The man behind the headlines

Respect him or not, publisher John Hathaway found himself in spotlight after first reporting Brame divorce news

August 11, 2003 

John Hathaway slides into a window seat at the Stanley & Seafort's bar and introduces himself. He holds a scotch in one hand. A gold bracelet dangles from his wrist.

"My name's Paul Malone," he says. "I'm a bartender. The only time I make a decent drink is when I'm thirsty."

He's been working on the line for a while. He's got more. It's part of the act.

Hathaway, the Internet publisher who first reported on domestic violence allegations against Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, isn't really Paul Malone, of course. The character is his hard-boiled alter ego, a muckraker who exposes corruption at City Hall and talks in a pulp fiction detective jargon. Phones are "blowers." An elevator is a "freight."

But the lines between fiction and reality can be blurry.

Hathaway, 57, really is a bartender, for instance. He works at Lincoln Bowl on Tacoma's East Side, serving up white Russians and Budweisers in bottles shaped like bowling pins.

And he's something of a muckraker, too.

He's been skewering Tacoma politicians since 1995, first in a printed newsletter, The New Takhoman, and now on the Internet.

Viewed through the eyes of Paul Malone, a character Hathaway describes as the "essence of sleaze" and "keeper of inside dirt supreme," The New Takhoman can read like a parody.

But the news - and its consequences - can be real.

Since Brame killed his wife and committed suicide three months ago, Hathaway has been in the spotlight. Four days before the shooting, he wrote about the Brame divorce, including allegations the chief abused his wife and threatened to kill her.

After the shooting, he's been barraged by phone calls from reporters all over the country. He works the phones constantly now, tapping his sources for new information on the Brame story, passing along tips to mainstream media outlets and breaking news of his own.

Hits to his Web site have skyrocketed. Before the shooting, he was averaging a little more than 1,000 a year. In the three months since the shooting, he's had more than 20,000.

Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles police detective of O.J. Simpson trial fame, interviewed Hathaway on his Spokane radio show. He called Hathaway the Matt Drudge of Pierce County, after the Web columnist who broke the Clinton-Lewinsky story.

The CBS newsmagazine "48 Hours" has shown the most interest. Its cameras have followed Hathaway and his trademark fedora around town for months as it prepares a program on the Brame scandal.

Hathaway, a one-time model and clothing store owner who says he was practically homeless by the early 1990s, is reveling in the attention. Fame has finally found him.

"Some people get 15 minutes," he says. "Me? I'm getting 48 hours."

The New Takhoman

The Brame divorce is easily the biggest story ever published in The New Takhoman. Until it came along, the publication survived on a steady diet of editorial cartoons and occasional pieces about insider politics at Tacoma City Hall.

His fourth wife, Carolyn Cohen, was an early source and collaborator. Cohen, a leader in the Tacoma library workers union, was in the middle of a contentious contract negotiation when the couple met.

Hathaway took up the union's cause in his nascent newsletter, and he and Cohen began dating. They married a year later.

The publication moved online in 2000, and for the last few years it's consisted primarily of cut-and-paste cartoons lampooning local elected officials.

By moving online, Hathaway greatly expanded his potential audience - and the immediacy with which he can reach them.

He sends out regular e-mails editions to a list of 300 people, including City Council members, department heads and police officers.

The Brame divorce file arrived anonymously one morning in his newspaper tube and the next day he posted a dispatch on his Web site.

"Remember, dear readers, you heard it first, off the record, on the Q.T. and very Confidential," it read, mixing facts from the court records with the world of Paul Malone.

The gumshoe writing style made it difficult for some to decipher. Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said later that he thought the whole piece was fiction.

But confusing as it was, the posting was the first public airing of Brame's divorce. Hathaway had a scoop. Soon after the e-mail landed in e-mail in-boxes, department heads were buzzing about it.

Three days later, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its own article about the divorce and abuse allegations. The next day, The News Tribune published a story. That afternoon, Brame shot his wife and killed himself.

Hathaway quickly found himself part of the story when some suggested that the publicity over the divorce led Brame to snap.

He became an even bigger participant a few days later when the president of Tacoma's police union, Pat Frantz, sent him a threatening e-mail. Frantz was placed on administrative leave and an investigation is continuing.

Hathaway expresses no regrets.

"It's news," he says. "It's Tacoma news. If it rubs a little dirt on our already tarnished image, not my problem. It's not my job to polish the badge."

Dirt spreader

Critics - and he has plenty - call Hathaway a mean-spirited dirt spreader who invents conspiracies everywhere.

"Everything he does is negative," says City Councilman Kevin Phelps, a frequent cartoon target. "He looks for the bad in everything. I haven't seen any value in what he does."

Wendell Brown, a former Pierce County councilman, state legislator and assessor and treasurer, said he never read The New Takhoman during his time in office, though he occasionally received phone calls from Hathaway.

"I never considered my discussions with him as a journalist," Brown said. "He was more a political operative."

Some of Hathaway's biggest detractors are reluctant to talk about him on the record for fear he'll fire back with negative articles or cartoons.

"I don't want any trouble with him," said Doug Delin, a former City Council candidate and East Side Tacoma activist.

Hathaway took a pie in the face from a clown one year while performing emcee duties at a McKinley street festival, Delin said, and Hathaway blamed him for the attack. "From then on, it was a vendetta," Delin said.

Bob Lane, the man Hathaway credits with encouraging him to start The New Takhoman, also refuses to talk about him now. Their relationship ended when Hathaway sued Lane for unpaid wages.

"I just want that name to stay the hell out of my life," Lane says.

Serves a purpose

The New Takhoman couldn't survive if Hathaway didn't have a few friends and tipsters.

"He's getting information from all over the place," said Joe Kirby, a Tacoma police lieutenant.

While friendly with Hathaway, Kirby says he's been wrongly labeled as a major source of information. Hathaway, he says, has an "amazing network of people who feed him information."

Whenever someone feels wronged, they know they can leak information to Hathaway, and there's a chance it will turn up in The New Takhoman or get passed along to a mainstream reporter.

Ed White, planning manager for KING-TV, says it's easy to see why people are so upset with Hathaway, especially after the Brame shooting.

"Maybe some people who previously dismissed John as a fringe journalist know that after he broke the Brame story people are listening to him now," White says. "And they resent him for that."

Hathaway even has a few supporters among the City Council.

Councilman Mike Lonergan says Hathaway is a "bright and clever" person who occasionally goes too far with his cartoons.

"On balance, I'm glad there's a John Hathaway," he said. "I feel like he's an advocate for open government, and that's not a bad thing."

Tacoma boy

Like a pulp fiction character, John Hathaway has lived a life of ups and downs, tragedy and drama.

He was born in Tacoma on Aug. 15, 1945, the second son of Jack and Jean Hathaway. Six weeks later, the family house on North Oakes street burned to the ground, killing their dog Bingo but sparing the rest of the family.

The Hathaways moved to the South End where John and his older brother Jerry spent the rest of their childhood. By the time he hit Lincoln High School, Hathaway had developed an interest in fashion and began wearing dress shirts and ties to class. Working for the school newspaper sparked another lifelong interest - writing.

After graduating in 1963, he enrolled that fall at Olympic Junior College in Bremerton. On Sept. 20, the 18-year-old college freshman struck and killed a 5-year-old girl who darted in front of his car on G Street in Tacoma. Recently, Hathaway says he's begun receiving anonymous e-mails from someone calling him a child killer, a dark reference to the accident 40 years ago.

After earning a business degree from Central Washington State College, he found work in Seattle as a clerk for an industrial valve and pipe-fitting company and stayed for 16 years, writing on the side for a fashion industry newspaper.

The moonlighting combined his two great loves - writing and fashion. But after a while, moonlighting wasn't enough.

Party years

In 1984, Hathaway was on his third marriage when he left his stable job, cashed in his retirement and started a clothing store in downtown Seattle called J. Paul Shirt.

It lasted about three years.

It was a heady time. He hobnobbed with Seattle's in-crowd and generally paid more attention to his social life than his business.

"I might still be there if I hadn't partied so much," he says.

His ex-wife, Devon, says in addition to the store, Hathaway neglected her and their two young children.

"I was at home," she says. "He was a party boy. He didn't have his priorities in the right place."

In 1990, she filed for divorce, telling a judge that her husband earned no income, did almost no parenting and left the house at noon every day "to whatever activities he has planned for the day."

She also accused him of pushing her and grabbing her around the neck during a fight once, court papers show, a charge Hathaway vehemently denies. There is no indication he was ever charged with a crime.

With no wife, no work and no prospects, Hathaway came back to Tacoma and moved in with his mother, who lived next door to her son Jerry.

He quickly fell behind in child support payments and ran up a lot of bills.

"That was a bad time in his life," said Jerry Hathaway, who suspects his brother was suffering from depression. He eventually evicted John from their mother's house. The brothers have since reconciled.

Hathaway was sleeping on a friend's couch when he connected with Bob Lane, a former News Tribune reporter who was publishing a literary magazine. Hathaway began writing for the publication, reawakening his interest of writing.

And he began making connections with people in Tacoma's power structure, connections that paid off with news tips after he began The New Takhoman.

Epilogue

John Hathaway's life has improved in some notable ways since he founded The New Takhoman. He remarried. He got a job and paid his back child support.

And he became a character on the Tacoma political stage - a player loathed, and feared, dismissed and respected in equal measure.

Amid all the attention, he's still pouring drinks at Lincoln Bowl and caring for Carolyn, who underwent heart bypass surgery June 9.

It's Carolyn, Hathaway says, who pulled him out of his tailspin. Not The New Takhoman.

"To me, it's a fairy tale," he says. "She's something that dropped out of the sky and has taken care of me."

He isn't certain what will follow. He plans to keep working at Lincoln Bowl and raking muck when he can. He denies rumors that he's profited financially from the Brame story, but says he's got a feeling something good is around the corner.

"Fortune," he says, "usually follows fame."

Jason Hagey: 253-941-9634
jason.hagey@mail.tribnet.com

On the Net

The New Takhoman: www.geocities.com/newtakhoman

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