Former KIRO-AM talk-show host and longtime Seattle radio personality Mike Webb. This photo appears on his personal Web site, mikewebb.org.
Sometimes the paranoids
are right. That simple truth offers a slim and twisted hope to the mentally ill and is a vexation to journalists.
For paranoids, the chance that their reality might one day be validated by the rest of us must offer a ray of hope. But finding that they really are
out to get you is strange consolation.
For journalists, sifting through fear-driven delusions is part of the tedious work of finding possible stories. Over time, you tend to dismiss the ramblings of the tinfoil-hat crowd. But once in a while you re-learn a lesson: Just because someone is paranoid doesn't mean they're wrong.
Which brings us to the questions left by the apparent stabbing death
of former KIRO-AM talk show host and longtime Seattle radio personality Mike Webb
. The discovery of his body last week and the fact that police are treating it as a homicide brings us back to Webb's spoken fears. He had said he feared for his life, that someone was out to get him.
Were Webb's fears merely a sign of mental imbalance? Or were they valid? Or both?
Before his fall
, Webb himself offered liberal Seattle a ray of hope. Before Air America, during the boom years of right-wing hot talk, as the great unraveling of the George W. Bush years progressed, Webb offered something few local radio listeners could find: a guy making a stand against the insanity that seemed to be gripping our country. Naturally, he was on late at night on a show that sounded like a junkyard for advertising. But Webb offered an oasis where liberals who had been demoralized by a stolen election, WMD war, and passive media could tune in and enjoy some unabashed pushback.
I was a guest on Webb's show a few times, usually by phone, one or twice in studio. It was a frustrating show to be on, especially for someone spoiled by the long segments public radio offers. The format of commercial talk radio allows mostly sound-bites; real conversation is difficult.
But Webb was a master at throwing fast punches, of both baiting and calling bullshit on callers who challenged him. He came in ready to rumble with his conservative callers and he routinely bludgeoned them with the facts. Ironically, as things played out, Webb was often the sanest voice on the station.
Webb treated me with
courtesy, and I respected what he did. But there was another side to him. Webb's behavior alienated some of his KIRO colleagues. His firing from the station, his conviction of insurance fraud, his courtroom behavior, and his courthouse breakdown all suggested a very troubled man. And much of that trouble was documented on Michael Hood's BlatherWatch blog
, which became a forum where Webb's friends and enemies hashed out their views of the man.
I saw a sign of Webb's troubled side a few years ago when I was editor of Seattle Weekly
. He called me to complain about a freelance writer who was looking into a dispute Webb had with the Seattle Police Department
. Webb was nearly hysterical, felt the reporter was harassing him, which wasn't the case. Webb seemed to have flipped out.
He was even more upset later when the Seattle Weekly
's Geov Parrish wrote a cover story about his insurance-fraud troubles
. Webb was terrified someone would publish his picture – he was afraid of death threats. I sympathized with that. At the time, I was having my own stalker problems. But I never thought for a second that Webb's woes weren't a legit story. He was a Seattle media figure in the middle of a public meltdown. We'd done tough stories on local conservative radio personalities, like John Carlson and Daniel Lapin. We weren't going to look away because some of us might be sympathetic with Webb's politics.
But none of us
took pleasure in the weird downward spiral his life. His breakdown seemed like the classic arc of someone headed for rock bottom.
Webb was a gun-toting gay liberal who had chosen to be on the frontlines of fighting with radio wackos and busting the chops of a president who dubbed those who oppose him as evil. For that, he was abused and threatened. Were Webb's politics
and celebrity a factor in his death?
I don't think murder victims bring murder on themselves – the killers are the ones to hold responsible. But it is fair to wonder if Webb's mental-health problems caused him to put himself in jeopardy. Did self-destructive impulses lead him to associate with a "shady character"
who didn't have his best interest at heart?
No one wants to end up as a pitch for Ann Rule
's next book. I can't imagine that Webb did. The police will investigate and I hope they catch whoever killed him and bring them to justice. He certainly didn't deserve this end.
I also hope they can help answer the questions Webb's sad saga raises. Will we find that his paranoia was justified, or that it was just one step toward a self-fulfilling prophecy?