A 16-Year-Old WW Article About Digging Through the Mayor’s Trash Went Viral Over the Weekend

Holding people in positions of power accountable never goes out of style.

Vera Katz (WW archives)

Sometimes, for entirely unclear and mysterious reasons, the internet resurrects things thought to be long forgotten. You could say it digs through the trash heap of history.

Such was the case with an article WW ran in 2002, titled Rubbish, about our reporters digging though city official's trash. The article showed up in a Reddit group called TIL—Today I Learned—over the weekend and has since racked up over 4,000 comments.

This morning, it was also subsequently tweeted by the Intercept journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who copied a link to the story to his followers.

"This is awesome," Greenwald wrote. "Portland's city officials—police, judges, mayor—insisted they have the right to search people's trash with no warrants. So local alt-weekly (@wweek) went through their trash and published the contents."

Sure, many commenters pointed out, the article is a decade and a half old. But, others noted, it touches on something that the nation is desperately grasping for at the moment: ingenuity when it comes to holding people in power accountable.

At the time the article was penned, Portland police had pilfered through the garbage of fellow officer, Gina Hoesly, to find a bloody tampon that became the basis for drug charges against her.

After being called out for questionable investigation tactics, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office ruled that once trash is on the curb, it's public property.

WW decided to put that position to the test, by airing out the contents of the Mayor's (then Vera Katz) Police Chief's (then Mark Kroeker) and District Attorney's (then Mike Schrunk) garbage to readers.

A court would later rule that police cannot use items found in the garbage as evidence in drug cases.

At the time, WW's reporting methods received mixed reviews.

Keith Woods, then an ethics professor at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., told Editor and Publisher that the garbage collection was "a cheap stunt," that "borders on abuse of the tool of journalism."

Others, like Tim Gleason, then University of Oregon's dean of the School of Journalism and Communications, told E&P, "I think it is quite appropriate." His opinion was shared by then dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, Orville Schell, who said, "One has to admire the enterprise of someone willing to do this sort of research."

The current online dialogue around the article is almost unanimously positive—minus some grousing that a 16-year-old article is being discussed at all.

"This is an outragous stunt," Barton Gellman tweeted today. "I approve."

"Many of the deficiencies in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence can be traced to the feeling of powerful people that the government's surveillance powers are unlikely to be turned against them," another tweet by Jameel Jaffer followed.

"Today in why we have to save alt weeklies," Carter Sherman also tweeted with a link to the story.

What would the garbage contents of our nation's most powerful office-holder reveal, the over 20,000 people who have responded to Greenwald's tweet might like to know?  Sadly, probably a lot of McDonald's wrappers.

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