Microsoft and The Seattle Times Are Going Steady

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Microsoft and The Seattle Times have long been friends. But lately it seems like the friendship between the region's second-largest company and the city's only remaining print daily has blossomed into something more substantial -- like the kind of thing you might see while flipping by Cinemax at 2 a.m. on a Friday night. A steamy affair which could leave the Times' readers feeling neglected.

The romance started as an innocent flirtation when Microsoft took out a full-page ad in a February edition of the Times, urging state legislators and Mayor Mike McGinn to get moving on the planned 520 bridge replacement. A key artery for company employees going to and from Redmond.

A month later Fairview Fannie returned the favor, batting her lashes in an editorial ordering Mayor McGinn to "get out of the way" of the 520 project. Sparks flew. Digits were exchanged. And then on June 11, Microsoft and the Times went public with their love on page C3 of the sports section.

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That's the day Microsoft's top lawyer Brad Smith appeared in this Times house ad. For those blinded by his 100-watt smile, here's a partial transcript of what he has to say about the prettiest little girl he knows.

"Whether I'm looking at it on the web or reading it on a piece of paper, it's just critically important to turn to The Seattle Times."

Well garsh. Ain't that sweet.

The problem is that while Microsoft and the Times are busy passing each other love notes, the paper is in danger of making its readers feel like a third wheel.

For example, the same day Smith appeared as an unpaid spokesperson for the Times, he stood in front of a bank of TV cameras and told assembled media that the 520 ad buy was just a taste of Microsoft's forthcoming political advocacy.

Asked to expand on what he meant, Smith offered Olympia unsolicited tips on how to improve the state's business climate: by improving infrastructure and education.

Interestingly, the Times made no mention of Smith's comments. Which, on the surface, were very newsworthy -- most journalists' ears perk up when the biggest guy in town says he's going to be throwing his weight around.

Smith was also given a free pass on the roads and schools comment, two things that are much easier to fund when the company you work for isn't opening fly-by-night operations in Nevada in order to avoid paying over $1 billion in taxes.

Who knows why the Times chooses to cover what it does. But its cozy relationship with Microsoft makes you wonder whether it can both kiss and tell.

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