Last week, James Billington, Librarian of Congress, gave the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture at the University of Washington.
Billington's talk, "The Nature of the Russian Transformation," unveiled two innovative ideas to strengthen US-Russian relations: 1) linking the Pacific Northwest and Siberia through an ambitious effort to develop that region's vast untapped natural resources in an ecologically responsible way, and 2) bringing approximately 25,000 rising young leaders from former Soviet states to this country to live in American homes and spend time at US companies, agencies, churches, and schools to learn how a democratic system works.
Both efforts, Billington suggested, could help prevent the rise of another authoritarian regime in Russia and a return to Cold War tensions. In Seattle, Billington's speech should have received wide media coverage. After all, we have a special affinity with the former Soviet Union: We hosted the Goodwill Games, Tashkent is our "sister," we have a Russian consulate and do significant trade with Russia.
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It didn't. The sponsoring Henry M. Jackson Foundation sent out press releases, but no one from print, television, or radio responded. Even though the event was co-sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, that paper did not cover it.
The P-I found ample space the next day for a big feature story on "America's Love Affair with the Doughnut." And The Seattle Times ran a cloying interview with Molly Ivins, the syndicated down-home-colloquialism queen from Texas whose grasp of policy issues is as shallow ("purt' near knee-hi t'a flea") as Billington's is deep.
Not that Times folk aren't interested in news about Russia's Communist legacy. Alert Watchdogs reader (and P-I national correspondent) Joel Connelly called us with this good story tip the other day: Over the past few weeks, Connelly noted, the Times has run affectionate profiles of several old Seattle Commies and/or radical lefties, portraying them as harmless eccentrics, a dying breed of heroic idealists.
First was a glowing obituary (2/28) for Clara Fraser, co-founder of Seattle's Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party, and leader of a 1974 wildcat walkout from City Light.
In "Floyd Schmoe Peace Scholarship Honors Longtime Humanitarian," Times Snohomish County Bureau reporter Nancy Montgomery painted a word portrait of a saintly Schmoe, a Quaker and a World War I conscientious objector, allocating just six words—"Schmoe's activities brought an FBI investigation"—to the negative side of Schmoe's activism.
In "Wetlands to Be Named Today for Hazel Wolf," environmentalist Wolf's affiliation with the Communist Party was safely euphemized as "her commitment to social and environmental issues."
The story that prompted Connelly's call was a front-page feature-length profile, complete with color photograph, of William Bichsel, longtime radical Jesuit priest from Tacoma ("Paying the Price for Protest" by Lily Eng, 3/31). The story's ostensible news hook was Bichsel's upcoming sentencing for malicious destruction of government property.
But consider Eng's lead: "The old Bible is worn from decades of use. The Rev. William Bichsel turns to it again, thumbing the frayed pages for his favorite passages, the ones about forgiveness, compassion, and contrition." It got worse. The Times might as well have filed an amicus brief with the court on Bichsel's behalf.
Why do newspapers always sentimentalize old labor and social activists? When will theystart a series of profiles of conservative businesspeople who worked hard for the community all their lives, created jobs, and gave their time and money generously? Speaking of which...
Hounding Pack.P-I reporter Steve Miletich and photographer Dan DeLong tracked down Seattle businessman Tom Stewart working an overnight shift at the Salvation Army shelter where he is doing 160 hours of community service for making illegal campaign contributions. The P-I hounds chased Stewart as he drove away to snap his picture through the van window. (We don't recall any journalists tracking down Times publisher Frank Blethen when he did his community-service sentence—working with animals—after shooting his next-door neighbor's puppy a couple of years ago.)
Too bad Seattle readers don't see John Carlson's syndicated column that runs in The News Tribune and several other papers statewide. In "It's Time That You Met the Real Tom Stewart" (3/25), Carlson noted that Stewart has been a major supporter of South Seattle Community College, PONCHO, Seattle Art Museum, Boy Scouts, Ryther Child Center, Seattle Symphony, Boys and Girls Clubs, Northwest AIDS Foundation, YMCA, youth anti-drug programs, many schools, and several food banks. An extremely shy man, Stewart has adamantly refused publicity for his civic and charitable contributions, in spite of advice to the contrary from colleagues and friends. Will anyone in the mainstream media ever tell the full Stewart story? (Full disclosure: Our office is in Stewart's West Seattle building, but he is not a donor to our organization.)
John Hamer and Mariana Parks are president and executive director, respectively, of the CounterPoint Center for ReMEDIAtion, an independent nonprofit media think tank, and co-editors of CounterPoint, a media-critique newsletter. Call them at 1-888-306-DOGS or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
James Billington bio
Russian Consulate contact info