Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss — Journalism of Destruction
Friday, April 22, 2016
Commentary by Theresa Griffin Kennedy
You are about to read what amounts to an opinion piece. This written work is as biased as the article “Family Values...” written by Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week Newspaper and published April 13, 2016, regarding Fred Stewart, candidate for Portland city council. The Jaquiss article uses tactics of yellow journalism to promote sensationalism in a transparent effort to exploit universal and mundane aspects of an individual’s private life.
DO YOU EVER ASK YOURSELF what makes a good journalist? Someone who is competent, moral and objective? College journalism professors will tell you the hallmark of a skilled journalist is whether he or she is “unbiased,” in their reporting and presentation of a topic or individual person. This is traditionally the most obvious goal for a journalist; the need to maintain an unbiased rational distance from stories and subjects that incorporate factuality, fairness, non-partisanship and objectivity.
The reality however, is that most journalists inject their conscious or unconscious bias into virtually everything they publish. From journalists who cover only political stories, to journalists who focus on a wider variety of social and cultural topics, the main danger over time, is that the journalist will begin to lose balance and perspective in what he or she investigates. For example, being an outspoken crusader against social ills and the people involved is often praised as journalism of a higher order. But what happens when those “crusader” type journalists lose perspective and rational balance? What happens when they demonstrate their belief that they exist on a moral high ground, apart and above the common men and women in their midst?
What often results are the special interest stories that promote the values, social conditioning and overall political perspectives regarding race, gender and class of the journalist. And if the journalist is over-confident, arrogant, lacks professional restraint and presumes he or she can do whatever they want, what also results is yellow Journalism. Yellow journalism presents few legitimate facts, or holistically researched stories, and instead depends on suggestive, biased headlines regarding everyday human dynamics, including crude exaggeration to promote an internal agenda or impulse within the journalist himself.
Yellow journalism promotes scandal mongering such as repeated “sex scandal,” stories which incorporate the distortion and exploitation of nuanced facts. This is done in an effort to create sensationalism, attract readers and sell papers, with little concern to the damage that may occur later to real people.
You may be wondering what the purpose or goal of this narrative is, and as the reader, you’re entitled to know. This written narrative details a specific story and delves into the human cost of yellow journalism and who is injured in the process. Learning about the human cost of yellow journalism, (as exists in my own hometown of Portland) has been a complex, sad and profoundly interesting experience worthy of exploration here.
Approximately four months ago, I sat down with my friend Fred Stewart, candidate for Portland City Council, and warned him in my most serious tone about the danger of trusting Willamette Week Journalist Nigel Jaquiss. I explained that Jaquiss is an untrustworthy opportunist and like the Spotted Hyena, he would not be able to change his nature of going in for the kill.
“It's how Jaquiss is, he's acquired a taste for blood. You can't trust him, he'll try to ruin you. Destroying people is what makes him feel good. It fills the empty hole inside himself.” I explained that Jaquiss, nicknamed the “Muck Raker” for taking down two Oregon governors, and focusing his writing and publishing interests almost exclusively on the sex lives of powerful white men, would in time, confirm his truest nature by double crossing Fred, as he has so many other people, all in the name of doing the greater good of tracking down “liars” and those breaking “laws.”
I explained to Fred that ultimately, Jaquiss is a well-known liar who uses emotional manipulation and blatant deception (pretending to be the good guy who is your friend) to get personal information so that he can spin it in any number of biased ways. I warned Fred because after doing research on Jaquiss for over two years now, in my off time, and talking with various Portlanders and people from out of state, who have dealt with Jaquiss, I wanted to protect Fred from what I knew would devolve into a bitter, disappointing and bewildering experience.
Fred, in his good nature and optimism didn’t listen to my warnings. He felt Jaquiss would not betray him, or spin information about his private life solely to make him look like a moral degenerate, in an effort to destroy his political candidacy. He told me, “He's been calling me. I've been talking to him regularly.” I shook my head and told Fred he would end up regretting it. “Nigel Jaquiss will never change. He honestly thinks he's got the right to be the moral watchdog of this town. He thinks destroying lives as a glorified pencil pusher is his right. I'd keep a clear distance from him. He has no empathy for others. Trust me, Fred, I've known people like him.”
But Fred, to his credit, (and because he wouldn't do to others what Jaquiss routinely does with his muck raking journalism) could not see the connection. His good nature would not allow him to think ill of a man he really didn't know, and he continued to talk with Jaquiss and answer his many phone calls and endless questions.
Fred cooperated with Jaquiss not because he was naïve of the ways of sneaky, lying journalists but because he wanted to demonstrate that he, “wasn’t going to lie like so many other politicians.” Fred wanted to answer any questions to prove to Jaquiss that he was honest and forthcoming. Fred’s honesty had little impact on what happened in the end, though.
The article written by Jaquiss, and published by WW, April 13, 2016 accuses Fred Stewart of an unprovoked and violent attack on his six-teen-year-old daughter, in 2013, which left Hunter Stewart “terrified” and “helpless,” and wondering “how can I get out of there?”
Most interesting, from a journalistic point of view is the extremely provocative tabloid journalism headline used for the article. “Family Values; City Council Candidate Fred Stewart “pinned” his 16-year-old daughter against the wall – then sued her.” The headline, Family Values, suggests by its very presence and allusion that Fred has no family values, since of course he pinned his daughter against the wall. The title acts as confirmation of guilt, and is quite effective in this way. There is no question as to events, simply the unequivocal presumption of guilt, as predicated by the headline. The title is declarative, provocative and asks no questions; this is the truest essence of tabloid journalism.
The incident in question occurred September 21, 2013, and involved a police contact with PPB Officer Mike Chapin. Officer Chapin wrote in his police report that Fred Stewart got into a loud argument with his daughter, Hunter Stewart. The argument resulted in Hunter's girlfriend, who was in another room, calling police. According to my interview with Fred, and statements he made to Jaquiss, the altercation was the result of a loud argument that resulted when Hunter was “...flat out disrespectful,” and refused to listen as Fred attempted to speak to her about an issue they had been discussing.
Hunter yelled at him, telling him she didn't have to do what he said. She screamed at him, interrupted him and repeatedly spoke over him, telling him she didn't have to listen, which resulted in Fred becoming increasingly frustrated. Then during the argument, Fred claims his 16-year-old daughter Hunter hit him with a closed fist. Are you now wondering what this notorious argument was about, since that information was conveniently not included in the Jaquiss article? Money? No. A lover the family did not approve of? No. Drugs? No. Curfew or the refusal to help out with household chores? No.
The argument was about Portland City commissioner, NICK FISH. You read that right. NICK. FISH.
When interviewing Fred for this article, he admitted to me, with a chuckle, that Hunter had come home from school one day and informed him that she had arranged an interview with City Commissioner Nick Fish and that he had given her his “private cell phone number.” The interview was for a school project and Hunter was justifiably proud of herself. Fred told his daughter that he doubted Fish had actually given Hunter his private cell number because politicians generally guard their personal cell phone numbers fiercely, as the only vestige of privacy they have left.
As someone who has dealt with other professionals and knows certain politicians and former politicians, having lived in Portland my whole life, I can state that Fred is correct in this assertion. Most politicians do not give out their personal cell phone numbers to strangers. Ever.
During the initial discussion Fred asked his daughter to share the phone number with him. Hunter then said, “Dad! I'm a reporter, I can't reveal my sources!” to which Fred said, “Well, I've got his personal cell phone number because I've known him for years; I'll show you the number I have, on my cell and you can just tell me if it’s the same number?” At that point, Fred claims that Hunter refused, saying, “I'm not gonna do that, Dad! Nick Fish is important, you're NOT!” And that's when the yelling started. When Hunter decided a man she didn't know, a stranger she would meet only once was more important than the father who had raised her, fed her, and provided for her since her birth sixteen short years before. Ten days before the altercation, Fred purchased a $3,000 Apple Macbook Air computer for Hunter. “She decided she was going to be a reporter. She said needed it and so I bought it for her, with all the fixins’ including an external hard drive and several other expensive features.” Approximately one month before the altercation, Fred offered to buy his daughter a 2005 black BMW. “I lucked out. She looked at it and said no,” Fred told me. Apparently, the black 2005 BMW was not good enough for Hunter. She wanted something better, newer, and more expensive.
Perhaps most disturbing are the methods Jaquiss uses to deceive his victims and create a false sense of trust. First he starts by emailing them, and telling them he needs their help with a story he’s working on, then he starts calling them and having friendly telephone conversations. Then he makes the personal house calls, as he did with Fred Stewart.
Two days before the April 13 article was published for all of Portland to devour and snicker about, April 11, 2016, Nigel Jaquiss came to Fred's home and sat with him, laughing and smiling, talking about all kinds of things, including Fred's campaign for city council, and the situation with Fred's volatile daughter Hunter, the self-proclaimed teen “reporter” who couldn't “reveal” her “sources.” Jaquiss told Fred he was not doing a story on him but just wanted to “check some facts” and do some “simple fact checking.”
Nigel Jaquiss lied!
The Muck Raker, the rabid “crusader” of wrong doing and righter of wrongs, the noble defender of justice lied about his real purpose in being in Fred Stewart's home.
Nigel Jaquiss lied.
During his time talking with Fred, Jaquiss asked about the police contact he had dug up with the police officer Chapin. At that point, Fred claims he told Jaquiss the whole comical story of his daughter bragging how she had gotten the very busy Nick Fish to give her thirty minutes of his time for an interview. When Fred told Jaquiss that Hunter had exclaimed, “I'm a reporter Dad, I can't reveal my sources!” Jaquiss laughed heartily saying, “Didn't she know she'd already revealed her sources when she told you about Nick Fish?!” Fred Stewart and Nigel Jaquiss both shared a good chuckle at young Hunter's expense, laughing about her innocence and naïve enthusiasm for journalism.
Though Fred was suspicious of Jaquiss, he felt he had a friend in his home, a man who had accepted and enjoyed his honesty and forthrightness. The reality was that Jaquiss was there for one reason and one reason only; to gather information about Fred's personal life so he could twist the facts and exploit a straightforward situation in an effort to make it look far more sinister than it was.
When Fred told Jaquiss about the police officer coming to the house, Fred admitted he didn’t tell the officer that Hunter had struck him. Jaquiss seemed perplexed why Fred hadn’t told the officer his daughter had struck him. “Why didn't you tell the cop she hit you?” Jaquiss asked, perplexed. “She's my daughter! I didn't' want her to go to jail for assault!” Later, during our interview, Fred expressed to me how amazed he was that Jaquiss would ask such a stupid question. Nigel Jaquiss has three children, now in their teen years. Apparently one can only wonder if Jaquiss were ever struck by one of his teen children, would he then promptly call the police and have them arrested?
As any parent, who loves their child, even after a violent altercation, Fred simply didn't want his child to be hauled off in handcuffs, stuffed in the back of a police car and then thrown in a jail cell, particularly given the fact that Hunter is a bi-racial young woman. This incident would not be the first time a parent has tried to protect an out of control child by withholding information from a law enforcement officer in the hopes that the situation would soon blow over.
I myself was hurt when my daughter, also at the time 16-years-old, and angry that I had to leave our home for a night class at Portland State University, rushed to the Apartment balcony where we lived, and while I walked down the driveway, hurled a whole purple cabbage at my head! And it hit me. I can tell you when you’re hit on the back of the head, by a four pound cabbage, careening through the air, you don’t forget how jarring that feels. Did I call the police and have my daughter arrested, because she tossed a cabbage at my head? No, I did not. That’s not what good parents do. I scolded her later and we talked about the importance of her controlling her emotions.
Fred's Ex-girlfriend Margaret Ibanez was also present during the April 11 meeting with Jaquiss, and she corroborates Fred's version of what transpired that day in every detail. But more than that, Margaret claims Hunter not only struck Fred, but she kicked him too, flailing about in her efforts to strike her father, with both her hands and her feet. That is when Fred Stewart, in an effort to protect himself from his enraged, violent daughter “pinned” her against the wall. He was merely trying to protect himself from an angry opinionated teenager having a temper tantrum because her father had questioned a boastful claim and perhaps embarrassed her.
When interviewing Fred for this story, I asked him what kind of girl Hunter Stewart was, “What was she like as a kid?” Fred smiled and remembered when she was a baby and a toddler and how cute she was. He told me that Hunter was the cherished only child of his former wife Robin Raymond, and himself and that he adored her. By the age of five Hunter had collected an assortment of Barbie Dolls, well over “fifty” Fred recalls. He told me that at the age of eight, Hunter received a new IPod so she could listen to music. When she turned ten she received her first Cell Phone, and at twelve Hunter received a brand new IPhone, at a time when many adults couldn’t afford an IPhone. Fred stated that all during Hunter's growing up years she got regular designer clothes, some which she only wore a few times before throwing them out and demanding new clothes. The clothes were always supplemented with new shoes and boots, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, being name brands like Air Jordon's and the like.
As Fred was working over forty hours a week as a real estate agent and making good money, he was in a position to indulge his daughter's every whim. Hunter was also provided regular dental care, food and medical care, when and if needed.
Margaret, no longer Fred Stewart's girlfriend, has been honest and forthcoming in her recollections of Hunter Stewart. She has stated, “Whatever Hunter wanted, Hunter got!”
It is important to mention when Jaquiss drove to Fred's home in NE Portland, to interview him, Margaret was also present during the entire interview. Fred introduced Margaret, saying, “This is my good friend Margaret.” At no time did Fred suggest that he and Margaret were still in an intimate relationship. They were former intimate partners and only friends. When Jaquiss wrote in the article, that Margaret was Fred's “girlfriend” he did so with a specific purpose in mind. If Margaret were believed to be Fred's “girlfriend” the fact that she would corroborate his story would be more expected. If she was still considered to be his “girlfriend” her honesty or veracity would be less accepted, because how many “girlfriends” routinely lie for their boyfriends, in an effort to defend or protect them? Lots.
If Jaquiss introduced Margaret in the written article as Fred's former girlfriend, who still chose to corroborate Fred's version of events, the readership would be clued in to the fact that Margaret, as the former girlfriend, would have nothing to gain by her honesty, other than being honest and telling the truth. If Margaret had been introduced as Fred's former girlfriend, who was still willing to honestly share what she witnessed, thereby corroborating Fred's story, she would have, and Fred would have more credibility.
In journalism there are generally few mistakes. There are intentional methods and practices with a specific purpose in mind. Including or not including details like “girlfriend” or “ex-girlfriend” can have very specific functions in journalism and should not be taken lightly. They influence the reader's impression of the truthfulness of an individual's testimony, sometimes even on an unconscious level.
And that’s why Jaquiss introduced Fred’s ex-girlfriend Margaret as his current “girlfriend” which was an untruth, to mislead the public and contribute to the hysteria and sensationalism of the “court of public opinion.” Now, the question begs, why would Jaquiss do this? My opinion is that Jaquiss, afflicted with his insulated white middle class mentality is a closet racist with a low opinion of African American men and is afraid of a black man occupying Seat Four in the Portland City Council.
As institutionalized racism is part of the consciousness of every white person, in one form or another, and to varying degrees, I believe that the thought of a black man occupying a place in city council is something that unnerves and frightens someone like Jaquiss, and the Editor of WW, Mark Zusman. A political insider is of the opinion that Zusman is behind all of Jaquiss's articles but I personally doubt that. Jaquiss has enough power within WW to decide what articles he focuses on. I believe there’s something sinister and voyeuristic within Nigel Jaquiss. He simply enjoys these types of aggressive character assassinations.
In one article from January of this year, in which Jaquiss spoke to students at the University of Oregon, he is quoted as saying, “People are motivated by money, love and fear.” The one glaring motivation Jaquiss left out is the hunger for power. This is interesting because power is the one dynamic that often motivates people more significantly than any of the aforementioned motivations. Why would Jaquiss leave out the obvious motivation of power? I personally believe it’s because he sees the hunger for power in himself and he is disturbed by it. In the talk that Jaquiss gave at University of Oregon he also revealed himself with two other things he said.
1.) “Journalism is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”
2.) “To catch liars, get people to tell stories in minute detail, then test all testable facts.”
The first quote is interesting. Despite the crude, vulgar reference to sexual intercourse, that a 12-year-old could pick up on, the remark reveals a level of excitement and satisfaction that Jaquiss feels that is fascinating in what it reveals about him.
Much of what is yellow journalism; repeated sex scandal stories, and the unethical spinning of facts. These are stories that make Jaquiss happy. Character assassination. And lately more often than not this is what Jaquiss produces.
Perhaps most disturbing is how the Jaquiss story has impacted Fred’s elderly mother, Dorothy Stewart, of fashionable NE Cleveland Street. Mrs. Stewart moved from Macon Mississippi, to settle in Portland Oregon and start a new life. She married a good man who was a good husband for many years. He served as a decorated soldier in the Vietnam War. Sadly, when her husband returned from the war, he was not the same man. After a few years of constant night terrors, mood swings and angry outbursts, having “turned into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Mrs. Stewart made the painful decision to divorce him in 1975 when Fred was only a child of ten. She raised their three children alone, Fred, his brother and sister, saying, “I realized that my children needed at least one stable parent and so I left their father.”
The pain Mrs. Stewart has gone through because of this smear article by Jaquiss is not right. The nights she has “cried and cried” and the human suffering she, Fred, her daughter and younger son have all experienced is a concrete representation of the human cost of yellow journalism; the very yellow journalism that Willamette Week newspaper is more than willing to pump out and force feed to the citizens of Portland.
It’s not right that a woman from Mississippi, with numerous family who have survived several lynching’s and murder from white racists should have to experience the intrusion and “hurt” of a planned character assassination, with the help of her indulged and narcissistic granddaughter, Hunter Stewart.
What is most sad of all though, is the way young Hunter has been used in a way she cannot possibly understand. She is far too young and inexperienced to even conceptualize the ways in which she has devalued her rich heritage, betrayed her family and been so very used, by a man who laughed about her behind her back. Mr. Nigel Jaquiss.
Hunter probably feels a great deal of pride in double crossing her family, it seems to be the new ethic of today, and after all she wants to be a journalist of note, so what better way than to deceive her family, set her father up and hope to destroy his political candidacy? If she wanted to attract attention to herself, she succeeded with a bang. But it’s not the kind of attention she may want, in the future when she matures and her perspective changes. The fact that Nigel Jaquiss would so willingly come between a father and daughter, just for a story is also utterly reprehensible, though I know he will reject that assertion too.
But we have to ask ourselves, why. Why is Nigel Jaquiss motivated to do such things? What unfulfilled dreams and bitter disappointment does he still carry in his heart? Why does he get a thrill and a sense of satisfaction and power from being the “assassin” that he is?
Perhaps in time, we will learn what some of those motivating factors are. Perhaps in time we’ll come closer to getting inside the head of Mr. Nigel Jaquiss.
Photo: Columbia University