Star Editorial Weighs In On Hinkle's Poor Judgment

A day after its front-page, career-ending story on Rep. Phil Hinkle's unseemly encounter with an 18-year-old gay hustler at the J.W. Marriott in response to his Craigslist ad, its editors ask Hinkle to either refute the allegations or reconsider his service in the General Assembly:

Hinkle, as reported in The Star on Friday, is accused of taking an 18-year-old man to a Downtown hotel room on the promise of $80 and a tip of up to $60 "for a really good time." The meeting, in response to an ad placed by the teenager on Craigslist, was arranged through emails apparently sent from Hinkle's personal account.
The teen says he tried to back out of the encounter at the hotel after Hinkle identified himself as a state legislator but that the lawmaker refused to allow him to leave. The man says he then called his sister, who confronted Hinkle at the hotel.
This sad situation is a personal and family tragedy. How Hinkle resolves these matters with those who are closest to him is very much his own business.
But as a public leader, he is entrusted by voters with exercising good judgment and maintaining strong integrity. The email exchange alone -- in which it appears Hinkle, among other things, offered the man to "make it worth (your) while in cash'' to meet him in a hotel room -- shows a horrible lapse in judgment.
Editors and reporters at The Star took no pleasure in reporting on the allegations against Hinkle, but the newspaper has an obligation to hold elected leaders to high standards of conduct.
Hinkle needs to hold himself to such standards. Unless he can refute these accusations, and thus far he has not denied them, Hinkle must ask himself whether he can still serve at the level that his district deserves.

The Star says its editors and reports took no pleasure in reporting on the allegations against Hinkle, and I accept them at their word. People who know Hinkle generally have a very favorable opinion of him even if they don't always agree with him politically. I occasionally engaged Hinkle in conversation through e-mails or by the phone, and I always found him to be very responsible and clear thinking. That's why I was so stunned to read yesterday morning's Star article.

Last night, I happened to catch Indiana Week In Review. The show's Democratic panelist, Ann DeLaney, was highly critical of the Star for what she described as sensationalism because of the prominent placement of Campbell's story and the fact it offered too many salacious details of Hinkle's encounter with this 18-year-old boy. I couldn't disagree with her more. If the Star had covered the incident but omitted the e-mail exchanges and the boy's and his sister's narratives of what transpired in that hotel room, readers would have been left thinking it was just a drive-by hit job to destroy the career of a long-time respected politician with whom some at the newspaper might disagree with politically. By offering the full details, the Star allowed the readers to see the boy, as well as Hinkle, for what he truly was. To be sure, the boy is no choir boy. At best, he came across as your garden variety young male hustler looking to make a fast buck off an older man in exchange for sex.

The Star clearly offered Hinkle the opportunity to tell his side of the story and he chose not to do so other than to say he was the victim of a shakedown. What else could he say? Anyone who has ever exchanged e-mails with Hinkle as I have knew the writing style of the e-mails was unmistakably his. Hinkle is a married man with children who has taken public positions against the rights of gays and lesbians. Even if his public views were not at odds with his private actions, the story would have been newsworthy because we expect better from the people who write our laws. The Star had only one week earlier written about how IMPD was cracking down on prostitution in preparation for the next February's Super Bowl event when more than one hundred thousand visitors flood into town for an event renowned for attracting prostitution. Ironically, the prostitute featured in the story being busted during a sweep downtown by IMPD was one who advertised on Craigslist. Soon after I posted on the Star article, an observant reader sent me a photo of the arrested prostitute found on Facebook with a smiling Mayor Greg Ballard, who reported getting his cell phone stolen while attending an NCAA championship game a couple of years ago in Detroit after being rolled by a pick pocket. Until our lawmakers decide to legalize prostitution, they should be expected to abide by the laws against this vice just like everyone else.

My biggest criticism of the Star has been its total refusal to report on the corrupting influence of pay to play on our government. One aspect of the Hinkle story that raised more than a few eyebrows was why Hinkle, who is not particularly known as a big spender, would be renting a room at the J.W. Marriott, the City's newest luxury hotel built with nearly $60 million of your taxpayer dollars by a politically-connected billionaire. The Star's society reporter covered the grand opening gala at which Mayor Ballard and the downtown elite were entertained by Motown sensation Diana Ross. Billionaire Dean White's son said his father gave him an "unlimited budget" for the grand gala that he put on for Indianapolis' elite. The invited VIPs even received free weekend accomodations at the hotel. One can't help but wonder whether the tight-fisted Hinkle had to spring for the full stardard weekend room rate of $229.00 per night for his rendevous with the young man he just met on Craiglist. Perhaps the Star's reporters and editors should be taking a closer look at the relationship of the pay to play crowd with our elected officials and the corrupting influence they are having on them. And does anyone else find it a bit curious that the Star doesn't ask IMPD if it has opened a criminal investigation of the matter? Police could start investigating by looking at the J.W. Marriott's surveillance videos for the night in question and determine whether the hotel's records show Hinkle indeed rented a room at the hotel.