Perhaps the first complaint filed with the Washington News Council—an organization formed last month by former Seattle Weekly Watchdogs columnists John Hamer and Mariana Parks to investigate media improprieties—will come from an alert reader who wants to know why Seattle Times editorialists went from saying in December that the taxpayer-subsidized NordstromPacific Place deal was "cooked up in secrecy" and "damages the cause of trust in government," to saying in April that their admonishment was "too harsh" and calling critics "futile and churlish," to issuing August "congratulations to Seattle civic leaders who took risks—and got criticized for it."
Perhaps Times editorial page editor Mindy Cameron will then be called before the News Council to explain one of the most noteworthy cases of editorial backpedaling in recent memory. Perhaps she will tell the council—composed of Patsy Bullitt Collins, Jim Ellis, Bill Gerberding, Mike Lowry, Charles Royer, and other dignitaries—the same thing she told me last week: "The main, consistent theme of the Times editorial page has been looking at and supporting public-policy moves that help to ensure the survival of downtown. We responded at first with a sharp editorial, but in the end we thought that this was a good project all around, and that it fulfills our central mission—which is maintaining a vital downtown community."
Perhaps the News Council will then ask Cameron why the Times' "central mission" is "maintaining a vital downtown community." Thus pressed, perhaps Cameron will acknowledge that she and Times publisher Frank Blethen are members of the "Community Development Round Table," a highly secretive group of bank executives, economic-development promoters, and current and former elected officials who for the past 65 years have met every Monday for lunch in the ballroom of the Washington Athletic Club to discuss issues critical to Seattle's corporate establishment. Sponsored by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the proceedings are so closeted that attendees must pledge to maintain an absolute media blackout on everything spoken in the room.
Perhaps the News Council will then ask Blethen to justify using the Times' pages to advocate his personal political causes, such as cutting inheritance taxes, blocking the anti-affirmative-action Initiative 200, and spending taxpayer money on a new Mariners stadium. Thus pressed, perhaps Blethen will acknowledge that he's a member of the Washington Roundtable, a collection of 38 business leaders that meets every quarter to decide how the state's political and social agenda should be shaped to suit Boeing, Fluke, Microsoft, Nordstrom, PACCAR, SAFECO, Seafirst Bank, Weyerhaeuser, and other corporate giants.
Perhaps these and other relationships that Times executives share with Seattle's corporate establishment will be revealed, thus offering one explanation for the paper's "central mission." So shamed, perhaps Blethen and Cameron will stop attending those secret ballroom gatherings at the WAC—or at least rescind their pledge to keep readers in the dark about what is said. And perhaps Blethen will have his name removed from the Washington Roundtable's letterhead, where it currently sits with that of Nordstrom chair John Whitacre.
Then again, perhaps Collins, Ellis, Gerberding, Lowry, Royer, and the rest of the News Council wouldn't subject the Times' brass to such a potentially embarrassing line of questioning. We'll never know unless someone files a complaint. John Hamer and the Washington News Council can be reached at 206-923-2955. Any takers?
Inspired by two recent Media Culpa columns about journalists who cross over to public relations (SW, 7/9 and 8/6), the Society of Professional Journalists will host a forum to discuss the practice. The event, open to the public, is scheduled for October 1 at 7:30, in the Seattle Times auditorium, 1120 John St. (corner of Fairview). For more information, contact George Erb at the Puget Sound Business Journal, 206-583-0701. . . . With armed government agents stepping up their raids on pirate radio stations throughout the country—the most recent going down August 26 in Asheville, North Carolina—mediademocracy activists are holding what is being called the "first national mobilization for free radio." Following a day of workshops, activists will rally at Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, DC, on Monday, October 5. For more information, call 215-474-6459 or go to www.radio4all.org.