Our 10th Annual Gridiron West Dinner on Nov. 9, 2008

Guests arrived at the reception to find a table of “Bobbleheads” of Kemper wearing his leathers with a motorcycle helmet under his arm. On sale for $20 each, they served as raffle tickets for the evening.

The lobby outside the ballroom featured a brand-new Harley and an HD gas pump, thanks to Eastside Harley Davidson, which sponsored a table of 10 and supplied Harley decals for the table centerpieces. City Flowers provided orange tulips in black vases. Orange, black and white balloons onstage added to the ambience.

The evening began with a welcome by Mike Egan of Microsoft, who has emceed nine out of 10 Gridiron West Dinners. [Read more...]

Share

Op-Ed Rejected by Seattle Post-Intelligencer after Hearing

WNC President Stephen Silha submitted the following op-ed piece to the Seattle P-I after the Oct. 21 hearing, but the P-I declined to publish it:

WHERE WAS THE P-I?

By Stephen Silha

We live in an age when accurate reporting is more important than ever – on the international, national, and especially the local level.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s series on systemic problems in the King County Sheriff’s Office — “Conduct Unbecoming” — has performed a significant public service. Perhaps that is why it recently won a C.B. Blethen Award for investigative reporting.

However, the series was deeply flawed. It often became inaccurate, incomplete, and biased to prove a point.

That’s why the Washington News Council – a representative group of journalists and citizens – reprimanded the P-I at an Oct. 21`hearing where Sheriff Sue Rahr and her public information officer, Sgt. John Urquhart, presented their case.

They argued convincingly that the P-I “unfairly disparaged” her office, created unwarranted fear of county police, and made it hard to recruit highly qualified officers.

At the three-plus-hour hearing (which can be seen archived at www.tvw.org), the council considered 11 specific questions about journalistic fairness in the ongoing series and coverage.  In eight of the questions, a majority of us agreed with the Sheriff.  On three questions, we agreed with the P-I.  (For details on questions and votes, see our website: www.wanewscouncil.org.)

The essence of the Council’s finding is this:

The P-I had a good story.  They told some of it well, and produced significant results.

But then they turned it into a series of sometimes-sensationalized stories that didn’t always provide full context.  Their clarifications and corrections were too few, incomplete, and often late, especially the on-line corrections where the stories live on.  They alienated the Sheriff and her staff – with demands such as requesting written answers to 68 questions in a 24-hour deadline– to the point where she refused interviews for the past year.

At one point the P-I questioned the ability of our able executive director, John Hamer, to appear impartial in a dispute involving coverage of his wife’s boss, ex-Sheriff (now Congressman) Dave Reichert—even though Hamer had never met Rahr nor Urquhart before this complaint.

So Hamer immediately removed himself from handling any of the substantive aspects of the case, and put that in the hands of our complaints committee, co-chaired by retired Spokesman-Review Associate Editor Chuck Rehberg and TVW President Cindy Zehnder.

After the P-I alleged that other News Council members could not be impartial, six of our members who had made contributions to Rahr or Reichert (and who could have added a lot to the discussion) or had other potential conflicts recused themselves from discussing and voting at the hearing to further avoid any appearance of impartiality. Yet the P-I’s publisher and top editors still refused to participate in the hearing.

Our big question remains:  Why did the P-I choose not to attend the hearing?

In a time when the public is increasingly skeptical of newspapers and other big institutions, it was an opportunity for the P-I to add significantly to public trust and understanding.

Instead, we believe the newspaper failed in its responsibility to public accountability by refusing to attend.

Our Chair, Judge Karen Seinfeld, did read from their extensive 17-page response to the complaint and, we felt, fairly represented their perspective.

In this imperfect world, the news council (a form used around the world) is the best and fairest place where citizens and journalists can discuss constructively how news stories affect the community.  In fact, it’s an alternative to litigation; for a complaint to be accepted by the council, you must agree not to sue.

As WNC Public Member Sandy Schoolfield said at the hearing:  “Both the P-I and the Sheriff’s Office are important institutions in our community.  To have you at loggerheads, calling each other liars for this long is a very bad place for us to be.”

The news council’s mission is to help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media by promoting fairness, accuracy and balance, and by creating a forum where the citizens and journalists can engage each other in examining standards of journalistic fairness and accountability.

The P-I missed an opportunity by not participating in the face-to-face dialogue.  And we’ll never know whether the Council’s votes would have been different had the P-I been willing to “stand by its story” in public.

Stephen Silha is president of the Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org).   He is a freelance writer, communications consultant, and former reporter for The Minneapolis Star and The Christian Science Monitor.

Share

Complaint Hearing Set for Saturday, Oct. 21 (2-6 p.m.) at Town Hall in case of King County Sheriff’s Office vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org) will hear a complaint from King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s Office against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at Town Hall Seattle (Downstairs) on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 2-6 p.m.

Here is the Hearing Schedule. The hearing is open to the public and the press. Admission is free.

The complaint concerns the P-I’s ongoing series, “Conduct Unbecoming,” which alleges misbehavior and mismanagement in the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office contends that key aspects of some stories were “factually inaccurate,” “incomplete,” “misleading,” “biased,” “sensationalized,” “inflammatory,” or “unfair.”

The P-I responded to the complaint in a 17-page website statement, with copies to the WNC. (See below for links to original complaint and P-I response.) However, the P-I also stated that they would not participate in the public hearing.

In an Oct. 11 letter to P-I Associate Publisher Ken Bunting (cc’d to Publisher Roger Oglesby and Managing Editor David McCumber), WNC President Stephen Silha, WNC Treasurer Sandy Schoolfield, and WNC Complaints Committee Co-Chairs Chuck Rehberg and Cindy Zehnder wrote:

“We sincerely hope you will reconsider your decision not to attend the hearing. If you are there in person, you will be able to answer questions, clarify issues and respond to the Sheriff’s allegations. You will be better able to make your most persuasive case in an open public forum.

“If you are not there, we will read excerpts from your written response into the record. But obviously we cannot represent your position nearly as well as you and your colleagues could do in person. (OPTION: If you’d like to mark sections of your response that you’d like us to read as your opening, rebuttal and closing statements, please let us know and we’ll be glad to do that, as long as they fit within our time limits.)

“As you know, TVW will broadcast the hearing statewide, and other media will cover it. We also expect many journalism students and teachers to attend. It is a great educational opportunity for all citizens.

“We’ll have a table at Town Hall with the P-I‘s name on it. You may let us know your final decision anytime up to 1:30 p.m. on October 21. Your full participation in the News Council process would greatly benefit the public, the media — and democracy.”

The WNC also sent the P-I a copy of the final Complaint Questions that will be considered and voted on at the hearing:

WNC Complaint: King County Sheriff’s Office vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In the theme of the P-I’s stories, was there any journalistic “conduct unbecoming” in the P-I’s coverage of the King County Sheriff’s Office?

Scope: The King County Sheriff’s Office has formally complained to the Washington News Council that  more than 100 “negative” stories, columns and editorials – and even chat-room e-mails – have “unfairly disparaged the Sheriff’s Office.”  Much of the coverage was in a continuing series titled “Conduct Unbecoming.”  The complaint alleges that the P-I “has gone back 20 years and four sheriffs to portray events as representative of the current office and that the P-I characterized seven former deputies and one current deputy as representative of the Sheriff’s Office.  “This is not the case,” the complaint states.

The KCSO further states that the sheriff and others in the department have met with top editors and managers at the P-I to “try to correct erroneous information” and to “change the tone of the articles.  Rarely were any corrections made.  Usually we were ignored,” the sheriff’s cover letter says.

A thick “master binder” containing printouts of more than 100 P-I stories accompanied the complaint form.  KCSO was asked to select a representative sampling of stories, presented in the smaller binder and an amended complaint binder.  The P-I received copies all three binders and the WNC Complaints Committee assumes that if any pertinent articles were omitted, both the complainant and respondent have had a chance to further add to the materials.

Timeliness: While WNC complaint guidelines focus on the most recent six months, provisions clearly allow for consideration of materials presented over a longer time frame.  KCSO in its complaint included stories since Aug. 1, 2005. The Complaints Committee finds no reason to limit the scope of the complaint to six months.  Clearly the complainant was communicating with the respondent media outlet during the entire timeframe to seek resolution of issues.

Issues: The complainant states that P-I coverage “unfairly disparaged the Sheriff’s Office.” (Disparage: To belittle; to bring reproach or discredit; to lower the estimation of. — Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).  The complainant also states that the P-I coverage was inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, biased, sensationalized, inflammatory and unfair.

Additionally, the complaint states that ethical lapses occurred because stories wrongly damaged the organization’s reputation, that the media outlet failed to include balancing facts or information, that the media outlet denied access to respond to stories and that a conflict of interest existed with a P-I editor.

Stories and commentary referenced will help guide board members, but discussion is not limited to these items.

Discussion Areas / Questions:

A) Terminations (resignations and retirements) and pensions

1) Was the P-I coverage inaccurate or misleading in describing the role of the Sheriff’s Office in deciding whether deputies facing discipline could resign or retire to avoid discipline or firing?

References: Stories,

“Conduct Unbecoming: How a disgraced deputy beat the system” Aug. 1, 2005

“Hefty pension to ex-deputy defended” Aug. 5, 2005

(Editorial) “Conduct Unbecoming: Restore trust” Aug. 4, 2005

“Deputy racked up complaints, lawsuits, then retired comfortably” Dec. 29, 2005

“Warnings preceded fatal shooting involving deputy’s live-in” Dec. 29, 2005

(Editorial) “Conduct Unbecoming: Civilian Oversight” Jan. 1, 2006

“Rahr offers reforms…” Jan. 2, 2006

(Column) “Sheriff vows meaningful reform”  Jan. 13, 2006

2) Was the P-I coverage inaccurate and misleading in describing the impacts on pensions of former deputies — particularly Dan Ring’s pension — relating to decisions made and actions taken, or not taken, by the Sheriff’s Office?

References: Stories, same as above

B) Metro Transit Unit

3) Did P-I coverage unfairly characterize the Metro Transit Police Unit as a “dumping ground” for troubled deputies because five of 47 officers assigned to the unit had histories of disciplinary issues?

Reference: Story, “Some transit unit officers too aggressive…” July 21, 2006

4)  Was reporting of Deputy Abreu’s transfer inaccurate?

Reference: Story,

“Joseph Abreu III: Transferred into, then out of, transit unit ” July 21, 2006

Correction, Aug. 17, 2006 in Amended Complaint

E-mail exchanges, Aug. 17, 2006 in Amended Complaint

5)  Was reporting of the unit biased on behalf of critics by not including more comments from a supportive security liaison?

Reference: Story, “Some transit unit officers too aggressive…” July 21, 2006

C) Retaliation

6) Was P-I coverage inaccurate, misleading, and inflammatory in stating that the Sheriff’s Office retaliated against citizens and transit staff members who complain about deputies’ performance?

References: Stories,

“Suspected thugs…” March 8, 2006

“Off-duty cop terrified teen” March 9, 2006

“Sheriff’s Office may have mishandled…” March 22, 2006

Editorial: “Conduct Unbecoming: Review the review,” March 23, 2006

Also, story: “Missed chance to end violence,” July 21, 2006

D) Public meetings

7) Was P-I coverage of the public meeting in Kenmore biased and unfair?

References: Stories,

“Sheriff Rahr grilled…” April 5, 2006

Woodinville Weekly: “Wide support for sheriff…”

8) Was P-I coverage of a blue ribbon panel biased and misleading in overstating criticism of the Sheriff’s Office?

Reference: Story, “Residents frustrated…” June 23, 2006

E) Overview

9) Considering all of the stories submitted, many in the series “Conduct Unbecoming,” did P-I coverage and commentary unfairly disparage the Sheriff’s Office?

10) Did the P-I allow adequate access for comment and rebuttal by the KCSO?

11) Were acknowledged mistakes in coverage corrected adequately and in a timely manner?

F) Conflicts and appearance of conflicts

12) As it published the “Conduct Unbecoming” series and related articles, did the P-I fail to adhere to acceptable standards of journalistic ethics by not disclosing to readers the potential conflict of interest — real or perceived — involving Managing Editor David McCumber’s discussions with then-Sheriff Dave Reichert about writing a book on the Green River murders?

Reference: Sheriff Rahr’s letter in amended complaint

Share

Open Letter to Seattle Post-Intelligencer from WNC Officers

The Washington News Council on Oct. 13 submitted the following to the Seattle P-I as a possible op-ed piece, but the P-I declined to publish it:

“AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a great opportunity to be open, transparent and accountable to its readers and all interested citizens. However, P-I management seems reluctant to take this opportunity.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, from 2-6 p.m. at Town Hall (Downstairs), the Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org) will hold a hearing on a complaint against the Post-Intelligencer filed by King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s Office. The complaint concerns the P-I series, “Conduct Unbecoming” published in 2005-2006.

The hearing is open to the public and the press. Admission is free.

A News Council hearing is not a trial, but an open conversation about fairness, accuracy and balance. We have no power to sanction the media. There is no penalty from our process.

The P-I responded to the complaint on Sept. 28 in a 17-page document posted on its website. However, P-I management announced that they will not attend the hearing.

If the P-I is willing to “stand by the story” on its website, why not “stand by the story” in public?

Why should the P-I participate?

TRANSPARENCY. WNC hearings provide a “third space” where journalists and citizens can engage. Council members listen to both sides, ask questions, deliberate and vote openly on whether to uphold the complaint. If the P-I participates, its side of the story will be fully told. (If not, we will read as much of its written response into the record as time allows, but there will be no way to clarify issues.)

ACCOUNTABILITY. Under the First Amendment, the news media are not subject to government control or regulation – and rightly so. The Washington News Council strongly supports a free press. But we also support a fair press. The news media must be publicly accountable – just as they hold all other institutions in society publicly accountable.

HUMANITY. Being open to criticism, listening to other people’s views, demonstrating humility – these are qualities that everyone admires. The news media have not been known for these qualities in the past – but times have changed. Our hearing is an opportunity for the P-I to show a “human face.”

EDUCATION. Our hearing will be broadcast statewide by TVW, and streamed at www.tvw.org. DVDs will be widely available. College and high-school journalism students and teachers from throughout the state will attend. We will use this case in student mock news council hearings statewide. Shouldn’t the P-I be fully represented?

IMPARTIALITY – Some P-I editors have said they won’t attend the hearing because they charge the News Council with conflicts of interest. A few of our members – as is their perfect right as citizens – have made campaign donations to either Sheriff Sue Rahr or former Sheriff (now Congressman) Dave Reichert in the past. However, those who made donations pledged to recuse themselves from voting if the P-I attends. Our executive director has also been accused of a conflict of interest – but he is not on the Council and does not vote. He has recused himself from our discussions on the merits of the complaint, and is handling only administrative matters.

The WNC cordially invites the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to come to our hearing. We’ll have a table with the P-I’s name on it. We look forward to an enlightening civil conversation.

Stephen Silha, President

Steve Boyer, Vice President

Dave Schaefer, Vice President

Sandy Schoolfield, Treasurer

Suzie Burke, Secretary

Chuck Rehberg, Complaints Co-Chair

Cindy Zehnder, Complaints Co-Chair

Share

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Responds to Complaint from King County Sheriff’s Office; WNC President Stephen Silha Responds to P-I

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer responded on its website to the complaint filed by King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s Office. Here is a link to the P-I’s 17-page response:

Stephen Silha, President of the Washington News Council, issued the following statement:

“The Washington News Council is pleased that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has submitted such a thorough and thoughtful response to the complaint from the King County Sheriff’s Office concerning the P-I’s “Conduct Unbecoming” series.

“The P-I is clearly participating in the News Council’s process by submitting its written response to us, as well as by holding several meetings with the Sheriff’s Office, as we strongly encouraged.

“We are disappointed that the P-I has declared its intention not to participate in our Complaint Hearing on Oct. 21 at Town Hall. We hope the newspaper management will reconsider.

“Why should the P-I take part in the hearing? There are several compelling reasons, all of them in the public interest.

“First, our hearing is an opportunity for the P-I to be truly open and transparent, to address the Sheriff’s specific complaints in person, and to answer questions from our News Council members in public.

“Second, a News Council hearing is not a trial, but a conversation among those who care deeply about excellence and ethics in journalism. Half of our News Council Members are journalists (current or retired), and half are from other professions. All are people of the highest integrity. Any members with a perceived conflict of interest will recuse themselves from voting. In any case, their vote on the complaint carries no sanction or penalty.

“Third, the hearing is a chance for P-I editors and reporters to explain themselves in an open, civil forum. The press and public are invited, and the hearing will be broadcast statewide by TVW and archived at www.tvw.org.

“Fourth, many journalism students and teachers from around the state are expected to attend, making it an extraordinary educational experience. A DVD of the hearing will be made and used in student “mock news council hearings” in college and high school classes statewide in the years ahead.

“Finally, the P-I has strongly endorsed the recommendation of the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Panel to establish an independent outside oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Office. The Washington News Council is an independent outside citizens’ oversight commission for the news media.

“Public accountability is healthy for every institution — including the press.

“We invite and would welcome the P-I’s full participation at our Oct. 21 hearing.”

Share

Hearing Set on Complaint from King County Sheriff’s Office Against Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Sheriff Adds Ethics Complaint

The Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org) will hear a complaint from King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s Office against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 2-5 p.m. at Town Hall Seattle (Downstairs).

NOTE: To download a full copy of the original complaint and the Sheriff’s final statement/amended complaint, please go to this page:

(These are lengthy documents and the download will take several minutes.)

The original complaint, filed by the Sheriff’s Office with the WNC on July 28, was accepted by the WNC Board on July 29 and hand delivered to the P-I on Aug. 1. The complaint concerns the P-I’s ongoing series, “Conduct Unbecoming,” which alleges misbehavior and mismanagement in the Sheriff’s Office over a period of several years. On the WNC’s complaint form, the Sheriff’s Office contended that key aspects of some stories were “factually inaccurate,” “incomplete,” “misleading,” “biased,” “sensationalized,” “inflammatory,” or “unfair.”

The Sheriff’s Office also checked “yes” to these questions: “Did story wrongly damage your or your group’s reputation?” “Did media outlet fail to include balancing facts or information?” “Did media outlet deny access to you to respond to the story?”

In a cover letter to the complaint, Sheriff Sue Rahr wrote: “Had the P-I written only one or even a handful of stories that unfairly disparage the Sheriff’s Office, I would not be filing this complaint. But since August 1, 2005, the P-I has published at least 100 negative stories and editorials. [Underlining in original.] The Sheriff’s Office has been portrayed by the P-I as a corrupt organization, with no controls, lax or non-existent discipline, and a police department that punishes those who report wrong-doing and rewards wrong-doers. This is not the case.”

The Sheriff also signed the WNC’s waiver form, in which complainants promise not to sue if both sides – including the media outlet – agree “to abide by the procedures of the Washington News Council in responding” to the grievance.

The Sheriff’s Office and the P-I were unable to resolve the complaint during the WNC’s resolution period, which was extended to 45 days (from 30 days) due to summer vacations. The two sides did meet several times to discuss matters, at WNC’s urging. The P-I made several corrections to the articles cited in the complaint, either in print or on its website, www.seattlepi.com.

However, on Sept. 15 (end of 45-day period), King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s Office told the WNC that no resolution was reached, and they wanted to proceed with a hearing. The P-I had earlier informed the WNC that they would not participate in a hearing, but would respond to the complaint on their website.

At the end of the resolution period, both sides were asked for final statements, including any additional materials they wish to submit. Under WNC guidelines, all of these documents are now public information and available to the press and the public. (See download link above.)

As part of its final statement, on Sept. 22 the Sheriff’s Office submitted an “amended complaint” which included a new cover letter from Sheriff Rahr and an “Ethics Complaint Against David McCumber.” McCumber is Managing Editor of the P-I and oversees the team of reporters that did the series. The amended complaint alleges that in 2003, McCumber met with then-Sheriff David Reichert (now U.S. Congressman) and his assistant Scott Sotebeer to seek the job of “ghost-writing” Reichert’s book about the Green River Killer, which would have paid an advance of more than $100,000.

The amended complaint further alleges that in August 2005, McCumber again talked with Sotebeer (now Sheriff Sue Rahr’s chief of staff) and said he “would be interested in any future book projects Congressman Reichert was working on wherein he (McCumber) might have a role.” The amended complaint charges that McCumber’s actions were violations of both the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which is widely accepted in the media, and the Hearst Newspapers Statement of Professional Principles. That charge will be considered at the WNC hearing.

Under WNC guidelines, the hearing may proceed without the P-I’s participation. Their written response will be read into the record. At the hearing, WNC members – half from the media, half from the public – will consider the issues, deliberate openly, and vote in public on questions pertaining to specific stories. The questions are now being framed by the WNC’s Complaints Committee, which includes media and public members of the board. Final questions will be submitted to both sides 10 days before the hearing, and posted on the WNC’s website.

Following WNC guidelines, all WNC members who have potential conflicts of interest will state them in public and recuse themselves from voting at the hearing. WNC Executive Director John Hamer is handling only procedural matters in this case. He has no role in the framing of the questions, does not take part in the hearing deliberations and does not vote on the complaint.

The P-I and the Sheriff’s Office are still encouraged to seek a resolution of the complaint anytime before the hearing. The P-I is also welcome to change its mind and decide to attend the hearing anytime up to 12 noon on the day of the event, although their participation is entirely voluntary.

The WNC hearing is open to the public and the press. It will be filmed and broadcast statewide by TVW, the state’s public-affairs network. Journalism students from throughout the region have been invited to attend. WNC hearings are an opportunity for citizens to learn about media standards, performance and ethics.

The WNC is an independent, nonprofit 501c3 citizens organization that functions as a kind of “outside ombudsman” for the news media in Washington state. It has no official power or legal authority. Its hearings are not judicial proceedings, but open discussions. The WNC, founded in 1998, is one of five news councils in the United States. WNC members are all volunteers. Votes on complaints carry no sanction other than publicity.

Links to earlier published stories about the complaint:

Both the P-I and Seattle Weekly published stories in their online and print editions:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/279722_newscouncil02.html

http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/blogs/dailyweekly/2006/08/sheriff_takes_shot_at_pi.php#more

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/281252_newscouncil15.html

http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/0634/newscouncil.php

(To read WNC’s Complaint and Hearing Procedures, go to “Complaint Process” page.)

Share

WNC’s Gridiron West Dinners Held in Seattle & Spokane

SPECIAL OFFER: “Bobbleheads” of Slade Gorton & Tom Foley, which were sold at this year’s dinners, are still available: Join the Washington News Council at the $50 level, and get your choice of either. Join at the $100 level or above, and get one of each. Join “100 Friends of the WNC” and get SIGNED versions of both Bobbleheads. Call 206.262.9793 to join or use the “Click&Pledge” box at the top of this page.

Tom Foley & Slade Gorton “Toasted” at Gridiron West Dinners in Seattle and Spokane; Foley ill but said, “Go ahead and roast me!”

The Washington News Council honored former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Senator Slade Gorton at TWO gala Gridiron West Dinners this year. A total of nearly 500 people attended the two events, which are getting rave reviews from those who were at one or both dinners.

The Seattle dinner was held on Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. (It will be broadcast on TVW on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. and repeated subsequently. See www.tvw.org for viewing schedule.) The Spokane dinner was held on Saturday, Nov. 11 at The Davenport Hotel. The WNC’s annual events are billed as “toasts,” but some call them “roasts.”

Slade Gorton and his wife Sally attended both events. However, Tom Foley was honored “in absentia” because he was recently diagnosed with a heart problem and was unable to travel. Foley sent a letter expressing his regrets, and the full text was read aloud in Seattle by Honorary Dinner Co-Chair Bill Gates Sr. and in Spokane by Honorary Dinner Co-Chair Jennifer Dunn.

After receiving the letter on Nov. 1, the WNC decided to turn the “toast” of Foley into a “Get Well” tribute. A life-sized photograph of Foley was onstage next to Gorton at both events. All guests were invited to sign an oversized “Get Well, Tom” poster card that will be delivered to him soon. Foley sent “responses” to his toasters that were read aloud. Both dinners were videotaped and copies will be sent to Foley.

The WNC’s annual Gridiron West Dinner has become one of the most popular events of the fall. Always held in the week after Election Day, it is a bipartisan gala with songs, comedy, video tributes and affectionate “toasts” by and of prominent political, business, civic and media figures.

“Toasters” in each city took the stage in pairs to aim their remarks at the two honorees.

“Toasting” Foley in Seattle:

Phyllis Campbell & George Nethercutt, Norm Dicks & Jack Lein

“Toasting” Gorton in Seattle:

Jim Ellis & John Ellis (with Patti Payne), Mike McGavick & Rob McKenna

“Toasting” Foley in Spokane:

Father Bernard Couglin & Janet Gilpatrick, Jack Geraghty & George Nethercutt

“Toasting” Gorton in Spokane:

Jennifer Dunn & Mike McGavick, Jim McDevitt & Cathy McMorris

Table sponsors (in one or both cities) included: Avista, Boeing, Microsoft, Gates Foundation, King County Journal, PEMCO, Preston Gates Ellis, Puget Sound Energy, Premera Blue Cross, Paine Hamblen, The Gallatin Group, Fremont Dock Company, Gonzaga University, Building Industry Association of Washington, Frank Russell Company, Lynden Company, KPLU-FM, TVW, Seattle Mariners and the Gorton Legacy Group.

Mike Egan, Master of Ceremonies at the last several Gridiron West Dinners, emceed at both events and presented his hilarious “slide show” of Foley and Gorton photographs (starting with their baby pictures). A moving video tribute to the two honorees (including old home movies) was once again produced for the events by Ken Jones and Larry Cali.

Exclusive to both 2006 Gridiron West Dinners were fabulous “Bobbleheads” of Foley and Gorton. These were the table centerpieces and many were auctioned off at the two events. However, some are still available for purchase (see caption above for details). The Bobbleheads are limited-edition collectors’ items, designed by David Horsey, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, exclusively for this year’s WNC Gridiron West Dinners. (Special thanks to David for designing them and to the Seattle Mariners for underwriting the costs.)

Music and songs (this year’s song parodies were from “West Side Story”) were provided by Cabaret Productions, under the leadership of Jim Anderson. And the Washington News Council’s Board Members sang their traditional group song — always a highlight of the evening! (Sample lyrics: “There’s a case for us, somewhere a case for us….”)

Incredible travel packages donated by Noble House Hotels were raffled off at the dinners.

They included multi-night stays (plus airfare) at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach, California; and the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, California; also, overnight stays at the Edgewater Hotel on Seattle’s waterfront and the new Hotel Deca in Seattle’s University District.

Both evenings ended with a song by the Cabaret Productions singers to the tune of “America”:

“I like to be in America,

OK by me in America,

Our press is free in America,

And that’s the key to America!”

Previous Gridiron West events have honored:

2005 – Bill Gates Sr. and Mimi Gardner Gates

2004 – Jennifer Dunn and Gary Locke

2003 – Jim Ellis and John Ellis

2002 – Al Rosellini, Dan Evans, John Spellman, Booth Gardner and Mike Lowry

2001 – Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen and Susan Hutchison

2000 – Emmett Watson

1999 – Adele Ferguson, Dick Larsen, Mike Layton and Shelby Scates

If you missed previous Gridiron West Dinners, you don’t want to miss this year’s, when we will “toast” Bill and Jill Ruckelshaus on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. SAVE THE DATE!

To guarantee two seats, join “100 Friends of the WNC” (see Click&Pledge box above).

Share

WNC contracts with Spokane Spokesman-Review to review RPS coverage and issue independent report with recommendations

The Washington News Council has signed an agreement with the Spokane Spokesman-Review to conduct an independent outside review and analysis of that newspaper’s coverage of the River Park Square (RPS) garage controversy from 1994 through 2005.

Steve Smith, Editor of the Spokesman-Review, first approached the News Council in 2005 to propose the project. Smith had pledged shortly after coming to Spokane in 2002 to conduct such an independent review.

“The review will consider some of the allegations made against the news staff by RPS critics that our coverage was slanted and unethical because the newspaper is owned by the same people who own River Park Square,” Smith said in an Aug. 29, 2006, posting on the newspaper’s website.

John Hamer, Executive Director of the News Council, who signed the agreement along with WNC President Stephen Silha, said: “This is a daunting task, but the Washington News Council is honored that the editor of one of the largest newspapers in the state believes we have the credibility, the expertise and the professionalism to undertake this project.”

The review team will be co-chaired by: Cliff Rowe, founder of the journalism program at Pacific Lutheran University and a WNC Media Member Emeritus; and Chuck Nordhoff, former state director for U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and a WNC Public Member Emeritus.

Several other members of the current WNC Board of Directors will help oversee the project, including Media Members and Public Members.

The WNC has contracted with Bill Richards, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, to do much of the research, interviews and writing. Richards formerly had a three-year contract with The Seattle Times to cover the joint-operating agreement dispute between The Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“This critique will give our reporters a chance to speak up for the first time, will give us a chance to acknowledge those failures that did occur (and apologize for them) and provide us with an ethical framework that will guide decisions when faced with similar conflicts of interest in the future,” Smith said in his website posting.

“Our goal is to make this an educational project and a case study that can be used in journalism classes in this state and around the nation,” said Hamer.

The review will be conducted pursuant to an agreement signed by representatives of the newspaper and the news council. The agreement is posted on the Spokesman-Review’s website.

The project will take several months to complete. To contribute information or comments, please email info@wanewscouncil.org or call 206.262.9793.

Share

Panel on News Councils at SPJ National Convention in Chicago

Washington News Council Executive Director John Hamer took part in a panel on news councils at the Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention in Chicago on Aug. 26.

The SPJ panel – “News Councils as a Tool for Building Public Trust” – focused on how news councils can aid the media and democracy by holding journalists accountable to their own standards of accuracy, fairness and balance.

SPJ invited Hamer to organize the panel, whose other members were:

– Gary Gilson, Executive Director, Minnesota News Council (gary@news-council.org).

– Bill Babcock, Executive Director, Southern California News Council (wbabcock@csulb.edu).

– Bill Densmore, Executive Director, New England News Council (densmore@journ.umass.edu).

The Minnesota News Council (www.news-council.org) was established in 1970. The Washington News Council was created in 1998. And the Southern California and News England councils were formed this year (see item below) after a national contest administered by the Minnesota and Washington councils, which awarded two $75,000 start-up grants to the new groups. The awards were made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (www.knightfdn.org).

About 50 people attended the panel discussion, which was one of several concurrent sessions at the SPJ convention at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Each executive director described his organization briefly, then invited questions from the editors, reporters and journalism students who attended.

Hamer gave a brief history of the Washington News Council and discussed its many and varied activities — including public forums, student mock hearings, scholarships, and the annual Gridiron West Dinners. He noted that WNC has a current complaint against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from the King County Sheriff’s Office, but we are still in the 30-day (extended to 45-days) resolution period and we cannot discuss the specifics or merits of the case at this stage, under WNC guidelines.

Hamer made available copies of the WNC brochure, our latest newsletter, a sheet of testimonials (“Why We Need News Councils”), his recent (July 16) op-ed from the King County Journal, his column from the April 2006 Quill (SPJ magazine), and copies of the P-I (Aug. 15) and Seattle Weekly (Aug. 23) stories about the complaint.

SPJ videotaped the panel and may stream it on their website or make DVDs available for purchase. Call the WNC office at 206.262.9793 for further information.

Share

New Media and Public Members Join WNC Board of Directors

Three new members were voted onto the WNC Board of Directors at our Annual Board Retreat on July 29, held at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. They are:

Margo Gordon, Public Member, who is returning to the Board after serving from 1998-2004. Margo is former Dean of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. She stepped down as dean but continues to teach as a professor at the school. She also has taught journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School.

Jonathan Lawson, Media Member, who is Executive Director of Reclaim the Media and Public Affairs Specialist at the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME. He is also host/producer of a weekly jazz program on KBCS-FM. He is a graduate of Guilford College and Harvard Divinity School.

Martin J. Neeb, Media Member, who is General Manager of KPLU-FM in Tacoma, a position he has held since 1981. He recently announced his retirement, effective in December 2006. He is a founding member of the City Club of Tacoma and has been an officer of West Coast Public Radio and the Arthritis Foundation.

The following two members joined the WNC Board earlier in 2006:

Mike Flynn, Media Member, who recently retired as President and Publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal. He is also on the boards of Junior Achievement of Greater Puget Sound, Downtown Seattle Association, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, and the Harbor Club.

Dr. Eddie Reed, Public Member, who just received his Ph.D. in Education from the University of Washington. He was a WNC board member from 1998 to 2004 and served as President of the organization for three years. Dr. Reed is now Instruction Coach and Professional Development Director for the Tukwila School District.

The Board Retreat was a day-long meeting that included welcoming remarks by CWU President Jerilyn McIntyre, and luncheon remarks by Ken Robertson, Editor of the Tri-City Herald. The Council voted to accept the complaint from the King County Sheriff’s Office against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It heard reports from several task groups and committees. And it watched a videotape of the Minnesota News Council’s hearing in the case of Northwest Airlines vs. WCCO-TV, plus a Mike Wallace “60 Minutes” segment on that case, in which Wallace endorses news councils.

The following officers were re-elected for one-year terms:

President – Stephen Silha (Media Member)

Vice President- Steve Boyer (Public Member)

Vice President – Dave Schaefer (Media Member)

Treasurer – Sandy Schoolfield (Public Member)

Secretary – Suzie Burke (Public Member)

Share