The Oregonian's Steve Duin speaks at the Columbia ForumUnlike villains in comic books, real-life evil-doers rarely get their just rewards, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin told an audience Tuesday at the first presentation in the 2004-05 season of the Columbia Forum speakers series.

Duin has written, often scathingly, on the movers and shakers around Oregon for 20 years for the Portland daily, first as a sports columnist and then as political writer.

In a talk that ranged from investigative journalism to the Trail Blazers, Duin, a longtime comic book fan who's published a guide to the hobby, quoted "Lil' Abner" creator Al Capp, who said real villains often escape punishment for their deeds.

"'They known that in life, the chances are damn good they'll get away with it,'" he said.

The issue of justice surrounds the controversy over former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and the recent revelation about his sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s.

In a column published Monday in the Daily Astorian, Duin took aim at and noted that the former governor, despite his disgrace over the scandal, is still a major force in Oregon politics and business. Many prominent state officials owe their positions in large part to the wheeling and dealing the former governor has performed as a private consultant for utility companies, Oregon Health and Science University and other clients, he wrote.

"I think we will be wrestling with how to deal with Neil and forgiveness and justice, and that we'll be wrestling with them for quite a while," he said. "I'm as discouraged to write about it as I'm sure many of you are to read about it."

The Oregonian was criticized for its handling of the Goldschmidt sex abuse story, which Duin said the former governor was able to spin to his own advantage.

The entire field of investigative journalism has suffered in recent years as the political divide becomes more pronounced, Duin said. Conservatives' successful campaign to label the national media as liberal has made reporters and editors more defensive about pursuing controversial stories, he said, noting with frustration that most Oregonian projects are now usually accompanied by a column from the paper's public editor explaining why the paper is covering the issue.

Beyond that, though, the barrage of opinion on TV, radio and in print has polarized the debate on most issues.

"There is no longer any definable truth, just a variety of opinions. (Journalists) now are only here to tell you 'he said, she said,' and you decide," he said. "If someone's ox is being gored, there are so many places you can go where people will pat you on the head and say 'it's not true.'"

Despite his occasional frustration with the Oregonian, Duin said he's never felt pressure to cover, or not cover, a particular issue, noting that in 20 years only two of his columns have been pulled, including one that argued that Portland could never play host to a national political convention because it did not have enough hookers.

One of Portland's icons that's a frequent Duin target is the Trail Blazers. Duin recalled how one year after he asked his column readers to boycott the Blazers' playoff games, the team pulled all its advertising from the paper, costing it $750,000. The reaction of Oregonian publisher Fred Stickel, he said, was merely "damn Whitsett," a reference to the then-general manager of the team.

"No one has ever told me 'don't write about this,'" he said.

Asked who he considers his heroes in Oregon's political scene, Duin said he doesn't have any. He's especially disappointed with Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

"He came into office waving a white flag, and the flag has just gone lower and lower," he said. "There's not much heroism, and no leadership whatsoever."

Duin also had little good to say about conservative radio host Lars Larson.

"I could take about four minutes before he would say something so wretchedly stupid that I have to turn to a Christian music station just to calm down," he said.

• Steve Duin's talk will be broadcast on KMUN radio, 91.9 FM at 6 p.m. Sunday.

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