One evening in the mid-1980s, back when Susan Hutchison was still an anchor at KIRO-TV, a news producer who hadn't finished writing the last two sentences of an evening news teaser decided to put in some placeholder text.

Instead of writing something like "Two Chihuahuas roasted in a house fire, film at 11!" the producer, Peggy Mapes, wrote: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." According to several people who worked for KIRO at the time, Mapes later updated the text with the correct script—but someone forgot to update Hutchison's teleprompter.

"Susan didn't proofread the tease beforehand," said Kelly Guenther, an intern at KIRO in the '80s who went on to work at KING 5 Television. The story of what happened next is famous among KIRO staff. "She reads it cold," Guenther said, "and actually says, on air, 'Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.'"

Guenther continued: "Apparently Susan doesn't realize the gaffe, nor apparently was it ever recorded. But few have ever forgotten that it occurred." Other anchors would have ad-libbed the rest—realizing the text was all wrong—but Hutchison was infamous at KIRO for being capable of nothing more than reciting the words on her teleprompter.

"Maybe it was an unfortunate case that her brain was turned off and she didn't catch it," said Natalia Dotto, a former producer at KIRO television who has heard the story and started about the time that Hutchison left the station. But, added Guenther: "In the six or seven different newsrooms I've worked in, there really was a sense of this anchor at KIRO not being the sharpest tool in the shed."

This sentiment was echoed by a half-dozen former KIRO employees contacted by The Stranger. Each one of them remembers Hutchison, who is now running for King County executive, as a dim bulb who was unfamiliar with current events and was considered unqualified to report in the field or handle a serious interview. Because of this, they said, she earned the nicknames "airhead" and "bubblehead," and had a reputation as a "dilettante news reader."

"There were anchors known as journalists, and Susan wasn't," said Lauri Hennessey, an editor at KIRO radio from 1983 to 1989. By comparison, anchors on competing stations in the same years—Kathi Goertzen at KOMO and, in particular, Jean Enersen at KING—were revered as bona fide journalists with a tight grasp on the issues.

Hutchison was KIRO's lead evening news anchor from 1983 to 2002. It was plenty of time to generate the name recognition that has helped her in her race against Democrat Dow Constantine, but it was also plenty of time to generate a collection of amusing stories that now leave her former coworkers aghast at the idea that Hutchison could potentially wind up in the most powerful job in the King County government.

"My friends who worked at KIRO—none of us ever had any problems with her, but we never expected her to be running the county," Hennessey says. "This is a very tough job that deserves a very smart person. I never, ever, ever, ever would guess that she would be in that position. I never saw the intellectual depth in Susan Hutchison that I would expect in a King County executive."

Among the incidents that have become legend in the KIRO newsroom is the tale of the vanishing telephone. Richard Pauli, a television-news photographer for seven years at KIRO, recalled that the phone in the makeup room kept on disappearing, and "finally someone spray-painted it yellow and green, and made it really ugly" in order to discourage its theft.

"Susan looked at the telephone," Pauli recalled, "and said, 'This is an ugly phone—let's get rid of it.'" When a crew member explained to her that the phone was painted yellow and green to dissuade people from stealing it, Hutchison is said to have asked, "Who would want that number?"

In another story told around KIRO, Hutchison saw an image on one of the monitors of an employee lying on a couch on the studio set. But it was a freeze-frame taken earlier, and the man had since gotten up. "She had a confused look on her face, walked up to the couch, and looked behind it," Pauli said, recounting the tale as it was told to him by people who he said had witnessed the event. "Her reality was so attached to what was on the monitor that she could not accept that reality was somehow different."

Hutchison also earned the nickname "Lazy Susan."

As this story goes, Hutchison told a producer trying to rotate a television set that he needed a lazy Susan—a platform that swivels—and then someone in the newsroom said, "We've already got one of those."

In addition to all the employee lore, there are also court records that show that Hutchison created some bad blood at KIRO and was thought to have a questionable work ethic. She sued the station in 2003 for what she claimed was age and race discrimination after KIRO hired Kristy Lee—a younger, Asian woman—to take her place, according to papers filed with King County Superior Court. Hutchison alleged she had been "replaced in part because she is older and Caucasian."

When Hutchison discovered that Lee received time off over the Fourth of July holiday in 2002—time Hutchison had tried to take off herself—she called in sick, according to the court records. But she apparently wasn't sick. "I heard that another KIRO employee had seen Hutchison canoeing in the Bend, Oregon, area on those so-called sick days," KIRO former general manager John Woodin said, according to the court record. On July 25, the station suspended Hutchison for five days. Following the canoeing incident, a demotion, and a drop in ratings, Hutchison left the station.

On the campaign trail, Hutchison has repeatedly cited her tenure at KIRO as evidence of a strong résumé. But the half-dozen former colleagues who spoke to The Stranger, while all saying they intended no ill will toward Hutchison, were adamant about her lack of intellectual depth. They said they felt compelled to speak out now that she is running for King County executive. "I used to mock her as crazy and stupid, and now she makes me afraid," says Pauli. "She has schooled herself, and she has morphed into an ideologue."

One former KIRO broadcaster who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity was concerned that the public won't get the full story about Hutchison because people in television news are not used to being on the other side of the microphone. This broadcaster said: "You have to question her ability to run a government as complex as King County when she needs a cue card to speak."

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UPDATE: Susan Hutchison's campaign manager, Jordan McCarren, emails, saying, "I have worked closely with Susan every single day for nearly six months. She is tremendously intelligent, capable, dedicated, impressively hard-working and possesses remarkable management skills."recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.

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