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Seattle Times Ed Board Bows to Publisher's Greed

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In a September 8, 2006, editorial titled "Hold Bush to the Law in Terror Suspect Cases," the Seattle Times editorial board came out against Bush's detainee policies. In an editorial on September 11, 2006, titled "A Changed America Five Years After 9/11," the Seattle Times editorial board came out for maintaining the right to habeas corpus. On October 5, 2006, in an editorial titled "The Defense of Gay Marriage Act," the Seattle Times editorial board came out for gay marriage. On March 19, 2006, in an editorial titled "Another Gimmick, Another ANWR Vote," the Seattle Times editorial board came out against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and in a December 22, 2005, editorial titled "Victory in ANWR," the Seattle Times editorial board cheered Senator Maria Cantwell's filibuster against drilling in ANWR. On August 8, 2006, in an editorial titled "Kansas Evolves," the Seattle Times editorial board came out against teaching "intelligent design" in public schools. In a May 4, 2004, editorial titled "Extend the Ban on Assault Weapons," the Seattle Times editorial board came out in support of extending the assault-weapons ban. In a July 7, 2006, editorial titled "Net Equality, Neutrality," the Seattle Times editorial board came out for rules that would prevent giant internet companies from dictating content on the web.

Earlier this week, on Sunday, October 22, in an editorial titled "Mike McGavick for U.S. Senate," the same Seattle Times editorial board came out for the candidate who holds the opposite view on every one of the pivotal issues I just noted. McGavick is for teaching intelligent design in science class in public schools ["Political Science" by Josh Feit, Aug 10]; against the assault-weapons ban; for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; for drilling in ANWR; for President Bush's military-commissions bill (the one that iced habeas corpus and gave the president the leeway to shimmy out of the Geneva Conventions); and against net neutrality.

This raises a question: Where's the list of issues that the Seattle Times and McGavick agree on? In the McGavick endorsement itself, the Seattle Times indicates it disagrees with McGavick on two other fundamentals: the war in Iraq and Social Security.

On Social Security, the Seattle Times writes: "Cantwell says the system should retain its mandatory, fixed-benefit structure. We agree—and McGavick does not...."

On the war, the Seattle Times McGavick endorsement states: "We are disappointed that neither candidate has called for America to leave Iraq... McGavick would consider the deployment of more troops...."

McGavick is against a Cantwell bill outlawing the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq and, to the Seattle Times' professed chagrin, would support troop escalation. Cantwell has called for a timeline on troop withdrawal.

So, the question remains: What does the Seattle Times like about McGavick? In fact, I challenge the Seattle Times to add up the issues on which it agrees with McGavick (based on its editorial, I count two: storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and repealing the federal estate tax) and measure them against issues on which it disagrees with McGavick (I count eight: the detainees bill, gay marriage, ANWR, gun control, net neutrality and media consolidation, teaching intelligent design in public schools, the war in Iraq, and Social Security). Seattle Times editorial page editor James Vesely did not return my call, so I'm stuck going off the paper's endorsement to figure it out.

The endorsement credits McGavick for running a "clean campaign." But (surprise), this claim contradicts the Seattle Times' own editorial page. In an August 30, 2006, editorial titled "Pull the Ad, Mike," the Seattle Times trashed McGavick for running a misleading ad about Cantwell and demanded he yank it: "Mike McGavick's latest radio ad is a politician's version of highway robbery." In the ad, McGavick slammed Cantwell for voting against Washington State taxpayers' ability to take a state sales-tax deduction on federal income taxes. (Cantwell, a champion of the deduction, is the senator who put it in place in 2003.)

So, let's try again: Why did the Seattle Times endorse McGavick? Well, they write: "Giant media companies continue to calcify the country's need for independent voices. Cantwell understands the issue, but once again has not shown significant leadership to a very real problem. We believe McGavick's independent mind would be useful in untying the knot of media consolidation."

McGavick's "independent mind"? I have no idea what that means. As for Cantwell's lack of "significant leadership," well, let's go to the videotape. In a February 2005 editorial titled "Who Owns the Airways?" the Seattle Times editorial board gave special props to Cantwell for fighting the Federal Communications Commission's push for media consolidation, writing: "Many people played a role in driving a stake through the FCC's proposal. Special notice goes to this state's U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. In June, the Democrat was one of three senators to sponsor an amendment to suspend the FCC rules ... it put the Senate on the record voting against the FCC. 'No one should be allowed to corner the marketplace for ideas,' Cantwell said. That is exactly right."

Indeed, Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of senators to vote down new FCC rules in 2004 that would have allowed media titans to control a greater number of newspapers and radio and television stations. As recently as August 6, 2006, in an editorial titled "Public Input Vital on Media Regulation" the Seattle Times editorial board praised Cantwell for sending a letter to the FCC requesting a hearing in Washington state on its new media-consolidation proposal. (Cantwell is on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees communications issues.)

So, the Seattle Times endorsed McGavick over Cantwell because...?

How about greed? McGavick supports Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen's pet cause: repealing the federal estate tax, which would affect just about 0.2 percent of Americans. Fourteen Washington families with estates valued at $10 million or above would benefit. The Blethens own 50.5 percent of the Seattle Times, estimated to be worth $900 million.

Blethen is obsessed with the issue: He took to the airwaves, debating it with Bill Gates Sr. on KUOW this week. The Seattle Times' federal lobbyist Jill Mackie (who, in addition to her undisclosed salary, reports the Seattle Times has spent up to $70,000 lobbying in D.C. for the estate-tax repeal and media issues over the last year and a half) has donated $750 worth of time to this season's campaign to repeal the estate tax at our state level. And finally, it seems that Blethen himself has donated some time to that campaign: Scott Campbell, publisher of the Columbian, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Blethen called him and urged him to get involved in the campaign. Campbell donated $5,000.

Given the Seattle Times' record of coming out against virtually all McGavick's signature issues, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the edit board abandoned its convictions for the financial self-interest of its publisher's family.

In its endorsement, the Seattle Times attempts to inoculate itself against this accusation, writing: "Critics will note that McGavick supports the elimination of the federal estate tax, a cause for which the Seattle Times has campaigned many years. That is part of why we endorse him, but not most of it."

Unfortunately, they failed to tell readers what "most of it" is.

 

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