The Seattle Times does not have it in for Mayor McGinn
People are saying The Seattle Times has launched an orchestrated attack on Mayor Mike McGinn. Hardly. Take it from someone who works here: Putting out the news is barely-managed chaos.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It’s Day 1,329, McGinn occupation of City Hall. At The Seattle Times it begins like the 1,328 before it: with the dissemination of marching orders.
“Reporters, bring me stories that make this mayor look bad. If you can’t find a fresh one, recycle! We haven’t run one about his war on cars, in, what, three days?
“Columnists, step up your attacks. Westneat, try branding the mayor as a radical. Maybe call him a communist or something.
“Remember, all: This mayor is dangerous. He must be stopped. Let’s get him for good this time.”
So I hope that sounded ridiculous. Yet this is the tale Mayor Mike McGinn and some of his supporters are pushing: that The Seattle Times is out to get him.
“Seattle Times vs. Mike McGinn: The Feud Grows Deeper,” was how the Seattle Weekly put it in a story about how McGinn feels vilified.
This week, the publisher of two Seattle community newspapers elevated it to the level of a conspiracy.
“It seems shameful that to a person, the Times reporters and columnists have not had the guts to back away from the attack demanded by their publisher,” reads a Ballard News-Tribune editorial.
“But we get it. Whose bread I eat, his song I sing. All those writers want to keep their jobs and you do that by writing what the boss tells you to write.”
Ouch. I called the author of that, associate publisher Ken Robinson, to see if he really meant that we’re all a bunch of gutless sellouts. Pretty much he did.
“McGinn has been one of the best mayors Seattle has ever had, and you will never read that in The Seattle Times,” he said.
Probably true, but can I at least try to put to rest this idea that McGinn is under some orchestrated attack?
In my nearly 10 years writing a column here, neither the publisher, Frank Blethen, nor any other boss has ever requested that I write on anything specific (including this column). Nor has the publisher stopped me from writing anything, or complained to me about what I wrote (including when I opposed an estate-tax initiative the newspaper contributed money to).
The result, for better or worse, is a newspaper with competing voices. Example: The editorial page strongly opposes McGinn’s plan for a new Sonics arena. But most other columnists who have weighed in have been in support (including me). Our business columnist, Jon Talton, said about the arena that “if we pass this up, we’re even stupider than we were on the Seattle Commons” — a scathing disagreement with the paper’s editorial position. Was he muzzled for that? No.
If this sounds like barely-managed chaos, it is. I asked the Ballard News-Tribune publisher if he goes around like Citizen Kane demanding ideological crusades from his reporters, as he accused The Times of doing.
“No, I never tell anybody what to write,” Robinson said. “I sometimes cue them to a possible story. But I don’t ever give them a point of view.”
Now, there’s no question our editorial board opposed McGinn’s election in 2009 and opposes him again this year. Plus we’re something like 50 times the size of the Ballard News-Tribune. So that’s a megaphone.
But in the newsroom, where I live and which is separate from the editorial page, this mayor isn’t getting any more negative scrutiny than any other. He is in the news a lot, but that’s because he seems to like what we like: confrontation. Whether he’s fighting with the governor about the tunnel or Whole Foods about wages, it all equals good copy to us.
Plus the press-hounded mayor is an old reliable. Ask former mayors Greg Nickels or Paul Schell if they felt we were on their sides.
Last week a reporter was researching past mayors and came upon this entry in the local history website historylink.org, about Wes Uhlman, who was elected Seattle’s mayor in the late 1960s:
“Uhlman was also hobbled by an eager but inexperienced staff and a hostile press corps, especially The Seattle Times, which actually dispatched (a) reporter ... to Spokane to ‘dig up’ the body of a prostitute Uhlman was rumored to have murdered there.”
Now that’s raking some muck! By comparison, this mayor maybe doesn’t have it so bad.
Speaking of which: Day 1,330 — can someone check to see if McGinn’s ever been to Spokane?
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to email@example.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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