Did You GiveBIG on May 2? Then GetBEER in May!

SPECIAL OFFER: If you GaveBIG! on May 2 as part of The Seattle Foundation’s campaign to help ALL non-profit organizations in our community, then you can GetBEER! any day in May (M-F, noon-6 pm) at the WNC office above the Pyramid Alehouse across from Safeco Field.

The Washington News Council is offering ONE FREE BEER to anyone over 21 who can SHOW PROOF that they donated on May 2 to ANY organization on The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG list.

This is our way of thanking all those who donated so generously. Come toast our community’s fabulous philanthropic spirit! (Root beer is available for minors and/or teetotalers. Pretzels optional.)

Just stop by the WNC’s office above the Pyramid Alehouse at 1201 1st Avenue South, Room #331, between noon and 6 pm to get your free beer, plus a $5 OFF discount card to the Pyramid Alehouse (while they last).

NOTE: Be sure to check Mariners’ and Sounders’ game schedules first. Parking is tight on game days!

BONUS: Anyone who donates to the WNC anytime in May, will also receive a cool WNC/TAO coffee travel tumbler — IF you come visit our office. Climb black metal stairs on front of Alehouse to top floor, then turn left down long hallway to WNC office. Call 206.262.9793 with any questions.

Hop on down! GiveBIG a BigCHEER and GetBEER!


Journalism Students take the TAO pledge!

The TAOttoo - graphic by Summer Thornfeldt

“Do you like tattoos?” was my standard pickup line.

OK, pretty cheesy, but hey, it worked most of the time.

I was sitting at a table at the Washington State Convention Center for two days last week surrounded by about 4,000 high-school journalists from all over the country.

It was the national Journalism Education Association/National Student Press Association’s annual spring convention. The Washington News Council had an information table in the exhibit hall, along with dozens of college journalism schools, printing companies, yearbook publishers, etc. Most of the exhibitors had elaborate displays with banners, literature, video screens, bowls of candy, notepads and other giveaway items.

How to get students to stop at our table? We decided to give away temporary tattoos, which we unashamedly called “TAOttoos.” The words “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” surround a black-and-white yin-yang symbol in a circular seal about the size of a poker chip.

They were the inspiration of Kathy Schrier, the WNC’s part-time executive assistant, who is also executive director of the Washington Journalism Education Association and helps organize this conference every year.

I wore a TAOttoo on the back of each hand. I’d hold them out to show the kids as they walked by with their backpacks, gift bags, notebooks, cellphones, printed programs and handfuls of candy from the other tables. Most slowed down and stopped to learn more.

Here was my pitch: “The word TAO means ‘the path’ or ‘the way.’ This is a voluntary pledge to be Transparent about who you are, Accountable when you make mistakes, and Open to other points of view. If you take the pledge for your high-school newspaper or yearbook, you can wear and display the seal. If you do it today I’ll give you TAOttoos for every member of your staff. I’ll give you a cool poster with the TAO Pledge to hang in your newsroom. And I’ll send you a digital version of the TAO Seal to print in your paper or post on your website. It’s free. All I need is the name of your publication and an email address.”

By the end of the two days, about 200 students from all over the nation had taken the pledge and put the TAOttoos on their hands, wrists, arms, necks or cheeks. I insisted they put them on before they left the table, and even provided wet paper towels so they could apply them on the spot.

Jacob Caggiano, my young WNC communications specialist, took over the table for a few hours one day while I did a session on the TAO concept in a large WSCC meeting room, and a roundtable discussion on opinion/editorial writing.

When I got back, I heard Jacob deliver his own version to a couple of young girls who approached the table: “So, tell me about your ethics,” Jacob said to them.

They giggled – and stayed to chat. They took the pledge and signed the sheet. He gave them a poster. He gave them TAOttoos. They put them on the backs of their hands and seemed delighted at the result.

Another girl came by and took the pledge. She was an artist and showed us her portfolio. About two hours later, she came back with a graphic she’d just done and said we could use it on our website.

Summer Thornfeldt of Boise, Idaho, thanks for the TAOttoo art, which we’ve posted here.

It’s totally TAO — Transparent, Accountable, and Open. How cool is that?


Mike Wallace asked: Who will watch the watchdogs?

Mike Wallace changed my life.

I never actually met him, but he had a huge influence on my career. Here’s how:

Back in the 1990s, I co-edited a media-critique newsletter called CounterPoint  (motto: “Who Will Watch the Watchdogs?”) and co-wrote a column that ran in Seattle Weekly and Eastsideweek called “Watchdogs” (motto: “Woof!”).

Barking at journalists, snapping at their heels and biting them in the butt now and then was lots of fun, but it was easy for them to ignore. Or pretend to ignore; most of them read every word we wrote to see if they were mentioned.

But one day a friend asked me if I had seen a “60 Minutes” segment by Mike Wallace that had aired on Dec. 8, 1996. I hadn’t, but my friend loaned me a videotape.

The piece, called “You Arrogant Journalists,” was about the Minnesota News Council, which was founded in 1970. Wallace began:

“It seems hardly a day goes by without someone writing or phoning to tell us, ‘You arrogant journalists, you look down everyone else’s throat, but you cry foul when anyone wants to look down yours.’ A lot of Americans apparently think journalists are less believable than they used to be and smug and hostile when they’re criticized.”

Wallace said the council “thinks they can help reporters begin to regain the public’s trust” by giving the public “a way to complain about news reports they find troubling.”

The “60 Minutes” report focused on a complaint from Northwest Airlines against WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. The WCCO story reported on safety violations at Northwest, alleging that “hundreds of passengers were at risk.” It included ominous graphics and footage that strongly suggested Northwest was unsafe to fly.

However, Northwest contended that most of their problems were relatively minor and their safety record was actually better than other major airlines. They filed a complaint with the news council.

After listening to both sides in a two-hour hearing, the council voted 19-2 to uphold the complaint, concluding that WCCO had painted a distorted and untruthful picture. As Wallace put it, “To WCCO, the council’s vote was a kick in the teeth.”

The council’s executive director, Gary Gilson (a former TV newsman), told Wallace: “The station went overboard by adding dramatic graphics that made the safety problems seem more frightening than was justified.…That stuff distorted the story.”

When Wallace asked what was the penalty to WCCO, Gilson replied: “If the public agrees with the news council, then WCCO suffers from public humiliation. It gets them to think harder about what to do the next time.”

Wallace concluded: “In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am a public supporter of state news councils and I believe there should be a national news council, though many of my colleagues disagree with me.”

Watching that video inspired me to help start the Washington News Council – more an “outside ombudsman” than aggressive watchdog. We opened our doors in the fall of 1998 with the help of a stellar and bipartisan Founding Board, including Jim Ellis, Charley Royer, Bill Ruckelshaus, Patsy Collins, Mike Lowry, Jeannette Hayner and several others. Bill Gates Sr. joined the Board and gave us a generous start-up grant. My first board chair was R.Y. Woodhouse, then head of the Seattle Urban League.

We now have a long track record of hearing complaints against media outlets in this state from those who feel they have been damaged by inaccurate, unfair or biased stories about them – including complaints against KIRO7 TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, and most recently, against KUOW 94.9, the NPR station here.

Our process is no panacea, but it provides some recourse to those who feel they have nowhere else to turn if they’ve been the victims of media malpractice.

Of course, there is great irony in the fact that Mike Wallace, a champion of tough investigative journalism, endorsed news councils to provide media oversight and public accountability. After all, some of the complaints we have received over the past 14 years involved ambush interviews, hidden cameras, one-sided stories and the kind of “gotcha” journalism that “60 Minutes” pioneered.

But if it hadn’t been for Wallace and his “60 Minutes” team, the Washington News Council might not exist. To my journalist friends who grumble about the WNC, I just say: Blame Mike Wallace!


Complaint against KUOW largely upheld at WNC hearing

Watch the hearing video in its entirety
National coverage from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan
National coverage by Mike Janssen of Current.org
National coverage by Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times
Local coverage from Mark Griswold of Sound Politics
Local coverage from NW Daily Marker’s Bryan Myrick
Local coverage from PubliCola’s Erica Barnett

The Washington News Council (WNC) held a three-hour public hearing Saturday, March 31, at the University of Washington’s Communications Building on a complaint by the Vitae Caring Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM Public Radio in Seattle.

Pia de Solenni represented the Vitae Foundation and Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW spoke for the radio station. The hearing was filmed by UWTV and the WNC. A link to the full video will be posted soon on this website.

WNC Hearings Board members voted on six questions relating to the complaint. The full questions, and the Council’s votes, follow.

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    YES – 11 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    YES – 5 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN – 3 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 8 votes; ABSTAIN – 2 votes
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    YES – 10 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    YES – 4 votes; NO – 6 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 10 votes
Bill Gates Sr and Pia de Solenni

Bill Gates Sr. has a chat with Vitae Caring Foundation's Pia de Solenni after the hearing

Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander presided, sitting in for WNC Hearings Board Chair Judge Karen Seinfeld. The WNC Hearings Board included current WNC Board Members Scott Forslund, John Hamer, Martin Neeb and Shannon Myers, plus Emeritus Members Steve Boyer, Bill Gates Sr., Walt Howe, John Knowlton, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer and Chris Villiers.

“It was an extremely thoughtful and frank discussion about media accuracy, fairness and ethics,” said John Hamer, President and Executive Director of the WNC. “We were very pleased that KUOW fully participated in our process, and appreciative that the Vitae Foundation came to the News Council for recourse. This is what the WNC is all about.”

Pia de Solenni of Vitae issued the following statement after the hearing: “The Washington News Council provided a wonderful opportunity for Vitae to make its case and to demonstrate that KUOW had in fact run a news piece about Vitae that violated KUOW’s own code of ethics. Vitae contacted KUOW within 24 hours of the original story last April; but attempts to rectify the errors in the story were delayed by KUOW, both then and after the informal mediation meeting in July. While an outlet such as KUOW, an NPR affiliate, should have a level of professionalism that would have precluded the original piece from even airing, much less allowing the inaccuracies to stand uncorrected, the WNC offered a public forum in which a consensus was arrived at that KUOW had acted in a less than responsible manner. At the end of the day, this is not about which side of the abortion debate one happens to stand on, but about the accountability of news outlets that is absolutely essential in a free and democratic society.”

Guy Nelson of KUOW issued this statement: “KUOW was glad to participate in the WNC Hearing process on March 31, 2012. We were given the opportunity to clearly state our position and answer any questions from the WNC Board members. At the end of the hearing, I stated that KUOW has indeed met the stipulations of the WNC proposed resolution put forth in August 2011, and I asked the board members for comment. None of the board members spoke in disagreement. [Editor's Note: Some disagreed.] KUOW will consider further coverage of the issue of pregnancy care centers as it becomes important to our listeners.”

The 11-member Hearings Board agreed with Vitae on some of the six questions under consideration, and sided with KUOW on others. Board members had the option to abstain from voting for any reason.

The Board voted 11-0 that KUOW did have a “journalistic responsibility” to contact Vitae and/or two related organizations before airing its story on April 13, 2011. Nelson said the station’s reporter tried to contact CareNet, a related organization, but calls were not returned.

The Board also agreed with Vitae, 10-0, with 1 abstention, that the story contained “substantive errors” worthy of on-air corrections or clarifications. The station made some corrections and clarifications, but only on its website and not on the air.

The Board voted 8-1, with 2 abstentions, that KUOW’s story did not “accurately characterize” abortion information that was accessible on a Vitae-sponsored website.

However, the Board voted 10-1 that KUOW did not have “any responsibility to provide Vitae additional on-air coverage” after the original story aired. Panel members were divided 5-3, with 3 abstentions, on whether KUOW had a responsibility to give “equal airtime” to both sides. They voted 6-4, with 1 abstention, that a follow-up interview with Vitae posted on KUOW’s website did not “sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story.”

The questions were worded by members of the WNC’s Executive and Complaints Committees over the past several weeks, in an effort to focus on the key issues in the complaint.

The hearing began with presentations by De Solenni and Nelson, followed by rebuttal statements from each. The WNC Board members then asked questions of each side. After a break, the hearing reconvened for open discussion among Board members, with follow-up question for clarifications by the two parties as needed. Vitae and KUOW each made brief closing statements.

The Hearings Board members voted on written ballots and then confirmed their votes on each question by a show of hands.

Members of the audience, including students, were also given written ballots and asked to vote on the six questions. Those results were tabulated after the hearing. They were:

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    • Students: YES – 6 votes; NO – 0 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 2 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 0 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    • Students: YES – 3 votes; NO – 1 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 1 votes; NO – 3 votes
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes

The Washington News Council would like to thank Pia de Solenni and Guy Nelson for participating in our complaint and hearing process. Media participation in WNC proceedings is entirely voluntary.

We’d also like to thank all those who attended. We invite follow-up comments and suggestions on our complaint and hearing process, which we will be thoroughly reviewing in the months ahead, as we have done regularly in years past.

The Washington News Council’s decisions carry no legal weight, but we believe our process of discussing media accuracy, balance and ethics in an open forum is valuable for the public, the press and democracy. If you agree, disagree, or just want to talk, we’d love to hear from you.