Seattle Times editorial page editor and crown prince Ryan Blethen elaborates on his page’s surprising decision to endorse Rep. Dave Reichert’s opponents:
In the 8th Congressional District, Reichert has had six years to grow. He hasn’t. His being caught on tape glibly talking about taking votes for the environment so he could stay in office was not a great way to start off an election year. That gaffe was compounded by his voting against fiscal reform and showing up for his endorsement interview woefully unprepared and more defensive than I’ve ever seen a candidate.
The two candidates in the 8th we did endorse, Suzan DelBene and Tim Dillon, showed up prepared and were thoughtful in follow-up discussions.
I’m not sure I’ll ever grow tired of reading the Times hurl the same sort of criticisms at Reichert that I’ve been hurling for years, and of course I take great pride in knowing that it was leaked audio exclusively posted on HA that helped flip the Times’ assessment of the three-term Republican incumbent. But this is more than just a delicious “I told you so” moment, for my post, and the broader media coverage it generated, is a beautiful illustration of the sometimes under-appreciated role bloggers now play in the modern, news media food chain.
It is true that much of what I write is derivative, consisting of commentary, analysis and criticism of original reporting and commentary produced elsewhere, mostly from the legacy press; indeed, the first thing I do every morning is scan the Seattle Times for stuff to make fun of. But bloggers like me have also become an important source for “professional” journalists, sometimes in quantifiable ways like the Reichert audio story, but more often in the subtle, less obvious way we tend to steer coverage, create buzz and frame headlines.
Like most of my best scoops, the leaked Reichert audio simply fell into my lap, because my source trusted me to see it for what it truly was, and to frame it in the most damaging way possible, whereas they were concerned that the Times might dismiss it entirely as mere politics as usual. In this sense, my blatant partisanship proved to be a tremendous journalistic asset.
But because my partisanship is so blatant, once the story was out there, other journalists, including the Times’ editorialists, where free to consider it in its proper context, and make their own evaluation. In the end the audio, presented unedited and unexpurgated, speaks for itself, while Reichert’s history of making similar statements establishes that his self-professed cynicism was no slip of the tongue.
The Times recognized that this is information that voters deserve to know, and I have to give them credit for that. But it’s not clear that the Times ever would have recognized this had I not framed the audio in the manner I did at the time I broke the story.
And that gets to another under-appreciated aspect of what bloggers like me do, for the best of us display a talent for seeing in commodity facts a larger truth that sometimes escapes the first round of media coverage. The U.S. Attorney story is a shining example, a major scandal that might have eluded the legacy press had not Talking Points Memo connected the dots that everybody else missed, and then obsessively followed up. Likewise my Mike Brown Arabian Horse Association story, a post that ultimately helped frame FEMA’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina as a debacle of cronyism, leading to Brownie’s resignation, merely highlighted information that was already widely available on his official resume.
It’s not that newspaper and other legacy media reporters don’t engage in the same kind of conceptual journalism, it’s just that our freedom to be passionate, opinionated and yes, partisan, frees bloggers like me to pursue angles that would make other journalists uncomfortable. Plus the sheer number of us energetically plying our trade simply makes it that much harder for important news to escape scrutiny.
While there are some traditional journalists who still dismiss bloggers like me as parasites, the truth is that we’ve been gradually establishing a pretty symbiotic relationship… a relationship from which readers ultimately benefit.