Denial, Denial, Denial and Then a Pulitzer

Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the June 18 edition of the AAN Convention Daily newsletter.

On Friday, June 17, Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss described for AAN Convention attendees how “a conventional, business-political story” brought down the biggest man in Oregon, netting Jaquiss and his paper a Pulitzer in the process. Jaquiss’ work revealed former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt’s statutory rape of a 14-year-old babysitter decades ago. Jaquiss was tipped off by a document in which Goldschmidt arranged to pay a young woman for damages incurred from 1975 to 1978 — as long as she kept quiet.

Looking for “every other piece of paper [he] could find” on the victim, Jaquiss discovered she was brutally raped as a young adult. Related court documents “all but named [Goldschmidt] in discussing the victim’s previous sexual history,” said Jaquiss.

After receiving a stream of “denials that were, in a funny way, confirmations” from the victim’s associates, Jaquiss and WW editor Mark Zusman were convinced it was time to approach the victim. Unfortunately, their meeting proved inconclusive. “She got $350,000… to keep her mouth shut,” Jaquiss said.

“Completely depressed,” Jaquiss spoke to sources he imagined would be defensive of Goldschmidt, yet they too yielded information. After several meetings with WW’s lawyer, the article was finished — but the story wasn’t: abreast of WW’s work, Goldschmidt spun his story for The Oregonian, Portland’s daily. To counteract, WW released the bulk of the story on its Web site hours before the daily hit the stand. “As luck would have it, [The Oregonian] wrote a story incredibly favorable to Goldschmidt and against the victim,” said Jaquiss. “All the media outlets in the Northwest basically acknowledged that we broke the story.”

Wells Dunbar was a staff writer for the AAN Convention Daily this year and last. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes for the Austin Chronicle.