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Oregonian Newspaper Drums a Popular Governor Out of Office
Governor John Kitzhaber has been forced to resign over his partner, Cylvia Hayes. The newspaper disliked their clean energy policies and went on a vicious campaign against them.
By Ed Knudson
2/25/15 - John de Graaf has written an excellent article, "How dirty media brought down Oregon’s clean-energy governor and his activist fiancée," in Grist magazine which covers similar ground to my article below, but with more documentation. It particularly shows that the so-called crimes heaped onto Cylvia Hayes by the media are no way proportionate to the act of forcing a governor to resign. His article also gives more background on the libertarian backgrounds of the owner and editor of the Oregonian.
2/19/15 - I wrote the article below on the day John Kitzhaber resigned as governor of Oregon, February 13, 2015. Since then the Oregonian has continued to publish personal attacks against Cylvia Hayes and Kitzhaber. In an editorial today (2/19/15) the editors claim that it was not the media that caused Kitzhaber's downfall.
Let me just say this: opposition research works in politics, that's why politicians spend so much money on it in campaigns. It is aimed at destroying the very character of a person by inserting into people's minds negative associations about a person. This is what the Oregonian has done, and the Willamette Week which wrote an article attacking Hayes last October. For some reason the writer of the latter article, Nial Jaquiss, has a total fixation on destroying Cylvia Hayes; he simply can't stand that she would put herself forward as a person of competence and worth on climate change matters or use the position of first lady to further that cause. He turns everything she does into an accusation that she is narrowly seeking remuneration for herself. I have rarely seen such a dedicated effort to totally destroy the character of another human being.
Both the Willamette Week and the Oregonian have misused their freedom of the press and abused freedom of information laws to interpret everything negatively against Ms. Hayes and they are continuing to do so. Especially the Oregonian, the bigger paper, the major paper in Oregon, is acting irresponsibly and is now seeking to justify itself since they know they have done something wrong by forcing out of office an able and popular governor.
It is important to realize that the various investigative processes concerning this may or may not absolve Ms. Hayes. When prosecutors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an investigation they have mighty motivations to find something to justify that big expense. Notice it is the newspapers which are forcing this large expenditure of tax dollars for an unworthy purpose.
But the biggest point is that Cylvia Hayes is a very strong advocate for environmental causes, clean energy, sustainable economics. She wanted to influence state government for these causes. And that is what these newspapers really disliked. They couldn't accuse her of this substantive commitment, of course, because that is what the people or Oregon want in a governor and first lady. So the papers attack her person, claim she was working only for herself, for her private benefit. The papers needed the public to believe that Hayes was in it only for her own benefit, that she was abusing her position for private benefit. That's what the conservative corporate media like to believe about public figures, of course, giving them a reason to attack them and demonstrate that government can do no good.
Cylvia Hayes is not a perfect person. But I see her as a martyr for the cause of environmental sustainability. And to do what the press has done to her and use that as a way to force the resignation of a governor is a gross violation of the democratic process, as the article below tries to discuss. The article was written in haste but I hope that readers are able to ascertain its primary meaning.
Some years ago I remember seeing a movie about an Australian family on a camping trip whose child was abducted by dingo dogs. In television interviews the mother of the child did not appear to be emotionally devastated by the event. Press speculations about this led to a widespread accusation that the mother was a witch or a satanist who may have assisted in her child's death. The press essentially created an angry crowd, a self-righteous mob out for blood which was not going to be satisfied without a public sacrifice. It turned out, finally, that the mother had a very strong religious faith which led her to believe that her dead child was in the hands of a loving God. So it was not necessary to have an emotional breakdown in front of the television cameras.
Notice that the media in this case itself created an hysterical mass judgment against a person and then required action against that person.
I am thinking of this now because I have just heard that John Kitzhaber has resigned as governor of the state of Oregon, where I live. I am listening right now to a discussion of this decision on the public radio station in Oregon. And every person appears to be saying that Kitzhaber brought this on himself, that he allowed himself to be manipulated by his partner, Cylvia Hayes, that he failed to adequately turn over records demanded by the media. These people have all accepted that Kitzhaber has done something terribly wrong; they have assumed that the hysterical media judgment is correct and right.
I am amazed, stunned, really. It is difficult to believe what I see and hear happening. It seems perfectly clear to me, as I will discuss below, that the Oregonian newspaper has engaged in a completely unfair and especially vicious attack on this governor and his "first lady" Cylvia Hayes. It has been able to do this even though this governor has just last November been elected to a fourth term and installed as governor just last month. That is, Kitzhaber was elected by the people of this state in a democratic process. And he has just been drummed out of office by a newspaper which didn't like his policy proposals for energy and the environment.
It was the Oregonian newspaper editorial board which decided it could demand the resignation of the governor. It smelled blood in the life story of Cylvia Hayes; concerning Hayes it felt it found a weak spot in the governor, a vulnerable place to go after this governor. The paper could attack her over and over in article after article. The paper could accuse her of abusing her office of "first lady" for her own benefit, getting paid for influencing government. And then after saying this day after day for weeks the paper can claim that the governor is "too distracted" to govern.
And what may be the worst is that leaders of Kitzhaber's own Democratic Party turned on him. I have never seen such a thing before. A whole group of political leaders fail to see the obvious media attack; these leaders have apparently decided that it is the pro-business media that rules the world. Democrats are the majority in both the House and Senate in Oregon. The two leaders of these bodies met with Kitzhaber this morning and encouraged him to resign. This was a big reason he did so, I think.
The lead paragraph in the New York Times says Kitzhaber "resigned Friday amid a spiraling crisis that included a criminal investigation of the role that his fiancée played in his administration as well as crumbling support from his Democratic Party colleagues."
In the last couple days the Oregonian especially focused on Kitzhaber's Democratic colleagues turning against him. The headline today in the paper said "Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's options fade as allies abandon him." The story by Laura Gunderson began with this: "The state's top Democratic leaders, including Peter Courtney and Tina Kotek, call for the governor to step down."
That is, the paper itself was responsible for the constant attacks on Cylvia Hayes. The paper was the first to call for resignation. But now the paper was happy to be able to say that it was these "Democratic leaders" who were now calling for his resignation. This is a terrible moment for the Democratic Party of oregon. It sacrificed its own popular governor.
And this is a terrible moment for democracy. For a democracy to work the people have to be able to elect leaders who have the perspective and fortitude to stand up against what may otherwise seem to be obvious public opinion generated by a self-interested media. Kitzhaber himself in a verbal message his office has just released did not accept the verdict of the press. He said it concerned him that the media could become both judge and jury in forcing him to resign. But he was doing so because the whole matter will take months to reconcile. I am sorry he decided to do this. But his friends appear to have abandoned him. It's a terrible thing, really bad.
The Oregon Democratic Party ought to have an emergency meeting to apologize to Governor Kitzhaber and reprimand those who publicly met with reporters and failed to support him, including Peter Courtney and Tina Kotek. Former governor Barbara Roberts also told reporters Kitzhaber should resign. I wonder what happens to politicians when they speak to reporters. They apparently think in their minds that they have to say what they imagine the reporter wants to hear, in this case the "reporter" represents the biased and false opinion of the Oregonian newspaper (whether a particular reporter works for that newspaper or not, the "media" came to a general conclusion about this matter which was completely unfair). Barbara Roberts and all other Democrats who failed Governor Kitzhaber ought to at least call him personally to apologize. Their actions have been reprehensible. If the Democratic Party does not take hold of this matter it will have no warrant to place itself before Oregon citizens as worthy to lead the state in the future.
Now, before I discuss the underlying substantive issues related to what Cylvia Hayes was doing in state government, I want readers to understand something about Oregon and its primary newspaper. The paper does not represent the culture or values of the people of Oregon. The people of this state love the incredible beauty of the mountains and rivers and forests and deserts and beaches of this part of the world. The large Columbia River marks the northern boundary of Oregon and the people here know how much they are gifted by such close access to the absolutely gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. But the Oregonian newspaper minimizes the importance of these gifts of nature. This newspaper is completely out of touch with the people of this state.
Now there is a big threat to this gorge. It is coming in the form of coal and oil trains, possibly hundreds of them every month. The big business oil interests have a huge stake in trying to provide for a "movable pipeline" for oil in Canada and North Dakota to come right down our gorge, especially if the Keystone pipeline is denied as it may well be. Already there are lots of trains moving through the little towns and cities along the gorge. And already there are large groups of citizens worried about major oil spills and other environmental impacts of oil trains. These citizens are organized in several important groups and have been trying to minimize the impacts of oil trains. And this has a lot to do with state government and the issue of permits for various facilities needed by the oil trains.
Governor Kitzhaber has been helpful in questioning these oil trains. He ran for office and was elected on a platform of concern for the environment and clean energy. And his fiance, Cylvia Hayes, is a professional woman in the field of clean energy and environment. If she worked on behalf of such issues in state government she would be doing exactly what the people of Oregon wanted when they elected their governor. If she related to outside organizations with expertise about these issues she would be doing exactly what a professional woman would be expected to do. If she helped to influence state government officials on these issues she would be doing exactly what a governor elected by the Oregon people would want.
But not what the Oregonian wants. In editorial after editorial it takes the side of business over the environment. Not long ago it wrote an editorial saying it was not going to say anything about climage change because that is not a local issue and they are only going to speak on local issues. What a complete farce that is. They, of course, take the side of the oil interests outside the state in supporting permits for oil facilities. The real reason they don't want to talk about climate change is that they know they would be out of step with the people of Oregon, the people reading their paper. So they avoid it.
But the paper wants to get after the governor. They want to especially go after his policies on the environment and energy. And along comes an article about Cylvia Hayes which opens up a real weak spot. And big business really likes to go after weak spots; its one of the ways they make money, lots of money. It's a jungle out there in the business consciousness, go after the easy targets. Cylvia Hayes turned out to be an easy target.
The first stories about her told about how she received money by getting married to an African immigrant who wanted to become a citizen. Then she was said to have bought a farm which was to be used for raising marijuana. So in the public mind now Cylvia Hayes has been vilified, a disreputable character if there ever was one, certainly not a person who should be the wife of a governor. Once that stuff was out there the story line was clear and the Oregonian demanded more and more emails and documents, and the more information they got the more they interpreted details according to the story line that Cylvia Hayes was disreputable and was abusing her access to the governor and state government.
But the Oregonian wanted more and more documents and claimed that Kitzhaber wasn't providing enough. That is another big media power play these days. Plenty of politicians don't like to provide incriminating data. But it is not just a matter of data, it is how data is interpreted. And the Oregonian was not a neutral arbiter of facts. It was a paper on a mission, a mission to take down a governor who cared about the environment. And they had found a weak spot.
Never mind there was another story line, that Cylvia Hayes was a competent, professional woman doing exactly what the governor and the people who elected him wanted. She was implementing strong policies concerning the environment and clean energy. That is exactly what the Oregonian did not want. So they went after her. And they won. A paper got rid of a clean energy governor.
It is no small thing that Democratic leaders turned on him. Kate Brown, the Oregon Secretary of State who will succeed him, made a statement against him, calling his actions at the end bizarre. Her actions were so wrong that she will not be able to govern with the confidence of the people.
And there is a final lesson in all this about liberal politicians in general. Liberal politicians tend to be genuinely good people. That is, they want to do good in the world. They don't want to just make money. They don't want to just be powerful. They want to do good. Think about Lyndon Johnson. He was a conniving politician his whole life until he became president and then he remembered he was a New Deal Democrat and decided to do good for the people of the country, including black people and poor people. He was able to pass an incredible amount of legislation which did indeed help millions of people.
John Kitzhaber started his career as an emergency room physician, doing good for people. His decision to become involved in politics was to do good for people. His leadership has meant that thousands more Oregonians have access to health care. He will be remembered for this and the other good he has done.
But good people sometimes have a difficult time believing how really mean and evil other human beings can be. Liberal politicians sometimes just can't believe how nasty they will be treated by those opposed to them. That is especially true in Oregon. When my wife and I moved here from Chicago in the 1980s we were amazed at how tame was the political culture.
I think John Kitzhaber appeared confused and uncertain in these last few days because he genuinely had difficulty believing that the Oregonian newspaper would actually do what it was doing. The people on the editorial board are really mean and nasty people. They believe their story line, Cylvia Hayes is dangerous for Oregon. A competent and able woman who knows about clean energy is not what they want. They certainly don't want her to use her good wits and savvy to get things done. And they knew that she was a weak spot, a way to get at a governor, a way to demonstrate they were the real power in the state, not those elected by the people.
The Oregonian, its writers and editorial board, do not represent Oregon or its people, their real interests and values. The Oregonian is so bad for Oregon that I believe everyone should do everything possible to close down this paper. If you are a business, do not advertise with this paper. If you are a public official, do not give interviews to reporters of this paper. If you subscribe, stop your subscription. If you work for this paper I encourage you to quit your job; it is hard to morally hold your head up when a paper will go to these lengths to destroy another human being and bring down a governor. This paper is not worthy of the people of this state.
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