The Seattle Times was first to market last week with news that federal prosecutors had ordered raids on various businesses owned by the colorful nonagenarian strip-club magnate Frank Colacurcio Sr. and his eponymous son, alleging organized prostitution, money laundering, and possible murder. As usual, on a story of this magnitude, Steve Miletich’s name showed up in the co-byline.
Miletich is an excellent reporter. He’s also married to former KOMO-4 anchor Emily Langlie, who now just so happens to be the chief spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office here. Typically, the Times is careful not to have a Miletich byline or reporting credit show up in a story his wife is quoted in (although there have been occasional exceptions to that rule). But given her position, even when Langlie isn’t quoted in stories involving the Feds, it’s a safe bet that she’s not exactly in the dark on what’s being exposed.
“There’s the possibility of the appearance of a conflict of interest to those people who know that world,” says Loren Ghiglione, the Richard Schwarzlose Professor of Media Ethics at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “It seems to me as sort of on-the-edge. You saw the story recently about Howard Kurtz, who was reviewing a book on CNN, and he said in the middle of the review that his wife was a P.R. person for the book. So that was discussed for a week or so: whether it was enough for him to reveal [his potential conflict], or if he just shouldn’t have reviewed it in the first place. This is somewhat similar.”
The Kurtz incident, which actually consisted of the multi-outlet media critic interviewing the author of a book his wife was handling publicity for, sparked plenty of debate a couple weeks ago in the national media. As for Miletich and Langlie, while the pair’s marriage is hardly a secret, it’s never been disclosed in print; even the paper’s obit for Langlie’s father, a prince of a man whom I once worked with at the Salvation Army, is somewhat cryptic in this regard.
Then why is Miletich permitted to cover stories his wife has a role in shaping?
“They are both just consummate professionals, and we make sure that he never has any contact with anything she’s directly involved in,” says Times Executive Editor David Boardman. “We also have other reporters working on those stories. Generally, we try not to involve Steve in stories Emily’s involved in, and this was an exception to that rule, as there were many good reasons to involve him, one being that he’s covered the Colacurcios for years.
“We were really careful to not involve Steve at all in any of the legal matters,” adds Boardman. “He was onsite interviewing people and looking for the principals involved. And then today, when it shifted more to legal issues, we handed things off to Mike Carter and Jim Brunner, and Steve moved into the background.”
There’s nothing patently false about Boardman’s explanation. Miletich has covered the Colacurcios extensively in years past. He did move into the background on the second day of the story’s cycle, garnering a mere reporting credit versus top billing. And when he covers stories involving the office his wife works in, they never carry a solo byline.
But perhaps there’s a little intentional naiveté going on here. Specifically, just how does one “make sure” a guy who shares the same bed as Langlie “never [has] any contact with anything she’s directly involved in”? Seems pretty hard to fathom.
So how about at least disclosing that the pair is married, a la Kurtz? The Times has opted not to do that either. “It’s a fair question,” concedes Boardman. “But to [state his relationship to Langlie] in the story would imply a connection that’s not there. And as you know, she was quite a public figure herself in the years she worked for KOMO.”
Fair enough, but even if there’s nothing overtly nefarious going on here, it could be argued that Times readers have a right to know the nature of Miletich and Langlie’s relationship. And now they do—only it’d have been nice to see it come from the horse’s mouth.