As painful as it may be to write, I once again agree with the Seattle Times in their efforts to have court documents unsealed from Susan Hutchison’s discrimination suit against KIRO TV:
Hutchison, through her lawyer, says she supports open records but not when it comes to intruding into the privacy of an individual who availed themselves of the court. That sounds too much like she supports open records — just not her records.
That’s called hypocrisy, especially coming from someone who claims to have been a journalist. (Though in all fairness to Hutchison, it’s hard to call reading words off a teleprompter “journalism.”)
Court records and proceedings are generally public by default, both as a First Amendment right, and as a matter of judicial principle, as public oversight of the courts is our primary safeguard in ensuring that justice is meted out fairly. Indeed, such openness is fundamental to our entire system of justice. Think about it: secret courts equal tyranny and oppression.
That’s why court records are normally only sealed under certain circumstances, such as closed adoptions, juveniles (criminals and victims), witness protection, trade secrets and national security. Personal privacy is generally not one of these circumstances, apart from obvious things like social security numbers. Choose to bring a civil suit and you choose to make the information disclosed by both parties public. That’s the way the system works, and that’s likely the second most common reason, after cost, that parties choose to settle disputes privately, before their dirty laundry is aired out in court.
Hutchison was an aging female newscaster demoted from her weeknight anchor job in favor of a younger (and less expensive) woman. Right or wrong, that’s not uncommon in the cutthroat TV news biz. Still, she probably could have secured a modest severance settlement out of KIRO TV, simply by threatening a discrimination suit. That too is common in the biz. But whatever KIRO TV offered apparently wasn’t good enough for Hutchison, so she exercised her right to sue in civil court.
Hutchison and her surrogates claim that KIRO TV’s willingness to settle proves her discrimination claims, but with the records sealed and the terms of the settlement secret, such assertions are totally unsupported. Perhaps little or no money changed hands. For all we know, Hutchison ended up paying KIRO.
What we do know is that Hutchison failed to win her old job back, and she failed to secure a comparable anchor position at any of the three competing stations, so while age and gender no doubt played a role in her demotion, it was a cold, cruel business decision based on ratings and performance more than anything else. I mean, not every female newscaster is shoved aside once their youth fades; for example, Jean Enersen’s reporting and interviewing chops have earned her a steady hold on the KING-5 anchor chair since 1972.
The Times warns that Hutchison risks “squandering credibility by fighting this case,” but really, how much credibility did she have to start with? As a newscaster, certainly not as much credibility as Enersen. And as a political candidate for executive office with little or no political or executive experience at all… well… um…?
Perhaps we’ll be able to answer that question better once the court documents are unsealed.