Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bias at the Seattle Times - Another example?

I don't normally read the Seattle Times, but when SoundPolitics highlighted a PI story in the post, "Dotzauer (Cantwell) divorce file to remained sealed until after the election", I wondered if that same AP story had appeared in the Times, and if it had, did the Times print it in its entirety as the PI did, or did the Times cut anything out that might be perceived to hurt Democrat Maria Cantwell. The article in the PI was titled, "Ex-wife: Lobbyist trying to hide 'possible illegal actions'".

Well, the story was in the Seattle Times, "Cantwell adviser fights to keep divorce documents sealed", and yes, the paper appears to again have taken the scissors to an especially critical paragraph about our Democrat senator up for reelection. This time it's Maria Cantwell and her relationship with a lobbiest, and the possible conflicts of interests that are involved in her sending millions in taxpayer dollars to a man she's had a personal relationship with and made a personal loan to.

The Times printed almost the antire AP story attributed to Gene Johnson, so it is hard to imagine that the very few cuts they made were for space. But look at what the Times decided to cut out of the article, and you decide whether you think this was bias, or just a necessary cut for space?
"The money, which had not been repaid as of Cantwell's most recent filing, was the subject of an Associated Press article noting that Cantwell, a first-term Democrat who is up for reelection, had helped direct $11 million in federal contracts to clients of Dotzauer's firm. There is no evidence that Cantwell's efforts to obtain the funding for projects in her state were based on her connection to Dotzauer, but ethics rules generally require senators to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest."

I think this paragraph was the most damning paragraph in the story, and I believe the Times cut it because they are struggling to help Democrats like Cantwell and they hoped no one would notice.

I think we need a whole lot of people to start dismantling these decisions at the Times that are quietly removing critical and important points out of stories. It sure stinks of bias to me, but I don't suffer from a 4-year degree in journalism.

There are many forms of bias, including the slanting of the story outright, to filtering the information provided to the reader and even total omission of stories. If the Times is cutting AP stories regularly to soften criticism of Democrats, how big a difference can that make in the long-term? If all newspapers do it, how big an impact would that have on the public perception?

At some point these little snips here and there add up. Combine them with the full-blown omissions and stories totally slanted to favor Democrats, and we have a very serious problem.



I just received this explanation from Richard Wagoner, Politics editor, The Seattle Times.

"Mr. Costello,

Mike Fancher asked me to respond to your concern about the editing of an AP story about Ron Dotzauer's efforts to keep his divorce records sealed.

I asked that the paragraph in question be cut out last night because the information is incorrect. The AP has reported several times that Maria Cantwell directed $11 million in federal contracts to clients of Dotzauer's firm. Alex Fryer, the reporter covering the race for us, has spoken with all the parties involved in this, including the water districts who were Dotzauer's clients, and reviewed the records. The dollar amount, as near as we can tell, isn't anywhere near $11 million. It's closer to $3 million. The $11 million figure includes money for projects that weren't requested by Dotzauer's clients. Also, Cantwell was not the only lawmaker involved in this appropriation. Rep. Dave Reichert and former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, both Republicans, also advocated for the money.

By way of background, we investigated the relationship between Dotzauer and Cantwell and wrote the lengthy story about it on Sept. 4. We didn't use the water district example in that story, because we found one that we thought was better at showing how their relationship could raise questions when she votes on issues affecting his clients. In that instance, Cantwell changed her vote on a controversial tort reform bill that Dotzauer's firm worked on.

After that story ran, the AP followed up and reported on the water district appropriations. We then decided to do our own story about the appropriations and wrote this on Sept. 9 about the matter: "Much of the money, about $3 million, was directed to the Army Corps of Engineers to build a new barrier dam to help salmon near Lake Tapps. The Cascade Water Alliance, a group of eight Eastside cities and water districts, sought the funding along with Puget Sound Energy, which owns dikes and other infrastructure along the lake. The Cascade Water Alliance hired Dotzauer's firm in 2002 to lobby Congress on water issues."

Should we have rewritten the paragraph in Tuesday's AP story rather than simply cut it? Perhaps. But this change was made last night over the phone and I was concerned that we might get the details wrong. So I chose to take it out.

Thanks for reading The Seattle Times and your e-mail. I appreciate it when readers care enough to ask what happened with a particular story.


Richard Wagoner
Politics editor
The Seattle Times

Do you think the Times expends this much effort to discredit the AP when they make allegations that hurt Republicans? I wonder why the Times didn't just change the "11" in $11 million to a "3" for $3 million? I don't think it would have made any difference in the point being made. Do you?

I think the paragraph could have been left in the article by simply changing it to read, "Cantwell, a first-term Democrat who is up for reelection, had helped direct millions in federal contracts to clients of Dotzauer's firm." "Millions" instead of "$11 million". Seems like the most responsible edit to me, and it would have taken about 5 seconds to make. But then the questioning of Cantwell's ethics and the perceived conflict of interest would have had to stay too.

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