child molester" during a closed-door meeting among Oregonian insiders, even as the newspaper characterized his statutory rape confession as an affair.  The statute of limitations on the crime has long since expired, preventing prosecutors from jailing the former Portland Mayor for sex abuse.

Story by Christopher Vetter

espite ground breaking stories documenting squalid living conditions for migrant laborers, acts of brutality by police officers, corruption in government, corporate scandals, and abusive practices from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the largest daily newspaper in Oregon routinely fumbles when covering Oregon politicians.

In 1992, Oregonian Editor William Hilliard did not publish multiple accusations of sexual harassment leveled at Senator Robert Packwood before the election.  The Washington Post broke the story in late November, allowing Packwood to squeak out a victory over challenger Les AuCoin.  The newspaper was humiliated; Packwood eventually resigned in disgrace.  Hilliard “retired” from the paper in April 1993, replaced by current editor Sandy Rowe.

In the early nineties, Oregonian editors pulled articles by reporter Phil Stanford about Senator Mark Hatfield and the Portland Police Bureau.  Stanford resigned in October 1994.  In 1999, Willamette Week writer Paul Koberstein drafted a withering indictment of the Oregonian, offering multiple examples of political bias and editorial interference.

As Willamette Week posted the initial details of the Goldschmidt scandal on May 6, the former governor arranged a meeting with Oregonian editors to confirm allegations he sexually abused an underage girl during his tenure as mayor.  He prepared a written statement for publication the following day, suggesting the relationship was consensual.  The Oregonian ran an above-the-fold cover story on May 7 with the headline “Goldschmidt confesses 70’s affair with girl, 14.”  Though Goldschmidt confessed to child molestation, the incident was characterized in the headline as “child rape” not “sexual abuse.”

In a May 10 interview with Inside Portland, Stanford slammed his former colleagues for their handling of the Goldschmidt confession: “What happened with the Oregonian is that, in an attempt to cover their ass because they were being beaten so badly by Willamette Week, they allowed themselves to be used by Goldschmidt—even to the point of describing his statutory rape as an affair."

Oregonian insiders greeted the kid gloves treatment of Goldschmidt with contempt. On May 11 at 3:38pm, an anonymous source sent Inside Portland an internal Oregonian memorandum that detailed internal disagreements over the story. The author of the May 7 document was not identified, requiring our office to contact the Oregonian and verify the information. Calls were placed to Reporter Brent Walth, Assistant Crime Editor Kathleen Glanville, Public Editor Michael Arianna Walden, Business Editor Mark Hester, Managing Editor Therese Bottomly, Executive Editor Peter Bhatia, and Editor Sandy Rowe to uncover who penned the memo. Around 4:30pm, Glanville told Inside Portland she never read the document.  At 5:18pm, Executive Assistant Laurie Rogerson provided Sandy Rowe with our letter requesting confirmation of the memo, but Rowe never replied.  The following morning, Walden returned a call to Inside Portland, informing us that Willamette Week published the document in their May 12 issue, which had just hit the streets.  Willamette Week identified the author of the memorandum as “Kay Balmer, a senior manager who oversees the paper's suburban bureaus.”

During a staff meeting for reporters and editors, Balmer claimed the Oregonian received a tip about the Goldschmidt story last year: “This was something that [Pulitzer Prize winning reporter] Brent Walth had tried to nail down years earlier when he was at Willamette Week and couldn't get.  We began pursuing the rumors last winter, but didn't get too far.  For one thing, the woman at times would confirm what had happened and then at other times deny it.  Brent was on a plane to Nevada yesterday to talk to the woman when the story broke.”
   

What happened with the Oregonian is that, in an attempt to cover their ass because they were being beaten so badly by Willamette Week, they allowed themselves to be used by Goldschmidt—even to the point of describing his statutory rape as an affair.

[Managing Editor and chief of investigative reporting] “Steve Engelberg said that in hindsight he wished that they'd put 48 reporters on the story the day they got the tip.  Someone—I don't remember if it was Steve [Engelberg], Sandy [Rowe] or Peter [Bhatia]—said that this tip came in about the same time that two other similar tips concerning public officials came in.  It was pursued, just not with the urgency that Steve now wishes we had put into it.”

After conceding her newspaper was out of the loop on the story, Balmer described how Goldschmidt courted favorable coverage from the Oregonian: “Willamette Week got a copy of the conservatorship somehow and told Goldschmidt they were going with a story. Goldschmidt called us and wanted to tell us, in Sandy's word, because we are the only credible news outlet.”

Glanville discussed the “mixture of emotions she felt” and was brutal in her assessment of the former governor. “Goldschmidt had been so important, so admired and had had such a profound effect on the city and the state . . . and now to learn that he's a child molester.”

Features Editor Jolene Krawczak was “concerned that so much of the discussion took place behind closed doors. Kathleen Blythe complained that researchers are too often kept in the dark about why they're looking at someone and the why could help them do their job and make them think about taking different research routes.”

Steve [Engelberg] responded that “they didn't want everyone to know that Goldschmidt was coming to us because we didn't want other media to pounce on that.”  In hindsight, he said “he wished that he'd let more people in on what was going on.”

Any pretense of civility was abandoned when Columnist Steve Duin weighed in on the scandal. “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.”

Duin later savaged Goldschmidt in his May 9 column: “Like any father, I can still picture him, on those carefully arranged afternoons, stepping into the room where she sits on the edge of the bed.  I imagine him taking off his coat and loosening his tie.  And that's about the time the scene goes dark, and I turn away before the sadness and the horror overwhelm me.  She was 14 when he lay down with her.  She has never been the same.”

In his May 16 column, Oregonian Public Editor Michael Arianna Walden wrote: “The Oregonian upholds a public trust . . . the newspaper must strive to publish the truth, particularly without favor to those in power . . . In examining how the newspaper has handled and is handling the story today, I've found no evidence Goldschmidt received favors or special treatment.”

In their haste to report the confession and generate news, Oregonian editors allowed Goldschmidt to spin public perception of the scandal.


This is the headline of the May 7 Oregonian cover story on Goldschmidt.  The word affair was not enclosed in quotation marks, advancing the Goldschmidt spin that the relationship was consensual.  Eighth grade girls are neither legally or psychologically capable of offering sexual consent to adult men.  Former Oregon Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts characterized the newspaper coverage of Goldschmidt as "tone-deaf."
 

Posted May 19, 2004 and amended June 19, 2004.  After publication, Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford told us former Oregonian Editor William Hilliard was not a variable in his decision to leave the paper and that he considers Hilliard a friend. The article originally stated that Stanford was "disgusted by his treatment under Hilliard and [current Oregonian editor Sandy] Rowe. That line was excised from the story.  Inside Portland regrets the error.

 

 

 

 

 

   
Inside Portland is an online entertainment magazine covering life in the Portland Metropolitan area.  We explore news and trends that impact the Pacific Northwest.  Inside Portland offers concert information, relationship advice, movie showtimes, links to Portland publications, and insightful articles on local events and personalities.  This publication is not affiliated with any of the publications, personalities, or organizations featured in Web links and articles.  All rights reserved.  ©2004