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Recent Missouri editorials

January 16, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Jan. 11

Gov. Greitens’ affair wasn’t criminal, but extortion and coercion would be

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted to an affair, and politicians have been known to survive those. But that might not be the best way to describe his relationship with the hairdresser whose ex-husband has released an audio recording of her talking about their first encounter, just six months before the former Navy SEAL announced he was running for the office he now holds. On the tape, she says he invited her to his family home, blindfolded her, duct taped her hands to a piece of exercise equipment and took a naked photo of her that he threatened would “go everywhere” if she ever went public.

Greitens and his wife issued a joint statement that his infidelity is between them and God. Them, God and the injured parties, maybe. Including the voters who were told hundreds of times about his record as a stand-up family guy.

Only the governor’s real problem is that his unfaithfulness is not the point, as much as he would like it to be.

Because while cheating on his wife is not against the law, extortion and coercion are, and other aspects of what’s been alleged might be, too.

Missouri has no law against revenge porn but does have a law against invasion of privacy that could apply. Our state’s version of an extortion statute outlaws “stealing by coercion.” If he did duct tape her to a piece of exercise equipment, that could involve false imprisonment and/or battery.

The governor, through his lawyer, has denied that he took a photo, threatened blackmail or was ever violent in any way. But the bottom line is that we do not yet know exactly what happened. Which is why, unlike some state lawmakers, we’re not calling for his resignation or impeachment, at least until we know more.

The public absolutely does, however, need and deserve the criminal investigation that Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has said she’s launching. In fact, that’s the only piece of good news here, because it’s up to police to find out what laws, if any, were broken. The Missouri House should investigate, too, which it has the power to do.

The governor seems to put the onus for any problems going forward on the fact that “there will be some people who cannot forgive.” His wife Sheena asks “the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children.” This isn’t mere “gossip,” though, but a potential crime and certain breach of public as well as private trust.

Greitens should welcome the police investigation. Because if he broke no law, he more than anyone needs the public to hear that from a more credible source than his own lips have proven to be. And though there’s a high bar for libeling or defaming a public figure, making false allegations is also against the law.

Al Watkins, the St. Louis attorney representing the woman’s husband, says he’s been talking to the FBI about the allegations “since October of ’16 through today.” Which does not necessarily mean they’ve launched a formal investigation.

Greitens has acknowledged the truth of some of what the woman, who didn’t know her husband was taping her, said to him in that anguished conversation in March of 2015, just two days after their first encounter, according to Watkins.

If everything she said on the tape is true, she’s been photographed and taped against her wishes by both her former lover and her former husband.

But part of what she told her husband, Greitens insists through his own attorney, is not true: “The governor denies that the picture was taken and denies stating the words attributed to him by her on the recording. Any allegation of violence is completely false...This was a consensual relationship that lasted multiple months and was years ago before Eric was elected governor.”

“Years ago” sounds so distant, though it’s technically accurate. It was three years ago, to be exact, before the older of Greitens’ two sons had celebrated his first birthday.

The ability to survive a scandal often comes down to how deep a reservoir of goodwill the scandalizer has to draw on, and in Greitens’ case, there’s barely a drop, even among his fellow Republicans.

There’s a reason for that. He’s frequently accused his colleagues of being corrupt, even while depending on dark money, obscuring the identity of donors to his inauguration and overseeing a team that uses the digital equivalent of disappearing ink.

Republican Sen. Gary Romine is right that, “The only way we can remove this cloud is to get all the facts.” He’s right, too, that the investigation needs to be complete, but also accomplished quickly, because as long as it’s still going on, state business will in many ways remain on hold. “If it exonerates him, we can move on. If it doesn’t, he needs to resign or face impeachment.”

And if — if — he’s found to have committed a crime, then yes, he does.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 15

Editorial: Greitens evades accountability with social media pseudo-apology

Gov. Eric Greitens has spent the past few days apologizing privately to legislators over his 2015 sexual affair. But the governor still won’t stand before the people of Missouri to explain himself and to offer a heartfelt, full-throated apology. Just as he won election by hiding the truth from Missouri voters, Greitens continues to avoid public accountability for his actions.

Greitens did issue a statement on Facebook, but a social media posting is a sad substitute for appearing in person before the people he purports to govern, apologizing sincerely and answering for his wrongs. Doing so, however, would require levels of courage and character that Greitens can’t seem to summon.

The Facebook posting actually is more of a legal positioning statement than an apology. Greitens’ attorney, James F. Bennett, opens by attacking the state Democratic Party and the news media for reporting details of the affair.

Those details include a recording in which the victim alleges that Greitens lured her into his basement, bound her hands to exercise rings, blindfolded her, partially undressed her and photographed her without her permission. In the recording, secretly made by her then-husband, the victim alleges that Greitens threatened her if she talked about the affair.

At the time, Greitens was only four years into his marriage to his wife, Sheena. Their first son was less than a year old. Greitens was launching his gubernatorial campaign. With so much on the line, what could have he been thinking?

Greitens won the trust of Missouri voters based on a lie that he was a dedicated family man. He owes voters more than a social media post that casts blame on others.

Doubly absurd is Bennett’s assertion: “The claim that this nearly three-year old story has generated or should generate law enforcement interest is completely false.”

In fact, it did generate enough interest to prompt St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to launch a criminal investigation because of allegations of threatened blackmail and coercion. That it took three years was caused by Greitens’ subterfuge.

He and his wife state that “this was a deeply personal mistake.” But they mislead by adding that “Eric took responsibility.”

Yes, after he was outed. Before that he did everything he could to avoid taking responsibility while perpetuating the myth of honor and valor built upon his former service as a Navy SEAL officer. Greitens campaigned by portraying the news media and state legislators as corrupt and dishonest. We have no doubt that Greitens is sorry — for what happened in private and especially now that it’s become public.

A true man of courage would stand before the cameras and answer for his wrongs. Stop trying to blame reporters. Apologize publicly instead of hiding behind social media. Greitens must take ownership of the disaster he created for himself.

St. Joseph News-Press, Jan. 14

‘No visit’ label reckless, unfair to Missourians

Passing along ill-informed opinions as well-considered arguments or even facts — beware of this practice and the harm it can cause.

The editors at Fodor’s, the big travel guide company, make their living offering opinions about places in the world to visit. No concern, there. But Fodor’s, as of November, unfairly has taken the additional step of tagging the state of Missouri on its “No List 2018.”

This means in all the world, Missouri is among the 10 places Fodor’s recommends travelers avoid this year. Consider the others:

? Endangered ecological treasures, such as The Galápagos and Phang Nga Park in Thailand.

? The Taj Mahal, which will be covered in a mud paste for much of the year as part of a needed cleaning. The Great Wall of China, which is deteriorating, and Beijing, so overtaken by air pollution. Mount Everest, which offers a unique experience but comes at a risk to safety and a hefty financial cost that make it simply not worth it.

? Destinations that have been become overrun by tourists and can be hostile to visitors, including Venice and Amsterdam.

? A motley crew of rouge actors: Myanmar, described as one of the world’s pariahs due to a violent campaign of “ethnic cleansing” targeting the Rohingya minority. Honduras, with a murder rate that makes the country among the deadliest places on Earth. Cuba, complete with complicated travel restrictions and a mysterious illness reported among American embassy workers.

It’s disappointing but not a mystery how Missouri was placed in with this last group. Fodor’s displays a combination of bias and recklessness in tagging our state and our tourism sector, including the tens of thousands of hospitality industry workers who rely on visitors for their livelihoods.

Fodor’s criticizes Missouri as “the place where SB 43 was passed.” The over-simplification comes in presuming that because it now is harder to win an employment discrimination case, suddenly all of the state’s employers are to be judged supportive of discrimination. In fact, nearly all will argue the measure simply restores a balance lost in a series of court cases that had made Missouri one of the easiest places in the country to bring a frivolous lawsuit and win.

The travel guide then picks up on the Missouri NAACP travel advisory issued last summer, which contends visitors to the state face “looming danger.” These words come from state NAACP leader Nimrod Chapel Jr., who contends Missouri has “a separate standard of laws that are only applicable to some people.” The evidence of this, however, amounts to a smattering of anecdotes — a legislator’s homophobic comments, a tourist who was tragically murdered — and the well-documented concern that minorities are pulled over by law enforcement officers more frequently than whites.

Missouri is not without its flaws or areas in which it must continue to strive for improvement. And yet it hardly is the only state that struggles to root out bias in traffic stops, contends with concerns over equal treatment of the races or has fought over laws governing employment practices.

To merely pick up on some of these themes, apply them to our state and single us out as unworthy of a tourist’s visit suggests Fodor’s went down this path with preconceived ideas or an agenda.

It’s not reality that Missouri has institutionalized workplace discrimination, or that it is unwelcoming to all races, or that visitors are likely to fall into harm’s way. We invite the editors at Fodor’s to risk a visit this summer and see the truth for themselves.

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