Last week Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen struck a terrible blow to freedom of the press when he decided to sponsor $75,000 worth of ads to support Rob Mckenna's Republican campaign for governor.
It must have been an embarrassment to the owners of the company when the first to speak out against the move were the newspaper's own staff! 100 reporters and Seattle Times staff signed a letter condemning the subsidy to McKenna's campaign.
Frank Blethen now seems like a throwback to the bad old days of William Randolph Hurst when newspaper publishers used the press to promote their own personal politics. Citizen Kane rises again...
No one can tell just what Blethen is thinking. The Seattle Times endorsed Barack Obama for president during the last election, so the publication's sudden turn to the right in the current governor's race is confusing to some national observers of Seattle politics.
Since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishes exclusively online, the Seattle Times is the city's only daily newspaper.
McKenna is in a tight race for governor with former Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee. Although the Democrats are in control of the largest metropolitan counties in the western half of the state, the Republicans are determined to elect a governor.
Traditionally, Republicans in eastern Washington have resented the dominance of the Democratic Party in Seattle and King County. They claim the liberal politicians in the west who dominate the state government don't represent the more conservative values of rural voters in Richland and Yakima.
Christine Gregoire's electoral battles with GOP candidate Dino Rossi were some of the closest governor's races in US history, including six months of court challenges and recounts following the election. This year is proving to be another barn burner, with former King County Executive Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee running close in the polls.
The Washington State Democratic Party is now taking full advantage of the controversy surrounding the Seattle Times ads. As part of their latest fundraising effort they sent out mass emails to supporters including this comment by former KING TV reporter Mike James:
"As a longtime journalist in Washington State, I have never seen a media company jeopardize its credibility by overt electioneering as the Seattle Times has done with its ad campaign supporting Republican Rob McKenna -- part of a nearly $80,000 independent expenditure on McKenna's behalf to run the ad every day from now until Election Day."
In her email, Inslee's campaign manager Joby Shimomura wrote this under the subject : "Un-freaking-real":
"I have never before seen something this outrageous from a news organization in all of my time in politics. Not even FOX News has ever done anything like this before. This expenditure makes the newspaper the third largest contributor to McKenna's campaign effort."
Media critics are claiming this incident undermines the journalistic credibility of the Seattle Times. The newspaper's spokeswoman
Jill Mackie admits the newspaper is also looking to cash in on the $100 million being spent on political advertising in Washington State this year.
In the post Citizens United world of state and national elections, it seems anything goes.