With an impressive five Pulitzer prizes in a little more than two decades, the Seattle Times is a pretty good newspaper when it comes to aggressively reporting the internal workings of powerful local institutions. Unless, of course, that powerful local institution happens to be the Seattle Times. In that case, the paper instinctually falls back on cloistered silence or euphemistic, self-serving happy talk.

Last February 3, though only 56, Alex MacLeod abruptly informed Seattle Times staffers that he would retire on June 30 after 17 years as the paper's managing editor. He made the decision, the paper reported, because of a generous and soon-to-expire early retirement package for Times executives, and because he wanted to spend more time with his wife.

Encomiums lauding MacLeod's tenure dutifully followed in the Times. Mentioned in none of them was a lawsuit MacLeod had filed less than two months earlier in King County Superior Court against a certified counselor based in Seattle.

In the suit, the plaintiff, listed as John A. MacLeod, claims to have visited counselor Hemda Arad with increasing frequency between January 2000 and May 2001. During those sessions Arad allegedly "engaged in a pattern of boundary violations" which ultimately led to "an intimate personal relationship" with MacLeod. The suit, which has not yet proceeded to a hearing, asks that Arad pay unspecified monetary damages for causing "financial and serious emotional harm to the plaintiff."

MacLeod declined to discuss the suit or his departure from the Times, except to confirm that he is the plaintiff in question. Arad and the lawyers involved in the case did not return calls requesting comment. In Arad's legal response to the complaint, she admits "a boundary violation" but denies the rest of MacLeod's claims.

At least from the Times' perspective, the lawsuit had nothing to do with MacLeod's departure, insists Seattle Times spokesperson Kerry Coughlin: "He was an admired [managing editor] and did an excellent job. It was his choice to retire when he did." Asked if the Times leadership knew of the lawsuit at the time of MacLeod's decision, Coughlin is less forthcoming. "I don't know who did [know] and who didn't," she claims.

Can the Times be trusted to report on itself accurately or fully? It hired an outside reporter to cover its ongoing joint operating agreement (JOA) dispute with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer only after its editors were caught killing their own reporter's story on provocative JOA comments by Times publisher Frank Blethen. At one time the Times had an ombudsman, but eliminated the position in 1992. These days, when it comes to discussing itself, the Times is a tireless self-promoter, relentlessly casting itself as a near-unique bastion of "quality independent journalism." Its critics, while often conceding its journalistic strengths, deride the paper with some justification as too often arrogant and preening, and unwilling to be bound by the same standards it imposes on others.

Last weekend, Times metro columnist Nicole Brodeur blasted the UW for covering up for former president Richard McCormick, who the Times recently reported was pressured to move on after trustees discovered he was having an affair with an underling. "Salacious, yes, but also good to know," was Brodeur's verdict on such stories. Maybe she should tell that to her bosses.