Trained as they are in the art of "crisis management," several members of the local public relations community penned stern letters to the Weekly in response to my column about journalists who cross over to PR ("Hacks Turned Flacks," 7/9). As a journalist, I've been on the receiving end of many damage-control techniques—one of the most common of which is to send letters to the editor. This barrage deserves a response of its own.
One letter came from Peter Clarke, who, as an aide to Seattle City Council member Margaret Pageler, does a bit of public relations. Didn't Bill Moyers and Edward R. Murrow sell out when they became government flacks, Clarke asked—Moyers with the Peace Corps under President Kennedy and as special assistant to President Johnson, and Murrow as director of the US Information Agency under JFK? Moyers is a highly thoughtful and respected guy, but he's more of a documentarian and essayist than a hard-news journalist. And Murrow, legendary for his heart-tugging dispatches from World War II battlegrounds, was probably the perfect choice to run the USIA—an offshoot of the War Information Office. Murrow didn't need to sell out; he was a cheerleading patriot from the get-go.
Another letter came from Karen Anderson, who works on a magazine published by Group Health Cooperative. Anderson wondered why my column didn't mention Bart Becker, who after leaving the Weekly fronted for Seattle's water department. Anderson even suggested that my editors "muzzled" me, fearing "negative publicity." Trust me, I would have listed Becker if I thought it was problematic for music and culture critics—as Becker was for the Weekly—to become PR people. That scenario hardly measures up to those I referenced last month—like how The News Tribune's Sean Griffin and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Imbert Matthee went from writing about Boeing and the Port of Seattle, respectively, to flacking for them. (I did, however, neglect to mention everyone's favorite master of the revolving door, John Arthur Wilson, a former Weekly political editor who left to become King County Executive Ron Sims' communications director and is now Sims' chief of staff. Wilson has jumped back and forth so many times, it's tough to figure out what he really wants to be when he grows up.)
My favorite letter came from Ed Isenson, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and editor who later represented corporations, political candidates, and governmental agencies after starting his own public affairs firm. "I wonder," Isenson wrote, "what training and experience Worth believes public information people ought to have. Does Worth believe that untrained, inexperienced persons [could] serve the public interest better?" Actually, given the choice between a cagey veteran reporter and, say, a high school kid, I'd rather deal with the latter. Come to think of it, I'd just as soon see robots dole out public information. Computers—for now—can't perform spin control.
Readers of the July 15 Seattle Times op-ed "Welcome to the World of Rain Forest Algebra" may be curious about the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Dallas-based think tank that generated the article. In it, an NCPA "environmental policy analyst" criticizes government-sponsored environmental education curricula being taught throughout the country: "The program seems more aimed at indoctrination than education. Just as troubling, many environmental-education materials and textbooks are woefully inadequate." What would an NCPA-authored textbook read like? Consider who's on the organization's board of directors: GOPAC founder and former Republican governor of Delaware Pete du Pont; Goldman Sachs partner and former Bush/Quayle campaign honcho Dan Cook III; country club developer and Wal-Mart director Robert Dedman; and three chemical company executives, including the former president of the Texas Oil Marketing Association. Learn more about the NCPA's special brand of "environmental education" at www.ncpa.org.
It's the news, stupid
During the past 20 years, the share of stories about celebrities, scandals, "human interest," and gossip on network news shows, newsmagazine covers, and newspaper front pages swelled from 15 percent to 43 percent. And TV news time for international coverage shriveled from 45 percent to 14 percent. Read more about the kookification of the American news media in "Money Lust: How Pressure for Profit Is Perverting Journalism" in the July/August edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. "Assembly-Line Journalism," an excellent article by UW professor (and exSeattle Times man) Doug Underwood, details newsroom horror stories from Tacoma's News Tribune and elsewhere.
Eat the State!, Seattle's own "forum for anti-authoritarian political opinion," has expanded into a larger newsprint format (designed by former Community Catalyst publisher Lance Scott). Find ETS! in coffee shops and bookstores, or on the Web at EatTheState.org. . . . Kudos to Seattle Times reporter James Grimaldi for exposing Sen. Patty Murray's pro-corporate, anti-consumer proclivities. Ralph Nader makes a rare mainstream-media appearance in the July 7 article: "Patty Murray shows that even a 'mom in tennis shoes' can be corporatized by the corrupt system of money in politics."