Cops in the Newsroom

More Q13 Employees Claim That Station Executives Are Shaping News Coverage to Appease Seattle Police

Cops in the Newsroom

A second employee of Q13 (KCPQ), the local affiliate of Fox television, is accusing the station's management of colluding with Seattle police to suppress coverage of a racially charged video recorded last month that triggered city and federal investigations. In addition, a former longtime employee in the Q13 newsroom says the station got preferential treatment from the Seattle Police Department (SPD), while news editors would overlook stories that were unflattering to law enforcement.

"Q13 management complied with the spoken requests of their friends at SPD in order to preserve the exclusive nature of their long-term working relationship," says the current Q13 staffer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting fired. The employee says that Q13 routinely buries coverage that would cast law enforcement in a poor light and airs glowing pieces as part of a crime-centric newscast. Q13 also produces a ratings-grabbing show with the help of police called Washington's Most Wanted.

"Law enforcement benefits locally from KCPQ's biased coverage of their activity," the current employee says. "And SPD is clearly also complicit in suppressing the video."

As The Stranger first reported, Q13 sat on footage for three weeks of Detective Shandy Cobane apparently stomping on an innocent Latino man's head and threatening to "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of" him, and then threatened legal action when a competing television station bought the footage and aired it.

"They didn't want anybody to see it at all," says the employee.

After Q13 news staff reviewed the video, editors contacted police, Q13 management and SPD have confirmed. Shortly thereafter, according to the Q13 employee, the video was removed from an internal video-­archive system. "They took it out of the system so that no one could access it," the employee says. "That is not normal at all."

The employee says staffers in the Q13 newsroom routinely go out for dinner with SPD officers, and get drinks, take personal cell-phone calls, and exchange text messages. "Police share information with reporters from other stations, too, but I don't know that they are going out to dinner with them, going out partying and drinking." The station, the employee says, gives flattering coverage to police: "If something looks bad for law enforcement, we bury it at the end of the hour." In turn, the station gets exclusive information, interviews, and stories, like a gushing piece that ran on May 14 that covered the intimate details of a romance brewing between two Seattle police officers.

This employee's complaints come on the heels of a nearly identical accusation from Jud Morris, the videographer who shot the "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you" footage on April 17 outside the China Harbor Restaurant on Westlake Avenue North. Morris, who was fired from Q13 shortly thereafter, insisted that station officials refused to air his video because it was unflattering to law enforcement. Airing it, he says, would "affect their relationship with the police. That is KCPQ's top concern—what their relationship is with the police."

Coverage at Q13 shifted a couple years ago when the station began airing Washington's Most Wanted, a show on fugitives featuring a retired Seattle police officer as a cohost, present and past employees say. "Suddenly, police were looking at us in a different light," says a former Q13 employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because this former employee still works in the television reporting community. This former employee worked in the Q13 newsroom for several years and says the station had struggled to be taken seriously by police. "We were getting calls from them that we hadn't solicited." The former employee says there were "instances where we got preferential treatment because of the cops, who said [to sources], 'These are guys who will really get the word out—we want you to speak to Q13.'"

Editors at the station, meanwhile, were cool to negative police stories. "In editorial meetings, if there was something that would not fit their agenda, they could give you every reason that it is not a story. But the next day, it could be a story—if it didn't involve the cops," says the former longtime news staffer.

Q13 issued a statement apologizing for not airing the story for those three weeks before KIRO eventually broadcast it on May 6. Station heads at Q13 explained in a statement, "We were working to uncover important facts that we believed would add context to the story and better inform our viewers about what they were going to see on the video."

"Nobody in our newsroom was working on a police-brutality story last month," says the current Q13 employee. "They were not working on it. That is a total lie."

When presented with these accusations, Pam Pearson, Q13's general manager, says they are "supposition, rumor, and absolutely inaccurate." She adds that "the offensive audio was not even heard... News management did not refuse to air the tape. Their mistake was taking too long to vet the tape by waiting for official reports before acting." After an internal investigation that concluded on May 13, Pearson says, an assignment editor left the station and the news director resigned.

SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says he can only speak on behalf of the officers in the media-relations bureau, not every police officer on the force. As for leveraging pressure to suppress coverage, Whitcomb says, "We couldn't presume to have that much influence over their editorial decisions." recommended


Comments (27) RSS

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Posted by fieldy on May 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM · Report this
So what are the chances we can get the FCC to do something about Q13's license?
Posted by aiff on May 19, 2010 at 12:38 PM · Report this
Vince 3
@2 My thoughts exactly. Let's see who's cozy with whom? The public should really be angry about this violation of their responsibilty at Q13.
Posted by Vince on May 19, 2010 at 12:52 PM · Report this
rootwinterguard 4
When did the local broadcast news retain credibility as "real news?" When did they graduate from having any responsibility above car crashes, residential fires and grotesque homicides?

I'm as upset as the next guy that Q13 thought they could suppress a story like this to retain a relationship with the SPD, but I haven't considered local TV news to be the type of "news" worthy of applying such a standard.
Posted by rootwinterguard on May 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM · Report this
taking q13 and wash most wanted to task for featuring positive cops stories is like taking the stranger to task for being pro-gay. neither of you pretends to be unbiased... right?
Posted by coda on May 19, 2010 at 2:00 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 6
@2 ftw - could SLOG provide the link to the Report an FCC Violation web page?
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 19, 2010 at 2:25 PM · Report this
                     Oh, Dominic. You really aren't very good at your job, are you?

It's fairly common practice amongst reporters to get drinks with sources, whether they're city employees, cops, or cranky neighbors.

I'm by no means defending what Q13 did here—and I do believe they did not intend to run this story, which certainly wouldn't be the first time something like this happened—but there is typically an understanding with sources that you can be as chummy as all get out until they fuck  up. When that happens, it's gonna get written about.

Weren't you in fact friends with staff at The Stranger prior to your employment there? And were you not interviewed by the paper at some point on marijuana policy? And now look at you. You have a job. That seems like quite a good incentive for a source, no?

Again, what Q13 did was wrong. But you're barking up the wrong tree by pretending that there needs to be some sort of invisible wall between reporters and sources.

If you had any real sources at all, you'd know that.
Posted by The Facts on May 19, 2010 at 2:36 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
Yeah, but what about all the orgies?

That's not normal practice.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 19, 2010 at 3:26 PM · Report this
Oh give it up already. Boring.
Posted by A real journalist on May 19, 2010 at 4:26 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
Just because they say you're a journalist on your paystub, doesn't make you one.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 19, 2010 at 4:33 PM · Report this
This coming from a news room that reported Lofa Tattupu was arrested for pornogrpahy. unbelievable. none of us should be surprised. Q13 is one hot mess.
Posted by exeler0070 on May 19, 2010 at 4:39 PM · Report this
welcometothemurk22 12
I'm going to go urinate on their building! Right now!
(aiming stream) Take that Q13!

Posted by welcometothemurk22 on May 19, 2010 at 4:58 PM · Report this
King Rat 13
I like how the slog post says another person has gone "on the record ". Please. If you grant anonymity it's not "on the record ".
Posted by King Rat on May 19, 2010 at 8:50 PM · Report this

Do it. Now!
Posted by Snaggletooth on May 19, 2010 at 9:13 PM · Report this
at least they have the hottest staff of any station in town! lilly, bill, mark, adam, maria, aaron.. swwooon! i even met some guys in their web and marketing team. super cute!!
Posted by janis on May 19, 2010 at 11:26 PM · Report this
@ 13 -- "On the record" means that use can use the material; it does not necessarily mean that the news outlet is disclosing the source of the material. "Off the record" means you can't use the material.
Posted by Christopher Frizzelle on May 20, 2010 at 10:13 AM · Report this
Wikipedia, while not the most reliable source for everything, has a pretty extensive page on this:
* "On-the-record": all that is said can be quoted and attributed.
* "Unattributable": what is said can be reported but not attributed.
* "Off-the-record": the information is provided to inform a decision or provide a confidential explanation, not for publication.

However, confusion over the precise meaning of "unattributable" and "off-the-record" has led to more detailed formulations:

* "Chatham House Rule(s)": Named after Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs), which introduced the rule in 1927:
o "When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed".
* "Lobby Terms" [4]: in the UK accredited journalists are allowed in to the otherwise restricted Members' Lobby on the basis that information received there is never attributed and events there are not reported. "Lobby terms" are agreed to extend this arrangement to cover discussions that take place elsewhere.
* "Not for attribution" (as described by the Canadian Association of Journalists). The comments may be quoted directly, but the source may only be identified in general terms (e.g., "a government insider"). In practice such general descriptions may be agreed with the interviewee.
* "On background" (Canadian Association of Journalists). The thrust of the briefing may be reported (and the source characterized in general terms as above) but direct quotes may not be used.
* "Deep background" This term is used in the U.S., though not consistently. Most journalists would understand "deep background" to mean that the information may not be included in the article but is used by the journalist to enhance his or her view of the subject matter, or to act as a guide to other leads or sources. Most deep background information is confirmed elsewhere before being reported.

It would seem that "on the record" means it's attributed.
Posted by Poynting it out on May 20, 2010 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Two minor corrections, for the record:

"...shot the footage on April 17 outside the China Harbor Restaurant..." ... The incident that the cops were called about was outside the China Harbor; but they stopped the three guys and the footage was shot about 6 blocks south of there on Westlake.

"... an assignment editor left the station and the news director resigned." The assigment editor was fired; "left" makes it sound like they quit.
Posted by Mhann on May 21, 2010 at 6:30 AM · Report this
People watch Q13 news? Since when? The Onion is a more credible source than FOX News or any FOX affiliate. Obviously.
Posted by cmsof on May 21, 2010 at 12:38 PM · Report this
King Rat 20
According to the NYU Journalism handbook, you are wrong Frizzelle:

""On the record" means anything the source says can be reported, published, or aired."
"On background" is a kind of limited license to print what the source gives you without using the source's name. But most veteran reporters will not use "on background" information until they can verify it with other sources.
"Not for attribution" means that a reporter agrees not to identify a source by name. Identification is provided only by reference to the source's job or position.
"Off the record" restricts the reporter from using the information the source is about to deliver.

Posted by King Rat on May 21, 2010 at 5:54 PM · Report this
All the so called news organizations are such bullshit, especially local news. God forbid there should ever be a disaster where we'd have to count on these assholes 'cause if we do, we are fucked. Thank you Ronald Reagan for deregulating broadcasting.
Posted by Crash on May 22, 2010 at 2:21 PM · Report this
stillahippie 22
First of all a media out let that covers up a bad smell for fear of embarrassing a friendly source cant be trusted to report even good news. The bad smell is the attitude of the SPD that anyone not a cop must be guilty of something so lets beat the shit out of him, whats civil rights?
Posted by stillahippie on May 22, 2010 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Um, actually King Rat, it looks like you just proved Frizzelle's point.
Posted by Brandon J. on May 23, 2010 at 2:55 PM · Report this
24 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
IronHammer 25
Fresh out of uni over a decade ago I went to work for a local news outlet back east....1 year later I happily quit when I realized the EXTENT of the lack of journalistic values. Seriously, the "it bleeds it leads" edict, is just the tip of the scummy practice handbook for tv news.

Viva la internet/print, etc...
Posted by IronHammer on May 25, 2010 at 7:22 AM · Report this
Looking For a Better Read 26
So, Dominic, you're saying that a "news" outlet shouldn't default to providing a positive perception of a public office, regardless of evidence, facts, or other such things?

I can't wait, then, to see the Stranger expose on how Dominic Holden has a permanent woody for all things Mayor McGinn. I'll stay right here, I'm sure it's going to appear any minute now.
Posted by Looking For a Better Read on May 27, 2010 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Coggie 27
It's this kind of bullshit that make me anti-cop.
Posted by Coggie on May 30, 2010 at 4:11 PM · Report this

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