Ethics experts are divided on whether The Spokane Spokesman-Review acted properly by hiring an investigator to pose online as an underage gay boy, who was then solicited for sex by Spokane Mayor Jim West, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says. The Spokesman-Review reported yesterday that the mayor has a 25-year history of using positions of public trust to develop sexual relationships with boys and young men.
The paper hired a forensic computer expert who has helped track child pornography through the use of online chat technology. The computer expert, a former U.S. Customs agent, posed as a 17-year-old high school student, first on the Gay.com Web site and later on AOL Instant Messenger. Bill Babcock, chairman of the journalism department at California State University-Long Beach, said, “It’s one thing for the police or the FBI to pose as a 17-year-old boy. It’s another for a journalist to take on the role of junior G-man and do something that essentially is considered police work.” Defending the paper’s approach was Kelly McBride, ethics expert for the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fl., school for journalists, and a former reporter for the Spokesman-Review. “In general, I discourage journalists from using deception to get a story, but this case comes pretty close to passing the test I use,” she said. That’s because the subject is of significant public interest, other alternatives were exhausted, readers were told about the deception, and the mayor was allowed to comment.