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    What 2 weeks of reporting tell us about paying for the news

    When investigative reporters have the resources to do their jobs, public officials are held accountable. Or sometimes they just resign.
    Headlines from a Pulitizer Prize-winning Seattle Times investigative series on methadone prescriptions

    Headlines from a Pulitizer Prize-winning Seattle Times investigative series on methadone prescriptions The Reynolds Center for Business Journalism

    The sad state of affairs for professional journalism may have achieved cliché status, but the past two weeks have brought bright spots, highlighting both the value and the quality of those who continue to practice the trade.

    Three stories stand out these past two weeks, bringing accountability to those who wield power: First, Emily Heffter’s piece in the Seattle Times detailing the ethical lapses of first-term Seattle Port Commissioner Rob Holland. Second, Scott North and Noah Haglund from The Herald exposing the nearly Nixonian dirty tricks emanating from Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s office. And finally, Brandi Kruse from KIRO radio exposing an email exchange (brought to her attention by an anoynmous source) where newly court appointed SPD monitor Merrick Bobb complains that he has to report expenses like every other city consultant.

    The first two reports resulted in Mr. Holland and Mr. Reardon resigning. The third has put Mr. Bobb on notice that he is being watched and that city taxpayers have someone looking out for them.

    What these cases all highlight is the crucial need for full-time, independent reporters who have the skills and resources to follow leads and dig deep into what can be very complex issues.

    Independent reporting is particularly important in one-party or company towns. In Seattle and King County, where Democrats dominate, an obscure election like that for port commission comes under very little scrutiny. The vast majority of voters have no idea who their commissioners are, and party politics and endorsements tend to carry the day. Ironically, Mr. Holland was endorsed by the same Seattle Times he now derides as the Seattle “Corporate” Times. But fortunately, The Times has the resources to put Ms. Heffter on the port story and has led to the public finding out abut Mr. Holland’s problems. Hopefully, that helps the port become a better organization as a result.

    Mr. Reardon, in resigning his post, echoes what so many politicians, including Mr. Holland, have said — that they are the victims of pernicious attacks by the press. There is a familiar theme here, that everyone else is to blame for their problems. The Herald reports that Mr. Reardon said in his resignation that the reports are “part of 'a concerted effort by groups that oppose' him that are intent on undermining his ability to lead.' "

    Mr. Holland similarly complains that the Times reports “cheapen us.” For his part, Merrick Bobb feels “humiliated” by having to answer questions about his expenses beyond his $250 per hour rate. He further states that this is an example of the city thwarting his efforts to reform the police department. No wonder city employees responsible for processing these contracts feel threatened for just doing their jobs.

    This is where an independent press free from government pressure is so important. Public officials enjoy seeing their names in print for the good stuff, not so much when they are caught doing something wrong or questionable or making statements that reveal elitist, entitled or arrogant thinking.

    There is a difficult and strained relationship between public officials and the media going back to the beginning of our country. It will always be so.

    Reporters spend a lot of time with the people they are paid to cover. They see each other at social events and they share the same instinct for public service. It is inevitable that there is a kind of comity that develops. But the reporters, especially the good ones, have a kind of mental toughness that allows them to report hard truths that outrage the people they cover, and even like and respect.

    Nowhere is this love-hate relationship expressed more clearly than in two quotes from Thomas Jefferson, a man himself filled with contradictions.

    Here, he sounds like the politician frustrated by reporters: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” And here (in a quote that long stood in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's offices) he sounds more the philosopher: "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    Responsible investigative journalism, like the examples shown here, are worth every penny it takes to support.

    However, on the very rare occasion when a reporter, self-promoting and chasing awards, hides facts that might weaken the story's sensational impact, then the public trust is violated and ethical journalists are harmed by association.

    We need to support responsible journalism (thank you Washington News Council) and hold those reporters accountable who fail the public.

    It happens.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you, "gaia," (whoever you are) for the shout out. The Washington News Council for the past 15 years has tried to hold the news media publicly accountable, just as they justifiably hold government and business and sports and nonprofits and everyone else accountable. See http://wanewscouncil.org for more details on how we do that. And watch for our 3-part series on the "TAO of Journalism -- Transparent, Accountable and Open" that is running in The Seattle Times as part of their Newspapers In Education program (Feb. 20, Feb. 27 and March 6). But the WNC needs support to keep doing our vital work, as well. There's a "Donate" button on our website. Become a "News Hound" or a "News Junkie" or even join our "100 Friends of the WNC" group! If anyone thinks the News Council isn't needed anymore with all the online commenting, just watch our two most recent hearings: Leschi School Community vs. KIRO7 TV and Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Radio. Call our office with any questions or suggestions (206.262.9793).

    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    1 of 10

    Nobody should buy the thesis this piece is trying to peddle. The media outlets around here are not interested in “bringing accountability to those who wield power.”

    They’re interested in reporting on public officials’ tawdry peccadilloes. The “reporting” cited here includes stories about buying hotel tryst “intimacy kits” on a county credit card (Reardon and his bodybuilder girlfriend), expense invoicing to a city of liquor bills (Bobb), and dating homosexual sex-offenders (Holland). Take away the sleaze and those stories might not have been published.

    When it comes to garden-variety patterns of official misconduct the local reporters, editors, and publishers remain silent.

    Ever heard the term “follow the money”? The biggest “money” around here comes from muni bond sales. The public sphere – especially the judiciary – routinely acts corruptly and against peoples’ interests to benefit the interest groups responsible for debt-based financing plans. The media outlets around here in turn cover up that kind of malfeasance.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    2 of 10

    Every lawyer in this state knows how the judiciary acts corruptly. In order for public institutions in the Anglo-American system to function properly judicial officers must do several things well:

    -- treat claims fairly, no matter who brings them;

    -- deliberate with integrity; and

    -- afford even unpopular litigants quality analyses of their claims and reasonable remedies.

    What judges and justices should be doing is going about their jobs in a fair manner; applying the constitution as written, applying statutes using all the words the legislature used, and construing statutes in a manner consistent with precedent (unless some case law precedent needs to be overruled). That’s not what the judiciary around here does though.

    Here’s an essay describing four majority opinions Barbara Madsen, Mary Fairhurst, and Susan Owens signed that demonstrate a pattern of corrupt behavior intended to benefit the muni bond interest group:


    These are those four exceedingly important opinions:

    1) Sane Transit v. Sound Transit, 151 Wn.2d 60 (2004);

    2) Sheehan v. Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, 155 Wn.2d 790 (2005);

    3) Larson v. Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, 156 Wn.2d 752 (2006); and

    4) Pierce County v. State, 159 Wn.2d 16 (2006).

    A fundamental principle of our three-branch system of government is that the judiciary is to act independently. The highest court in this state won’t do that – it is owned by, and subject to, the entities that benefit from local government taxing and spending practices. That essay explains how the justices play that game.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    3 of 10

    The majority’s dishonest techniques in those four opinions are crass:

    -- The majority repeatedly misrepresents the legal claims that actually are raised by the individuals.

    -- The majority ignores the meritorious legal challenges laid out in the briefing.

    -- The majority invents lame legal arguments for attribution to the parties they want to lose.

    -- The majority ignores fundamental legal principles in order hand out unjustified case law to the rich entities in whose favor the justices are biased.

    The judiciary around here behaves dishonestly on a regular basis in order to curry favor with that exceedingly powerful interest group, the one that gets richer off of excessive general taxing targeting people. In their efforts to suck up to that interest group the justices come unhinged from ethics, core legal principles, and good judgment. The robe-wearing politicians can not be trusted to behave fairly, and nobody should think them capable of adjudicating claims such as these in an even-handed and honest manner.

    The media outlets around here not only play stupid about this reality of our judicial system, they do their best to cover it up. For example, they endorse dirty justices for re-election and fail to report on how appellate opinions misrepresent claims brought to vindicate peoples’ rights.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    4 of 10

    The political leadership around here plays this game on a non-partisan basis. Rob McKenna’s new job at Orrick is a payoff to him for repeatedly acting dishonestly while he was AG. Orrick represents Goldman Sachs in the Sound Transit bond sales. That lawyer/client relationship is referenced in this “official statement” filed with the SEC in connection with the 2009 bond sales:


    McKenna invariably acted dishonestly as counsel of record for the state when litigation relating to Sound Transit’s taxing and bond selling practices came before the justices. This new job is a payoff for McKenna’s unethical conduct 1) in the last three of those four appellate proceedings, when he was AG, 2) his complicit actions with Sound Transit’s lawyers in the two “Freeman v. Gregoire” writ actions, and 3) his willingness to play stupid from the late 1990’s on about that municipality’s abusive financing practices fostered by Goldman and its local enablers.

    McKenna played along with the dirty justices in order to enrich Goldman and bond lawyers like Orrick. He helped ensure they’d continue to get rich when Sound Transit sells its long-term bonds backed by grossly excessive regressive tax confiscation schemes.

    What, nobody’s read about this in the local media outlets? The author of this Crosscut piece implies this is a one-party region. Political parties have nothing to do with it. It is a company town though, and Goldman Sachs is one of the owners.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    5 of 10

    There are two appellate proceedings now pending where the muni bond interest group is using complicit “friendly enemy” lawyers/litigants to frame bogus claims. The goal in each of these is to again get unwarranted case law out of the dirty judiciary in order to shaft peoples’ protected interests.

    The first of these is now pending in Court of Appeals Div. One. It relates to whether or not the Port of Seattle was acting within its statutory authority to acquire the 42-mile eastside rail corridor from BNSF in 2009 and then immediately sell off parts of that real property to a series of public entities. You can find the briefs from the appellants, King County, the Port, and Redmond at the courts’ website. Look for the Division One briefs link here:


    You can find the briefs by searching using the case number (69157-1).

    The complict lawyers for the straw-man appellants are Jurca and Bagshaw. They could have raised strong, meritorious claims based on what the enabling legislation for ports actually says. Instead, they raised weak arguments because they want to lose and obtain from judges case law putting taxing districts above the law.

    Here are the meritorious statutory claims Jurca and Bagshaw failed to raise:

    1) No statute expressly authorizes ports to acquire and then immediately declare surplus and sell off land to other governments for their separate purposes. The undisputed facts show that is what the Port of Seattle did. In contrast, the enabling legislation for ports expressly authorizes them to acquire other types of property interests, for other purposes. Those other enabling statutes demonstrate, via a rule of construction, legislative intent that ports are not authorized to engage in the series of transactions of the types the port entered into with BNSF and the several public entities.

    2) The statute the port relies on for authority for its acquisition of the land (RCW 53.08.290) does not authorize the port’s acquisition of this property from BNSF because the port never intended that it be used for any activities relating to moving intermodal containers. The lawyers involved want the judges to act stupid and pretend they don’t know what the term “intermodal” in that statute means.

    3) RCW 53.08.290 also does not authorize the port’s acquisition of the land from BNSF because that is not an activity with any nexus to any of the Port’s operations at its facilities or improvements. Again, the lawyers involved want the judges to act stupid and not give effect to the words in the statute.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    6 of 10

    There is a second pending appellate proceedings where the muni bond interest group is using complicit “friendly enemy” lawyers/litigants to frame bogus claims. This one is in the supreme court, and it is another Freeman/Talmadge sham writ action.

    Sound Transit’s PR and legal teams have been using Kemper Freeman as a fake enemy for years:


    Freeman has huge financial interests in getting East Link built out to serve his real estate holdings in downtown Bellevue on the public’s dime, so he brings bogus lawsuits in an attempt to get the corrupt justices to put this interest group above the law yet again.

    The supreme court posted the briefs of this second writ action on its website; you can find them by going here:


    It is Cause No. 87267-8. The hearing was scheduled for last week, and no, you didn’t read about it in the local media outlets.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    7 of 10

    What Freeman and his complicit lawyer Talmadge do in this writ proceeding is raise straw-man claims based on the statute WSDOT asserts authorizes the I-90 corridor highway infrastructure handover to Sound Transit and the relevant constitutional provision (article II section 40).

    Freeman and Talmadge start their brief out by falsely asserting that the I-90 corridor property transfer already is complete (“The State of Washington Department of Transportation ("WSDOT") has transferred the two center lanes of Interstate 90 to the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority ("Sound Transit") for its East Link Light Rail Transit Project ("East Link Project").”

    Complete BS. The 11/11 Umbrella Agreement is attached to the respondents’ brief. It shows that legal descriptions will be inserted to describe the land and fixtures to be transferred, but those pages are blank. As a matter of law that document is a mere “agreement to agree later”; this kind of property transfer must comply with the statute of frauds and there is a full set of missing material elements (all the legal descriptions of the land and fixtures). In addition, the fact that legal descriptions will be used to describe the subject of the agreement means real property and large parts of fixtures to real property (e.g., large swaths of highway infrastructure). When Talmadge and Freeman represent that “lanes” only would be transferred they are lying to the court. That misrepresentation is significant because of what article II section 40 says, and how it exists to ensure the driving public retains ongoing access to use highway infrastructure in which substantial amounts of Motor Vehicle Fund highway trust assets have been invested.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    8 of 10

    Talmadge and Freeman completely failed to raise and argue appropriate statutory claims. Those omissions demonstrate how this appellate proceeding is a sham designed to get the justices to act dishonestly for these governments. For example, there are a number of obvious legal flaws with WSDOT’s plan to rely on RCW 47.12.120 as authority for handing the land and the portions of the highway infrastructure fixtures over to Sound Transit:

    -- The type of transaction the parties contemplate involves not just a 40-year lease of real property but also an outright transfer of all WSDOT’s interests in large portions of its highway infrastructure fixtures. That statute does not authorize outright transfers of “improvements”, only leases.

    -- WSDOT has no discretion to disregard subsection 2 of that surplus property statute, which requires any leasehold obtained by the transferee must be “subject to the provisions and requirements of zoning ordinances of political subdivisions of government”. Sound Transit’s use of that property would be statutorily exempt from compliance with all such ordinances. Indeed, Sound Transit is free to disregard completely all provisions and requirements of the zoning ordinances of Seattle, King County, Mercer Island, and Bellevue if it gets control of the properties WSDOT wants to deed over to it. In 2010 the state legislature amended RCW 36.70A.200. That statute lists “essential public facilities”, and that year “regional transit authority facilities as defined in RCW 81.112.020” were added to the list. The significance of that designation is that Sound Transit now is able to site and operate its light rail lines where it wants and how it wants no matter what any city and/or county land use laws and regulations say. See RCW 36.70A.200(5). Satisfaction of subsection 2 is not optional. It’s a requirement of RCW 47.12.120 that would not be satisfied. The fact that the “post-transfer” situation would leave Sound Transit free to disregard local zoning and other land use regulations means that statute could not authorize this proposed property handover.

    -- As can be seen from the parties briefing, no facts of record or credible, strongly persuasive opinions support WSDOT’s assertion that all the infrastructure-to-be-specified-later would become not presently needed by the driving public in 2020. That is another statutory requirement the proposed transaction does not satisfy.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    9 of 10

    What Talmadge/Freeman do instead is raise a confusing, weak claim to the effect that WSDOT lacks the discretionary authority to determine when highway infrastructure no longer is needed for highway purposes. That straw-man argument lets the state put stuff in its brief that makes the petitioners look foolish while avoiding the true legal impediments to the course of action it wants to pursue. On page 37 the state’s brief says this:

    “Like the ‘good cause’ determination in Agee and the water permit findings in Peterson, the determination as to whether highway property continues to be needed for highway purposes falls within WSDOT' s engineering discretionary authority.”

    In many situations WSDOT has discretion to determine when highway improvements no longer are needed for highway purposes, but such a determination must be based on strong evidence. The justices are expected by these litigants to hold substantial evidence supports such a determination by WSDOT. They also are being requested to cover up the fact that the governments are not authorized by the statute at issue to transfer all that highway infrastructure over to Sound Transit for it to immediately rip up and begin reengineering for a non-highway purpose.

    Something else the justices aren't supposed to disclose in the majority opinion or the dissent: article II section 40 prohibits this infrastructure handover. WSDOT's authority in most situations to administer highway infrastructure is trumped and precluded by that provision of the constitution because of all the MVF assets invested in the I-90 corridor's infrastructure. Article II section 40 limits WSDOT's authority and power by protecting the driving public's right to use highway infrastructure in which substantial MVF investments have been made for its business and personal driving needs.

    What all the lawyers involved in that appellate proceeding are shooting for is to get the justices to slam the weak claims using ringing rhetoric that puts the governments above the law. Based on the justices’ past performance, that’s what we should expect they’ll do this time around as well.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    10 of 10

    Why do the local media outlets cover up how the judiciary behaves dishonestly in case after case? Those politicians and the few media outlets around here essentially are owned by the richest local interest groups. Seattle has a history of politicians and the press being influenced by extractive industries. Now though, instead of Alaskan gold, timber and fish a chief local industry is extracting tax revenues from families and individuals via muni bond financed megaprojects. He who pays the piper gets to choose the tune, and it isn’t individuals or families paying the Seattle Times, Crosscut, KIRO, KOMO, or the Puget Sound Business Journal.

    None of this dovetails with Jordan Royer’s thesis, but the facts show it’s the prevailing local media practice. There’s a dearth of stories about 1) how the judiciary fails to discharge its responsibilities in an honest manner in appellate proceedings with the most widespread financial impacts on people, and 2) the nature and extent of the tax costs of megaprojects such as those the unaccountable political appointees controlling Sound Transit are launching into. The absence of information in the press about those violations of public responsibilities and exceedingly large regressive financial impacts on people shows how selective the “investigative reporting” really is in this neck of the woods.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Anonymous sources, insiders, tipsters, citizen activists, and bloggers should be credited with helping lead some of the investigative reporters to their stories. Here's one for any and all to pursue: Of all the hundreds of thousands of red light and speed limit camera traffic citations issued since day one of such practice, just how many have been issued to Metro buses, city owned and other 'exempt' vehicles, and how much revenue, if any, has been collected from this group of folks? Nationwide, there are numerous scandals involving municipalities and states regarding their contractual relationship with the camera companies. Are we ignoring any local mischief and not following the money when it comes to the cottage industry of traffic cameras?


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 6:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tell THAT to google, yahoo, msn, zillow, trulia ad nauseum.

    All the aggregators who sell advertisements in exchange for providing basically copycat news or bland Hollywood/Sports Gossip took the well entrenched channels that paid for quality journalism for a ride.

    It's a downward spiral in many ways.

    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate


    I don't think most people would balk at paying something for online Seattle Times content. But not $4 per week.

    I'd pay $4 per week for an audio version that I could listen to in the car, or out on a walk. But not $4 per week for news I can get free nearly everywhere.

    Perhaps a pre-paid account, where at the flick of a button, we can reward the articles we like the best with .50 or 1.00, or even more.

    Posted Wed, Feb 27, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    Crossrip, I hope you made good points in the final eight posts of your argument because I tuned out after two of them.

    Speaking for myself, I have absolutely no interest in paying anybody, let alone the Seattle Times, $4 a week just to read their website. There are still a number of other local news sources who manage to present stories without paywalls, including Crosscut. I'll even seek news from dubious sources like The Stranger or the Seattle Weekly before I spend $200 a year to get it from the Times.

    Sorry, Blethens.

    Posted Mon, Mar 4, 2:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    The posts by Crossrip are actually very intersting.


    Posted Wed, Feb 27, 5:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    SLOG, The Stranger's excellent daily news blog, is not "dubious" -- the Times definitely is. The Seattle Weekly (now in its third incarnation in about a year) shouldn't even be mentioned with the word "news".


    Posted Mon, Mar 4, 2:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    SLOG is dubious.


    Posted Fri, Mar 1, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with Mr. Royer; good journalism is important.

    But the Times, for example, has increasing blurred the line between editorial and reporting. I hate to say that because I respect many of the reporters at the Times but their editorial board's tone can be noted in many articles. It's troubling.

    I also, as a blogger, appreciate the shout-out to blogs. We do a lot of the exact work that Mr. Royer details and for far less money. It would be nice if occasionally our work was acknowledged as the first source of many issues.


    Posted Sun, Mar 3, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    I can (and do) read the NYT on-line for $15/month. The Seattle Times will be charging more than that.

    If you absolutely need to read the Seattle rag in print, there are always copies around at your local Starbucks, and they don't push you to pay.


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