Oregon has the highest rate of poverty on the West Coast.
But let’s talk about Cylvia Hayes’ past.
Journalists have the right (even a responsibility) to report on activities within government and so the role played by Hayes, Oregon’s first lady, is newsworthy. This is particularly true if Hayes has used her influence in ways that might be unethical. Such behavior has been alleged by Willamette Week but not proven.
What Willamette Week has uncovered, and what will define the last weeks of the election for governor, is that Hayes had a secret marriage late in her twenties.
Willamette Week has over the years done some reporting worthy of the awards they have received. Uncovering that Oregon icon Neil Goldschmidt was in fact a child rapist rewrote state history and brought a small measure of justice to the babysitter he victimized.
More the norm, however, are stories like this one regarding Hayes. Nothing regarding her past will impact John Kitzhaber’s term as governor or legacy in the state. Telling this story now simply serves to embarrass Hayes. Willamette Week has a long history of defining people by their worst moments.
As clergy, I long ago came to the conclusion that the human experience is messy. All of us come to the table with a variety of faults (in theological terms we call these sins). Sometimes these personal faults mean that people need to be excused from public life. Other times, particularly when people gain fame from politics or the arts, the media seeks to exploit all too human failings for their own purposes.
The media will now pile on Hayes. Real issues – like poverty, that weren’t being covered anyway – will be ignored even more as “reporters” follow Hayes and Kitzhaber around demanding to know about the state of their relationship.
What will Hayes legacy be in Oregon? That we don’t know. But Willamette Week’s legacy will be part journalistic brilliance that shines way to infrequently and a long record of tearing good people down for the sport (or advertising dollars) of it. On balance, WW has done more harm than good.
Still, no one will ask Kitzhaber or Dennis Richardson how they’ll address poverty if elected in November. I’m certain neither one of them knows.
The sin of poverty ought to be the real story. Hayes' private sins ought to remain private. But there are too few saints in journalism today willing to cover issues of substance over scandal. In journalism, there are sinners too.