Over at ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization, managing editor Stephen Engelberg has a powerful and deeply personal reflection in the aftermath of David Wu's resignation. He recounts his long-standing opposition to pursuing allegations of sexual misbehavior - and how he's changed his mind.
He also breaks some news about what happened inside the Oregonian news room with regard to David Wu.
In 2002, Engelberg joined the Oregonian as managing editor. That put him in position to fail, very badly, in missing the Neil Goldschmidt scandal.
Within a year, I was part of the management team that bungled one of the most significant sex scandals one could imagine: The story of how a former governor and Carter-administration cabinet secretary had preyed on a teenage girl and covered up his misconduct. Neil Goldschmidt was the golden boy of Oregon politics, a kingmaker with the darkest secret imaginable. We had a plausible tip on the story, but failed to follow up, allowing a competitor, Willamette Week, to break the story and win a Pulitzer Prize.
The Oregonian had also failed earlier to report the Bob Packwood scandal, despite having solid tips. After the Goldschmidt failure, Engelberg writes:
I pushed the Oregonian's reporters and editors to run to ground every tip relating to sexual misconduct by a public official.
And that new emphasis led them to David Wu. In 2004, they began an effort to follow up on a tip about the 1976 sexual assault allegation.
But over several months, reporters Laura Gunderson, Dave Hogan, and Jeff Kosseff improbably tracked down witnesses who were willing to go on the record. They found Leah Kaplan, an 82-year old former therapist at Stanford who had counseled the woman and was suffering from a fatal illness. Kaplan, still angered by the incident, breached patient confidentiality and said that she had pressed Stanford officials to take disciplinary action against Wu. ...
Just a few weeks before the election, we had a story ready for publication. Wu hired a lawyer who ferociously counter-attacked, threatening to sue the Oregonian if any story were published. Neither Wu nor the lawyer would answer questions about the incident, but they contacted Kaplan's family and made it clear they were prepared to hold the dying woman legally accountable for her conduct. Wu's campaign manager said the candidate would never respond to "unsubstantiated allegations."
Wu, of course, won re-election. And yet, there was more.
Over the next few months, we heard other stories from other women. None was willing to go on the record. It appeared to us that Wu's aggressive conduct with women may have continued deep into his adulthood. But we were unable to prove it.
In 2008, he left the Oregonian to become ProPublica's managing editor.
And then came the bombshell disclosure that an 18-year old woman, daughter of a political supporter, had called Wu's offices and left a voice mail stating that she had been the victim of a coercive sexual encounter with him the previous Thanksgiving.
And now, Wu has resigned. And Engelberg apologizes to the woman whom Wu allegedly assaulted last fall:
I apologize to the teenager whose distraught call is said to describe a traumatic experience at the hands of a 56-year-old member of Congress. Despite our best efforts, we failed you. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that sex can be a legitimate arena for investigative reporting. It certainly was in the case of David Wu.
Discuss. (Hat tip to Sarah Mirk at the Mercury.)