The reporters in the room tell me that the mayor was progressively uncomfortable. He never lost his temper. His agitation never got the better of him. He frequently paused to gather his thoughts. He was surprised by some of what we knew. He acknowledged readily the online issues. He denied flatly the allegations of molestation in his past. And I think our story reflected all of that.
BM: What repercussions are you expecting from this? What’s happened so far?
SS: That’s a good question. And, except for what’s transpired, I don’t have a clue. We, of course, wondered for days and speculated what the repercussions might be, and finally decided that all we could do is print our story and our follow-ups and let events take their course.
The mayor [yesterday] issued a statement, which is just a few paragraphs long. He presented it in a briefing with the press but took no questions. … He issued an email to city hall staff and department heads apologizing for his conduct but vowing to continue in office. He resigned from the Boy Scout executive board in our region. And now we’re waiting to see the political ramifications.
BM: Have you heard from a lot of readers?
SS: We’ve heard from hundreds. We created multiple ways for people to reach us. All of the principals including myself have our phone numbers and email addresses in the paper and online. But we also created a special online forum. We created an email hotline and a telephone hotline for comments and tips. Last I checked, insofar as public opinion is concerned, we’re running overwhelmingly — ten to one, fifteen to one — in favor of our reporting and the work that we’ve done. There are some people who believe that we have invaded the mayor’s privacy, or that we’re dredging up old allegations. And he has been an effective mayor, and there are people who are concerned we may be costing the city an effective leader. But overwhelmingly, I think the community appreciates knowing something today that they didn’t know before.
BM: This whole package obviously has a huge impact on the mayor’s life. You’ve explained why you and the paper felt it was justified. I’m just curious if you have mixed feelings.
SS: Oh, I’m sick to my stomach. And I think I can speak for the reporters and the editors who’ve been involved with this for some period of time. Reporters and editors involved in the sex abuse priest stories around the country I think can probably empathize with our feelings. If you listen to the interviews with our victims, they bring you to tears — damaged people whose lives have been irrevocably harmed.
If you talk to the mayor, in terms of his public persona — [he is] a quiet man. A man I personally liked quite a bit, and … who brought order to what was a chaotic municipal government. A great deal of respect. There’s no satisfaction in these stories. And the last few weeks, as we’ve been moving to publication, every one of us has had to step back and search pretty deeply about what we were doing and why we were doing it.
Earlier this week, I wanted everyone on the team to verbally commit to the story in terms of, “Are we doing the right thing? Is this journalistically defensible? Are we prepared to take responsibility for what may come from this?” And it was only after that conversation that we said we were ready to go.