The Paper Chase
How an investigative reporter at a small Portland weekly scooped a nationally acclaimed daily paper on a sex scandal involving the city's mayor.
The interview strategy was good cop, bad cop. Mark Zusman, the editor of the Portland, Ore., alternative newspaper Willamette Week, would lay out a few softball questions for the city's newly inaugurated mayor about the extent of his past relationship with a teenage legislative intern. Zusman would give Sam Adams a chance to cooperate, to come along quietly. If Adams stonewalled, investigative reporter Nigel Jaquiss would move in and lay out his case, compiled over the previous 16 months with the same kind of dogged shoe-leather work that had earned the former Wall Street oil trader a Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism in 2005.
In the end, Jaquiss told Adams nearly everything he'd dug up over the past year and a half, identifying the sources who'd contradicted the 45-year-old mayor's virulent denials that he'd been anything more than a mentor to the intern. Adams still stood by his story.
The good cop, bad cop meeting came a few days after a new anonymous tip reached the inboxes of reporters at newspapers throughout the city, one that suggested Breedlove and the mayor had some kind of encounter in a city-hall bathroom and that the mayor's former boyfriend, reachable at an included cell phone number, could provide details.
Jaquiss was worried he'd get scooped on a story he'd been reporting for more than a year, so he and Zusman decided to kick the reporting into high gear, confronting the mayor with what they knew and exposing what they believed was the truth about Adams's public deception and private bad judgment. The mayor's denial in the meeting meant things were about to get ugly, and it meant Jaquiss couldn't be absolutely positive he was about the print the truth. He spent the weekend writing and rewriting, trying to convince Breedlove to go on the record and visiting one of his off-the-record sources to look him squarely in the eye and make sure his portion of the puzzle was as beyond reproach as possible.
By then, reporters at the largest newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, The Oregonian, had begun to circle. On Martin Luther King Day, Jaquiss and Zusman decided, they would publish the allegations on Willamette Week's Web site. Just as they were working on the layout, putting the final touches on the piece, Jaquiss's cell phone rang. It was Mayor Adams, ready to come clean.
Click here for the latest updates and complete WW coverage of the Adams-Breedlove story.