Publisher's prerogative

A LITTLE SYMPATHY, please, for Frank Blethen. "Ultraliberal, pro-labor" Seattle has so vexed this publisher, he threatens to take the Fanny out of Fairview—to move The Seattle Times to the burbs, where its printing plant, editorial leanings, and most of its circulation have already gone. But just imagine how he felt last winter when he threatened to sell his family's controlling interest to a nasty national chain if striking workers didn't let up: He expected Seattle to rally around its hometown newspaper clan—but the town just shrugged and said, "Send a postcard from Maine." And imagine what it's like to be heir to the Blethen tradition—a legacy from a time when a publisher could still show uppity unions and heel-dragging mayors what's what.

Last year, Mayor Paul Schell tried to bar city employees from speaking to strikebreaking reporters while the Newspaper Guild was on strike. Sixty-seven years, and two Blethen generations, ago, another publisher, Clarance "C.B." Blethen, faced another labor crisis when striking longshoremen shut down the whole coast. Hundreds of strikers and armed policemen faced off on the waterfront, and Seattle's trade ground down faster than a dot-com boom. C.B. would have none of that.

Christy Thomas, a former Times editor and Chamber of Commerce executive secretary (no hostile source, he), spilled the beans in his otherwise justly forgotten memoir Bylines and Bygones. C.B., fuming at "the failure of the city gendarmes to force back the picket lines," summoned him to lunch at the Rainier Club with the publishers of the P-I and Seattle Star. This troika had Thomas give Mayor Charles Smith an ultimatum: Smash the strike now, or all three papers would roast him with "blazing front-page editorials." When Thomas called to say Smith had capitulated, C.B. replied, "Yes, I know. He just called and gave me his plans."

At midnight, Smith stood on the viaduct and signaled for "great streams of tear gas" to flow and police to attack, "clubs and .45s drawn." Or so Christy wrote. The late maritime sage Jim Faber, then a striker, distinctly recalled seeing Mayor Smith toss the first gas grenade. No word as to whether any publishers tried to get Mayor Schell to do the same during the WTO showdown.

LAST WEDNESDAY, Times president Mason Sizemore memoed the staff that, while "there are no immediate plans to move," a committee was forming to consider "the issues" involved. Sizemore also detailed some of City Hall's impositions: costly back-and-forth obstructions when the Times occupied the nearby Mart Building, pressure to vacate another building (with more needless expense) to expand a city playfield, and "very inappropriate" regulatory "harassment" during the Guild strike.

Then again, the Times hasn't always been a neighborhood angel either. In the early '80s, it hastily razed the fine old Seattle Concert Theater across Fairview in order to put up a grassy lot—and head off a landmarks designation.

But if the Times quits Seattle, the P-I's Joel Connelly (him again!) wonders gleefully what the Times will call itself? Why, The Seattle Times, of course. Now that Tacoma's paper has dropped "Tacoma" from its name, Everett's has dropped "Everett," and Bellevue's calls itself The Eastside Journal, why shouldn't the paper that says "Seattle" come from Bothell?

Chuckle as you will, this threatened move does signal another, ongoing one: the flight of political power from Seattle to the burbs and emerging cities. It's a matter of demographics as well as population: The younger, hipper, and more single a town gets, the more it may matter to national trend spotters, the less it votes, the less it reads daily newspapers, and the less it counts in parties' and publishers' calculations. Remember also that the Times, like Boeing, started out howling about the traffic/transit impasse and blamed congestion when it moved its plant to Bothell. As Mussolini showed, make the trains (or roads) run on time, and people will overlook your politics.

LABEL OF THE WEEK is "terrorist," as in Timothy McVeigh, the embassy bombers, the "eco-terrorists" who torched the UW horticulture center. . . . Say what? U.S. law defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets. . . ." We usually distinguish between "violent" and "property" crimes. The Earth Liberation Front has only targeted (or mistargeted) property and doesn't seem to be sowing general terror. Its crimes used to be called "sabotage." But there's a centrifugal tendency to define "terrorism" (like "fascism") ever more widely and to seek ever more powers against it. The FBI lumps in "unlawful acts and threats" against property intended "to intimidate or coerce a government," which could include many anti-WTO doings. Britain's Tony Blair and New York's George Pataki are trying to enact even more sweeping definitions. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts wants to ban "agri-terrorism."

Not to defend the ELF gonzos, but calling them "eco-" or "enviro-terrorists" magnifies and glamorizes them, just as the death penalty glamorizes murder—and tars environmentalists, who loathe such deeds more than anyone.

escigliano@seattleweekly.com

 
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