The Seattle Times' Least Favorite Reader

How the paper of record dealt with one political gadfly.

Ben Schroeter says "I know I'm a pain in the ass." The large, curly-haired Mariners program-seller is as relentless a political gadfly as was ever hatched in the festering pools of left-wing activism. His weapons are usually his words, which he will gladly offer to anyone with ears or write on any website that allows comments. Our friends over at The Seattle Times know Schroeter well—mainly because they've banned him nearly a dozen times from commenting on their message boards for breaking rules about insults and tone. (Sample juvenilia: referring to Mayor Mike McGinn as "Mayor McDumass.") But what happens when a known undesirable like Schroeter makes it into an actual Times article as a source? Turns out that banned means banned. Schroeter, son of Seattle Mayor Charley Royer's beloved (and late) executive assistant Dorothy and longtime ACLU lawyer Leonard, says he "grew up around politics," so keeping his mouth shut is not in his nature. Last week he was interviewed by Times reporter Lynn Thompson for a piece on McGinn's sagging poll numbers. A critic of the mayor (though he admits he voted for him), Schroeter seemed the perfect man-on-the-street source from whom Thompson could get a reaction quote. So she did. But that quote never made the final draft of Thompson's story. It was killed by Times editors—in part, they say, because of Schroeter's reputation in comment forums. Schroeter calls it "a heinous crime." "What happened to the First Amendment?" he asks. "Since when does what I do in the comment section affect whether what I say to a reporter is relevant?" Times Metro Editor Mark Higgins has a different take. He says that while for a commenter's reputation to affect editorial decision-making raises an "interesting question," Schroeter's notion of being silenced is "just plain wrong." "Like your newsroom or any newsroom, a number of factors enter into the editorial process," he says before admitting that Schroeter's banning as a commenter did play a part in the decision to yank his quote: "We were aware of his commenting [when the decision to cut his quotes took place]." Higgins says there is no hard-and-fast editorial policy on screening sources for their unrelated comments elsewhere, and that he isn't aware of a situation like this coming up in the past. Regardless, Schroeter says he won't let his Times ban stop him from speaking his mind. "I just keep changing my e-mail and login, and they keep banning me," he says. "Hopefully the editors quit censoring their own reporters just because they don't like me, though."

 
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