Washington News Council's John Hamer: The Watchdog Who Doesn't Watch Himself

The Washington News Council's John Hamer fancies himself Seattle's news media watchdog. The WNC, which he founded in 1998, was meant for the pious purpose of peacemaking between the public and Big Media, but has ended up being known as local journalism's version of the Hague, since what both do best is hold hearings in which the defendants don't even bother to show up.

Hamer and the WNC speak reverently about the need for media transparency. Ironic, given that he does such a piss-poor job of revealing his own many conflicts of interest.

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John Hamer is really good at telling you how other journalists are failing. Less so how he is.
Recently the WNC hosted some Seattle Times bigwigs to honor their paper's Pulitzer win. But Hamer, being the type to hold grudges, couldn't leave well enough alone, using an occasion meant to celebrate the Times as an opportunity to settle a score with its old rival, the P-I.

Here's the backstory: Back in 2006, the P-I spent a year investigating the office of King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. What followed was "Conduct Unbecoming," an impressive package of reporting that detailed how some cops that should have gotten the paddle got a pat on the head instead, an unflattering portrait that Rahr, naturally, disagreed with.

The Sheriff took her complaints to the WNC. But the P-I blew off the hearing. A rightful snub which Hamer apparently hasn't forgotten.

His cheap shot comes at the end of this post on the Times luncheon, comparing the two papers' relationships with the police.

Contrast that with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's negative and deeply flawed multi-part series on the King County Sheriff's Office in 2006, which led to a complaint by Rahr to the Washington News Council. The P-I series was clearly an effort to win a Pulitzer or other journalism prizes, but it was inaccurate, sensationalized and overblown. Rahr's complaint was largely upheld by the News Council after a three-hour public hearing on Oct. 21, 2006.
Oh no! Someone in journalism went prize-sniffing! RELEASE THE HOUNDS!

What Hamer failed to mention then and still hasn't mentioned now, though, is that the P-I had good reason to think a trial judged and juried by the WNC might be all for show.

As Philip Dawdy wrote four years ago, Hamer and several other WNC board members had made political contributions to Sue Rahr's campaign and the campaign of her predecessor, Congressman Dave Reichert. Worse, Hamer is married to Mariana Parks, who was at the time head of Reichert's 8th District office on Mercer Island.

So the P-I's story didn't just reflect negatively on two candidates Hamer supported financially, it also made his wife's boss look bad.

Hamer clearly enjoys his self-appointed post of media watchdog. And he'd presumably have no problem pointing out another's conflict of interest. But he'd have a lot more credibility if he didn't ignore the ones in his own backyard.

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