The Washington News Council received two strong “testimonials” about our work during Rotary Club of Seattle meetings in recent weeks – one from Rotary President Paul Ishii and the other from former Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold.
On Oct. 3, Rotary President Paul Ishii told the 500+ club members that he had been the subject of an inaccurate story in The Seattle Times alleging that an employee of the Mayflower Park Hotel, where Ishii is general manager, would not be covered for lost wages while recuperating from a gunshot wound received when he helped stop an armed robber.
That was untrue: Paul will cover employee Roberto Sandoval’s wages and benefits while he is unable to work. Paul had called the reporter and the online version was corrected and the paper also printed a correction on Page A2 in the Sunday paper. However, The Times the day before had published an editorial based on the inaccurate news story that repeated the erroneous information and urged donations to a fund to pay for Sandoval’s lost wages. The editorial remains uncorrected online at the time of this writing — although The Times did print a correction on the editorial page three days later.
“It’s pretty scary to be labeled guilty in the newspaper. I felt like a shmuck,” Paul told the 500 Rotarians gathered for their weekly lunch meeting. He said he was deluged by angry emails and phone calls based on the incorrect story and editorial. Uncertain how to proceed, Paul said: “I called John Hamer of the Washington News Council at home really early on a Saturday morning and he walked me through step-by-step on what I should do.”
Paul followed my recommendations, and The Times made the corrections, which appeared within a few days, in both the news and editorial sections. Paul thanked me and the WNC for our help – and also thanked The Times for setting the record straight.
A week later, on Oct. 10, former Microsoft executive Bob Herbold was the featured speaker at Seattle Rotary. Here is part of what he said:
“The news media are a significant part of the problem that democracies are having in making tough decisions. Specifically, any time a politician suggests a change to just about anything, the media will find someone disadvantaged by that change and will showcase that ‘victim.’ That kind of sensationalism is what attracts an audience, be it readers or viewers. Given that virtually all politicians have as their first priority getting re-elected, they back off and shy away from change in the future.”
In the Q-and-A session, I asked Bob this question:
“Bob, you cited the media as being part of the problem. But under the First Amendment, we can’t have any government control or regulation or censorship of the media, and we don’t want that. What two or three things would you suggest that might help address your concerns about the media?”
HERBOLD: “It’s a big challenge, especially with all the media on the Internet and in the blogosphere. People can say anything they want to. There is some good information on the Internet, but a lot of it is just bias, inaccuracies, and slanted opinion.
I honestly don’t know what to suggest. It’s a real challenge. It is getting increasingly difficult for leadership to exist in a democracy, particularly the kind of very courageous leadership required to clean up the huge financial messes that so many democracies find themselves in.
“You’re going to be in business for a long time, John. The Washington News Council gets involved in cases of bad or inaccurate stories, and tries to help people who have been damaged by the media. That’s how John makes his living. And it’s an important job.”
The Washington News Council would like to thank Paul and Bob for their comments — which were completely unsolicited and a nice surprise!
NOTE: Both Herbold and Ishii have donated to the News Council in the past and have also attended some of our events.