Notes on a scandal

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News Hits usually tries to avoid stories that are being covered extensively by others. The way we figure it, if you can read about it somewhere else, why bother wasting ink on it here? But last week's disclosure of sexually explicit text messages between Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, is a subject too explosive to ignore.

It is, as they say in the business, a fast-moving story. As of Monday morning, when this is being written, local media are reporting that Beatty has resigned, saying that she can no longer effectively carry out her duties as chief of staff. That puts the mayor in an awfully tight spot. After all, he and Beatty are both being accused of the same crime: Perjury. (And, although we've seen no mention of it yet, we would not be surprised if the term "obstruction of justice" surfaces at some point in connection to all this.)

But the question right now is this: If Beatty feels she can no longer perform her official duties, how can the mayor?

All this will be sorted out soon enough. In the meantime, we'll offer a few observations regarding what's happened so far.

The story dominated the front pages of both The Detroit News and Free Press last Thursday. But there was a big difference: The Freep owned the story, while the News was already choking on the dust left in the wake of its competitor, which broke the story Wednesday night.

So, here's kudos to the Freep for its tenacity in obtaining copies of the text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty, and a slap down to the News, which announced near the lead of its Thursday story that Kilpatrick had issued a statement the previous evening after a "report" regarding the messages had "surfaced."

That report didn't "surface." It was the result of a tremendous journalistic digging, and had to be dragged into the light of day despite the administration's attempts to keep it concealed. The fact that the News didn't credit its rivals for actually breaking this thing wide-open until 10 paragraphs into its lead story — and a continued reluctance to credit the Freep for its fine work — is bush league.

As to exactly how the Freep obtained those text messages — that's an issue the paper has been carefully stepping around. Maybe we missed it, but we haven't even seen mention made of the usual "confidential source" being the provider. One article pointed out that the paper had unsuccessfully attempted to use a subpoena to obtain the messages from the company holding them, and that it eventually got ahold of them "independent" of that effort. Exactly how that happened is a tantalizing omission.

The Freep also seems to have omitted details about exactly when the lawyer for Harold Nelthrope and Gary Brown — the two former cops who brought a whistle-blower lawsuit against the city and Kilpatrick — obtained a copy of those messages. Unless we missed it in the pages of the Freep, it was the News that provided that detail, and it is a juicy one.

According to a story that appeared on Saturday, the News reported that attorney Mike Stefani, who represented the whistle-blowing cops, didn't receive a copy of the messages from the company that held them until about two weeks after the jury delivered its verdict in favor of the cops on Sept. 10.

Kilpatrick's immediate response was to vow to appeal that decision. Then Stefani gets the incriminating text messages. Within weeks, Kilptrick aburptly reverses course and announces that he will forgo an appeal and settle the case.

Both the News and Free Press have reported that a secret agreement existed between Kilpatrick and the cops. Terms of that agreement have not yet been disclosed, but the implication is clear: Once Stefani obtained the text messages, Kilpatrick's philandering had been proved, and he was willing to hand over nearly $9 million in city funds on condition that the messages remain secret.

So much for the supporters of the mayor who continue to offer up the moronic contention that this issue is about Kilpatrick's personal conduct. It is about the careers of three cops — a third, former mayoral bodyguard Walt Harris also filed suit against Kilpatrick and the city — who had their careers and reputations trashed. It is about a mayor who fired the head of internal affairs in an attempt to shut down an investigation, and then denied that the cop had been fired. It is about lying under oath. And it is about the possibility that public funds were handed over in an attempt to keep dirty secrets from being aired.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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