Memories of Stim Bullitt's KING years

An editorial colleague recalls the joyous days of working for the Good Cause, when Bullitt, who died last week, was running the station in the 1960s.
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Stimson Bullitt, 1919-2009

An editorial colleague recalls the joyous days of working for the Good Cause, when Bullitt, who died last week, was running the station in the 1960s.

A word about a man who hated television. He thought it was an abomination but I salute him as a great figure in television and the best boss anyone could ever dream of. I write of Stim Bullitt who was, for ten years from 1961-71, president of the KING Broadcasting Company. Oddly, he scorned the media.

To give him his complete name it was Charles Stimson Bullitt, but nobody ever called him that. He was an intellectual, an anomaly among broadcast executives, and a Democrat, which is almost an anomaly. He was an inveterate outdoorsman who once scaled 20,300 feet to the top of Mount McKinley. Moreover, he was an essayist, with a gentle manner and a ferocious wit. He was a staunch devotee of Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

A modest man, he discarded praise and said that the only list he ever wanted to be on was Richard Nixon'ꀙs enemies list. That was a designation he was proud of. As head of King Broadcasting, Stim became the first TV executive to write editorials opposing the war in Vietnam. I helped him write that editorial and many of the others that stirred the wrath of the business establishment — and companies that provided commercial support to KING.

I was lucky, very lucky, to have arrived on the scene at the start if his tenure at KING. I had come to Seattle from the East Coast where I was toiling, unknown, among the many would be influential reporters and commentators in the burgeoning broadcast industry. I had applied to KING among many other outlets and was astonished to be invited to Seattle for an interview. Stim was looking for unusual hires who had no particular credentials other than eagerness to serve for what he thought was a Good Cause. He and his right hand man, a Democratic politico from Oregon named Ancil Payne, did the interviewing at Stim'ꀙs family home in the elegant Highlands district north of Seattle.

I got the job in part because Stim was impressed that I recognized the Mozart concerto playing on his phonograph. How could a job seeker on TV recognize and identify a Mozart concerto? Over the years Stim and I shared many moments listening to great music. What an introduction it was for me, a devotee to classical music, to a television tycoon. I thought they were all musical illiterates. I expected Stim and Ancil Payne to be devotees of the Beatles, who were the rage in 1963.

And what a job I was offered! I could cover any story I wanted to and tell it in my own words. At the Associated Press, where I had been employed, the myth of objectivity was king, so I could take no position on anything. Right at the start I tackled two controversial themes, railing against the Vietnam War and the racial situation in Seattle.

Those positions brought me close to Stim spiritually. It was 1967, and in the Highlands where Stim lived not a Black face could be seen. On the TV stations not a Black face could be seen. On the radio stations not a Black voice could be heard. Off we went. I did commentary on the racial situation and Stim wrote editorials. His was the first editorial in the country in support of blacks moving into white neighborhoods.

With those two stands I won national awards, and the reputation of KING-TV began to soar under Stim'ꀙs leadership. We went on to support all the good causes. I was in journalism heaven, and KING was embarking on a record that few stations could achieve. We endorsed equal housing; we pushed for enhanced educational opportunities for city and state. Stim'ꀙs was the first editorial voice to speak out against the Vietnam War in the country and I won an Emmy for my report.

During this period Stim and I became fast friends settling all the world'ꀙs problems over lunch. I never had to plead for money. In an industry where Money is everything Stim never hesitated to risk financial support for things he believed in. I had the opportunity to learn the broadcast industry from top to bottom. Our reputation grew all the time and I loved what I was doing. I did a 15-minute radio broadcast daily called 'ꀜPerspective'ꀝ and a three to five minute insert in our evening TV news show.

Probably our most ambitious undertaking was 'ꀜColor Me Somebody.'ꀝ One of my major interests was in the racial situation in this sea of whiteness. In my conversations around the area with people who didn'ꀙt realize the racial undercurrent in this city I had always, from the beginning, wanted to use my position and KING's to further the cause of racial equality. This was a cause worth fighting for, and I knew Stim wanted to lead the fight. I proposed that we do news shows and documentaries, and to my delight Stim was prepared to get in front of the campaign.

It was the most expensive project that KING had ever undertaken, but Stim approved every dollar that I and my colleagues wanted to spend. We hired a black camera man named Gil Baker and a black secretary named Martha Hubbard to work with me in identifying a block in the Central area where blacks congregated; and, together with Jim Compton, who later became a Seattle City Councilmember, we identified the block and I went about interviewing all the residents.

We churned up hours of recorded interviews which I later edited into a narrative for a broadcast. The 'ꀜColor Me Somebody'ꀝ quote came from an interview of Ed Pratt, who wound up being murdered before the documentary could air. When the 90-minute documentary was broadcast, it became my greatest achievement in broadcasting and I think it made Stim proud. The show later was trimmed to 60 minutes for nationwide broadcast on public television.

Stim was a man of many parts. He also sank lots of money in a print campaign promoting Seattle magazine, a labor of love about social, economic, and political issues. For the magazine I undertook a monthly column on Seattle newspapers and other media, which I called 'ꀜThe Press Club.'ꀝ My approach was to beat the newspapers over the head for their timidity.

Everything Stim did was to further the city of Seattle. While he was a businessman, these public interests always trumped money, and he would be fearless in campaigning for things he believed in. One issue stands out in my mind. In some of the interviews that I collected for 'ꀜColor Me Somebody,'ꀝ two of the black people who had worked for Boeing unabashedly criticized the company as not being an equal opportunity employer. When I played that part for Stim I didn'ꀙt know how he would react; and, at my suggestion that he might want to cut that sequence out, in order not to offend the mighty Boeing, his comment was: 'ꀜThat's what he said. Let'ꀙs leave it in.'ꀝ

As I said: the best boss you could ever want.

Note: A memorial program with tributes to Stimson Bullitt will be held at Town Hall Seattle, 8th and Seneca on Seattle's First Hill, Monday May 4 at 4 pm.


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