Lackeys Who Lunch
Kenneth Bunting, associate publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote an editorial last week applauding the New York Times for bowing out of the White House annual correspondents' dinners.
Appropriately scolding schmoozy get-togethers between the press and those they're supposed to cover, like the White House (hello... going to war under false pretenses without a fact-check by the media), Bunting wrote: "a columnist for the Kansas City Star opined that the media's chumminess with Washington power brokers at such black-tie spectacles is inappropriate.... Perhaps she was right. Some journalists manage to transform themselves into Washington socialites at such events. Why should the public think they could be arms-length watchdogs, critics, and uncompromised observers at other times?"
Bunting put the challenge out to other media to follow the New York Times' lead. "More interesting will be whether any others among the media elite follow suit. In what we in Seattle call 'the other Washington,' hobnobbing is a well-accepted way of life."
The other Washington? Spare me. I've got three creepy words for Bunting: Community Development Roundtable.
As the P-I associate publisher, Bunting (who did not return my call) knows, since he's a member, the CDR is a private-membership group that meets for private lunches at the snooty Washington Athletic Club (WAC) every Monday.
Its explicit purpose since its formation (by the chamber of commerce and the publishers of the dailies back in the 1930s) is to bring together the city's media, political, and business elite behind closed doors for off-the-record discussions. This type of environment helps lock in the moneyed class's hold over civic affairs, fostering a clubby atmosphere between lawyers, developers, consultants, Fortune 500 executives, and the top editors and executives in Seattle's media.
A mole slipped me the membership list, and I published it on Slog (slog.thestranger.com/2007/05/hypocrisy_at_the_pi) to give readers a sense of who Bunting is meeting with upstairs at the WAC while being served by uniformed waiters.
Here's a sampling. Private-industry folks include Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad & Company; Ada Healey, vice president of real estate at Vulcan Inc.; Jared Smith, vice president and area manager of Parsons Brinckerhoff; and Don Stark, managing partner at Gogerty Stark Marriott.
Media leaders include Michael Fancher, editor-at-large at The Seattle Times, and Mark Trahant, editorial page editor at Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Aren't power players like this the same people the media are supposed to be covering? The question is not whether national media will follow the NYT's example by pulling out of the once-a-year correspondents' dinner, but if Bunting will follow his own advice and pull out of the clubby, weekly CDR.