Pat Williams faced a Senate panel yesterday, for his confirmation for appointment to the board of regents.
Testifying against Williams was none other than Jim Foley, the former Vice President of the University of Montana who was a central figure in the campus sexual assault saga. He was removed from his post not long after a series of revelations were made by the Missoulian, including the publication of e-mails that Foley had sent, in which he appeared to side with the accused football players.
Foley called Williams “my friend” before asking the senate to vote his nomination down. He said his beef with Williams’ nomination is that Williams used the word “thugs” to describe some of the accused and convicted football players in a New York Times article. Foley also used his testimony to blast the Montana press corp, which he says is the true culprit in creating the greater sexual assault storyline in Missoula.
Foley, you will be interested to know, was Pat Williams’s senior aide, for the better part of a decade. So it is truly striking to see him appear in this role as a foe against his former boss, to whom he was no doubt fully obeisant and loyal for many years. Foley later served Max Baucus in the same capacity.
Perhaps Williams should not have used the word “thugs” to describe the football players with criminal records, but it’s hardly a basis, on its own, to argue against the nomination of a person who represented Montana in Congress for 14 years, has served an exemplary spell on the Board of Regents, is heavily involved in public service and non-profit work throughout the state, and is a dean of the progressive movement in Montana (in fact one of the founders of modern Montana progressivism. Before Schweitzer, Bullock, Tester, McGrath, McCullough, Juneau, Lindeen, Mazurek and Cooney, there was Williams, all by his lonesome.)
Williams does not back down from his characterization of athletes. He said at his hearing:
“The reporter at the New York Times never asked me about the team, the coaches, the athletic directors. He asked me about six players who have been accused of assault, burglary, beatings, drug use, DUI, and rape. And I called them what I called them.”
And yet this “thug” remark was the only ground raised by Foley against Williams. That simply isn’t enough.
Also, having followed the coverage of the sexual assaults in Missoula and the reporting about Foley’s e-mails, I do not agree that the blame for what has befallen Missoula and the University lies chiefly with the press. For even if newspapers are prone to sensationalize or place too great an emphasis on coverage of certain stories like these, e-mails are e-mails, facts are facts, and actions are actions. If Foley wants to make a case for why the press is responsible, he should do so. But as of yet, he has not made it, at least not that I’ve seen. Though I hear he’s retained an attorney and is exploring legal action against the University. So we may yet hear more from him on this issue.
Generally, I think Foley’s attendance at the hearing was a bit odd. Neither Pat Williams nor The Media are the root of the problem, or can be blamed, for what happened in Missoula. The blame lies elsewhere.