A week into the shitstorm surrounding allegations that Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth had an affair with a bureau employee, it's become apparent that the chief's "hot chocolate body" is the greatest gift anyone's ever given the media.
The Oregonian lavished the story with multi-part feature after multi-part feature, dredging up as much dirt on both parties as possible. The Portland Tribune began diving into the alleged victim's allegedly sordid past, and the scandal has given Tribune columnist Phil Sanford—not to mention the city's myriad bloggers—fuel for weeks of jokey coverage. Local TV news spent at least a night or two on the accuser, Angela Oswalt, dredging up a previous DUI charge that has absolutely no relevance to her accusations.
In case anyone missed it, here's the background: Oswalt, a 46-year-old Portland Police Bureau desk clerk, says Foxworth solicited her in 2000 for "a clandestine and secret sexual affair," while he was her Northeast precinct commander. Foxworth, she says, sent her numerous emails detailing his sexual proposals—she eventually did "on occasion" have sex with Foxworth—and demanded that she keep the relationship a secret, according to the tort claim Oswalt's attorney submitted to the city on April 4.
Oswalt's claiming "intentional infliction of emotional distress," and violations of her civil and constitutional rights. On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Tom Potter placed Foxworth on paid administrative leave.
And yet one aspect of Oswalt's complaint went largely ignored by nearly every media outlet: Oswalt's accusation that someone at Willamette Week knew about Foxworth's affair well before he became chief, and that Foxworth was able to convince them to keep it quiet.
From the complaint: "Foxworth told the claimant that he had been called into Chief [Mark] Kroeker's office and was told that Mayor [Vera] Katz and the Willamette Week had information about his 'blonde girlfriend' and that he was ordered to break off the relationship. Foxworth told the claimant that he told Kroeker to 'go to hell'... Foxworth also told the claimant that he had a connection at the Willamette Week that would protect him."
The complaint was made public last Wednesday, April 5, at 11 am. Yet, for two days Willamette Week stayed quiet about the fact they were implicated in a cover up, and posted only a brief, barebones news update on their website about what has become the most explosive story in recent memory. On Thursday, the Oregonian published an article about the accusation that former-Mayor Vera Katz knew about the affair, giving her an opportunity to deny any knowledge of it—but ignored the mention of Portland's oldest weekly newspaper, which occurred in the same sentence.
WW didn't respond to the accusation until Friday evening at 5:30 pm—after the Mercury began making inquiries into Willamette Week's involvement. In a brief statement attached to the end of their already online article, former Willamette Week police writer Nick Budnick (now at the Tribune) said he heard years ago that Foxworth had a blonde girlfriend, but didn't know her identity. Fellow former writer Philip Dawdy (now writing in Seattle) said there were jokes about Foxworth's extracurricular activities, but that he didn't know any specifics.
Additionally, former Willamette Week News Editor John Schrag (now at the Forest Grove News Times), who helmed the news section during the time when the affair is alleged to have happened, told the Mercury that it was "possible" that someone on his staff knew about the affair, or at the very least heard rumors about it. But he denied that anyone was involved in a cover-up.
"If there was someone [on staff] who said that we would protect him, I would have known about it," Schrag said.
Likewise, Budnick and Willamette Week Editor Mark Zusman called the allegation that they had protected Foxworth "laughable."
"As for the notion that I or Dawdy or anyone else at WW might protect Foxworth, why he might have claimed that, I can only speculate," Budnick told the Mercury. "That supposed claim had no basis in truth."
As evidence, he relied on two stories that he wrote during the time the alleged affair was happening. Neither story had any connection to the affair, but were cited by Budnick because they pointed out "that claims made by the then-precinct commander [Foxworth] did not appear to be true." In other words, he freely challenged Foxworth, and wouldn't have been someone who'd protect him.
With nothing other than a statement by Oswalt, the accuser, relaying something that Foxworth may or may not have actually said, it's impossible to know whether there is any truth to Oswalt's implication that someone at Willamette Week covered up the affair. But to dismiss the idea that someone in the media (or at Willamette Week, in particular) protected a public figure as "laughable" is in itself laughable.
In fact, one only has to look at Willamette Week's own history for proof. That can be summed up in two words: Neil Goldschmidt.
While the news of the former governor/former mayor's abuse of an underage girl—as reported by WW—came as a surprise to the general public, it became apparent relatively quickly—again, according to WW's own reporting—that it wasn't exactly a secret among leaders and members of the media. In order for the crime to have been kept quiet for so long, Goldschmidt must have had "protectors" in the local media.
An even more specific instance, dealing with current Sheriff Bernie Giusto's involvement in the Goldschmidt case: In December 2004, Willamette Week reported that for more than 15 years, the publication had "danced around the conduct of Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who was an Oregon state trooper and Goldschmidt's bodyguard and driver from 1987 to 1989, the first two years he was governor."
Again, there is no proof that Willamette Week played any role in any cover-up in Foxworth's alleged affair, or even that Foxworth's alleged behavior amounted to anything criminal. But in order to dismiss such an implication without much else in the way of explanation, one must ignore decades of Portland's sad journalistic legacy—or at least the perception that outlets sit on stories for years before finally "breaking" them.
It should come as no surprise, then, that neither the Oregonian or the Tribune, or any other outlet, wants to bring it up.