The Seattle Times Editorial Board: the City’s Most Widely Read Right-Wing Blog

So I have it on good authority that the Seattle Times’ demonstrably false unsigned “Death Tax” editorial was penned by editorial columnist Erik Smith. Figures. That’s exactly the sort of corporatist shilling for which he was clearly hired.

I know Smith from his several years blogging for the business-backed Washington Wire, where he covered Olympia with an undeniably pro-business/pro-Republican slant. That was his job and he was okay at it, I guess. But I never paid much attention to Washington Wire because it never had much audience or influence.

Still, let’s clear away the pretense: this is what the Seattle Times hired when they put Smith on their editorial board—a conservative blogger. And that is exactly what they got.

Indeed, if anything, Smith has behaved more like a righty blogger since being elevated to the editorial board than he ever did at Washington Wire, where he always seemed defensive about his business backing. At Washington Wire, Smith stuck to a more reportorial voice, and at least went through the journalistic motions. At the Seattle Times he’s lapsed into fact-free bloviating, relying on the credibility inherent in writing under a major newspaper banner to make up for the lack of effort he’s displayed to actually, you know, get stuff right. And his “Death Tax” editorial celebrates a new low.

The McBrides had long ceased to operate a “working farm,” and the value of Ralph McBride’s property was far too small to be subject to either the state or federal estate taxes. Perhaps you could just chalk those errors off to mere laziness. But the following is intentionally misleading:

Washington state’s tax is especially punitive. The rate of up to 20 percent is the highest in the country — on top of a federal rate of 40 percent. The typical state exemption for the first $2 million of estate value is hardly enough for a farm or prosperous business, despite reforms by the 2013 Legislature.

I mean, how do you write this statement without acknowledging that working farms are entirely exempt from Washington’s estate tax, and still take pride in your work? I know I couldn’t.

If I have a chip on my shoulder it comes from years of being lazily dismissed by “real” journalists like Smith and his editorial page editor Kate Riley as just a foul-mouthed liberal blogger who can’t be taken seriously. But the truth is, I do exactly what the Seattle Times editorial board does, except I do it from the left, I do it better, and I do it honestly. And, unlike the Seattle Times editors, I have the goddamn self-respect and pride of work to sign my name.

Why the Police Excesses in Ferguson Don’t Make SPD Look Good by Comparison

As the events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri this week, one thought you can be sure that was repeated again and again in the minds of Seattle Police Department officers was: “And we’re under a consent decree?” Doesn’t seem fair, right? At least by comparison.

But unfortunately for the Seattle Police Guild and its recalcitrant members, this isn’t a competition to see which department is least worst. Seattle is a bigger city than Ferguson—and a better city. And we require a better police force.

The fact that Seattle police responded to Occupy Wall Street and the May Day marches with much more restraint and professionalism than the storm troopers in Ferguson, doesn’t excuse those incidents where Seattle police showed a lack of professionalism and restraint. And the fact that unarmed young black men apparently have less to fear from police in Seattle than they would from police in St. Louis County, doesn’t make up for the fact that unarmed young black men have more to fear from Seattle police than they should.

One of the things that always troubled me in covering the SPD’s various excesses is that compared to the Rizzo-era Philadelphia police of my youth, the SPD are Mormon missionaries. I never saw the Philadelphia police resort to tear gas, pepper spray, or rubber bullets. No, they’d just trample the crowd with their horses, or unleash the dogs, or firebomb an entire city block. God knows how many Philadelphia police shootings and beatings were criminal acts of excessive force, because honestly, who could keep track?

But what I came to understand in covering SPD is that the Philadelphia comparison was meaningless. This isn’t Philadelphia or Ferguson, and this sure isn’t the 1970s. The documented abuses of the SPD offend our sensibilities not because they are collectively worse than those of other police forces, but because here in Seattle we expect and demand so much better. In a truly civil society, armed officers of the peace must always strive to treat the entire public with dignity and respect, and to use force—lethal or otherwise—only as a last resort. The SPD has not lived up to this standard. The consent decree was necessary to help correct a long simmering cultural crisis within the department that was getting in the way of giving the people of Seattle the SPD we deserve.

So any Seattle police officer bemoaning the injustice that our department is under a consent decree, while Ferguson’s is not, is missing the point. It is only an injustice to the people of Ferguson.


Who Wants to Dump a Bucket of Ice Water Over My Head?

So, a “friend” of mine has called me out for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and I figured as long as it’s raising money for a good cause, I might as well make the most of it by auctioning off the honor of dumping a bucket of freezing cold ice water over my head. (I first offered the honor to Tim Eyman, but as usual, he hasn’t responded to my email. Something I’ve said?)

Here’s the deal: I’ll bring the camera to film it, and you bring the bucket of ice water—as big and as cold as you can manage with two hands. The bigger the bucket, the more I suffer. How’s that for an enticement, trolls?

The bidding starts now in the comment thread of this post, and goes on for the next 24 hours. All proceeds go to the ALS Foundation.

Seattle Times Editorial Board Doubles Down on Misleading “Death Tax” Editorial

Well, at least they’ve finally responded:

I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed. As I have painstakingly documented, there is simply no way that the estate tax could have forced the McBride family to sell “the last family farm in Issaquah.” It is simply impossible. And yet the Seattle Times editorial board insists on standing by their blatantly false claim. This can no longer be dismissed as a mere error. It is now confirmed to be a lie.

Shame on them. And let them know.

UPDATE: “Doublechecked with our sources,” my ass! My sources were the public record and the law. Even if the McBride’s say the estate tax forced them to sell, it wouldn’t make it so.

So just to be clear, whichever member of the editorial board wrote this editorial is a shameless lying liar, and if they’re offended by that assertion, I invite them to please, please sue me for defamation for saying so.

UPDATE, UPDATE: Just called Seattle Times to cancel my subscription, even though I don’t have one. Try it. Its funny. 1-800-542-0820.

Why Won’t @k8riley, @fblethen, @RyanBlethen, @jmartin206, @sharonpianchan, @ErikSmithWa, @TanInSeattle, and @RobertJVickers Take Pride in Their Work?

Had the Seattle Times editorial board written something so clearly false and defamatory about a living person, they would have surely printed a retraction by now, if only out of fear of the legal and financial consequences. But since all they did was libel an issue, I guess they feel that they are under no obligation to set the record straight.

Which is disappointing.

Contrary to the editors’ claims, the McBride family most certainly did not liquidate “the last working farm in a fast-growing suburb … as a result of the estate tax.” As I have painstakingly documented, working farms are entirely exempt from Washington’s estate tax, the McBride property is not a working farm, and regardless of his property’s classification, Ralph McBride’s estate is far too small to be subject to either the state or federal estate taxes.

On Monday, I asked you to politely write editorial page editor Kate Riley. In demanding a retraction, I had counted on publisher Frank Blethen and his editors having enough pride and self-respect to retract their false claims, even at the cost of undermining their relentless advocacy against the estate tax.

I regret my error. Clearly, this breach of journalistic ethics requires stronger actions.

If you are still a Seattle Times subscriber, I urge you to call customer service at 1-800-542-0820, and cancel your subscription. Be sure to tell them why: the dishonest “death tax” editorial. This is not an action I urge lightly. I’m not a big fan of boycotts, and I’m not sure I’ve ever urged my readers to cancel their newspaper subscriptions before. But this editorial is so profoundly disrespectful of journalism in general and its readers in particular, that drastic actions are warranted.

And if Riley won’t respond to a polite request via email, perhaps you need to reach out to her more directly. Call her at 206-464-2260, and ask her to personally defend this editorial. Again, I don’t hand out people’s phone numbers lightly. I’ve been harassed enough myself over the years. But the editorial page editor of a daily newspaper that claims to be delivering a public service to the community has a special obligation to listen to the concerns of citizens.

And finally, if the personal touch doesn’t work, try a little public humiliation. The Seattle Times editorial board can be found on Twitter: @k8riley, @fblethen, @RyanBlethen, @jmartin206, @sharonpianchan, @ErikSmithWa, @TanInSeattle, @RobertJVickers, @SeaTimesOpinion. Tweet at them. Don’t make it profane or personal, just question their journalistic ethics. Ask them how we can trust anything they write if they refuse to correct such obvious factual errors. Demand that they take pride in their work.

The most charitable view of this editorial is that it was the result of zealotry and laziness. They saw what they wanted to see in the original news article on the sale of the McBride property, and then didn’t bother to check their facts. Well, I fact-checked it for them. And they got it completely wrong.

To publicly acknowledge their error now, a week after publication, might be embarrassing. But to refuse to correct their error amounts to a blatant lie.

Open Thread 8/21

- Reparations for Ferguson

- Somebody should ask Dave Reichert if he agrees with Newt Gingrich that Obama is a food stamp president. Or many of the other horrible things he has said and done over the years.

- Spokane’s Downtown is for People – and their Buses

- Women in the Workplace: Marination

- Parody is killed again. Now, you might say that this is flagrantly unprincipled. But, to borrow Mark Tushnet’s line, it is simultaneously 0% and 100% principled.

- You should probably have a better organizing principle than annoy the left if you want to achieve anything.

Don’t Watch This Video Unless You Want to See a Man Shot Dead by St. Louis Police

Seriously. What the headline says. Don’t play this video and then complain to me about the disturbing images.

The cell-phone camera footage is far enough away that you can’t really see the knife that’s allegedly in the victim’s hands, but this sure doesn’t look like the scenario that the St. Louis Police described yesterday about the police shooting of a knife-wielding man just a few miles from Ferguson. None of the witnesses appear particularly threatened by the victim’s behavior, he’s not apparently lunging at the officers, he’s not holding the knife overhand in an aggressive manner, and he’s certainly not three to four feet away—”lethal range for a knife,” as Chief Dotson reported. 

The whole thing unfolds very quickly, not much more than 20 seconds from the time the police arrive to the time a clearly disturbed 25-year-old Kajieme Powell is shot dead. I’m not a law enforcement expert, but it does not appear that the officers made any effort to end the encounter nonlethally.

Indeed, this is the way that law enforcement officers shamefully and routinely dispatch dogs, without pause, apology, remorse, or legal recourse, the safety of the officer, we’re told, taking precedent over the life the animal, whatever the circumstances. Maybe the law allows that. But from this video, it sure does look like Kajieme Powell was shot like a dog.

[via Greg Mitchell]

Microsoft Quits “Stand Your Ground” Lobbying Group ALEC

I retweeted this out yesterday—that Microsoft has severed ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—but was surprised to see that the story wasn’t picked up by our local media:

Microsoft announced Tuesday that it’s cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative public-policy lobbying group. It appears this decision was made due to ALEC’s lobbing efforts to block the development of renewable energy.

Microsoft had previously been a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. In a statement, the company said it has halted all participation in this group.

“In 2014 Microsoft decided to no longer participate in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Communications and Technology Task Force, which had been our only previous involvement with ALEC,” the company said. “With this decision, we no longer contribute any dues to ALEC…we are no longer members of ALEC and do not provide the organization with financial support of any kind.”

Microsoft’s decision comes on the heels of other major corporations dropping membership with ALEC, including Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stopped financially supporting ALEC in 2012.

Weird. Microsoft farts, and it tends to garner front page headlines around here, but local media crickets. Yet this is actually pretty big news.

ALEC is the corporate-backed  lobbying group behind such far-right-wing public policy gems as Stand Your Ground, Voter ID, and the ironically-named Freedom Foundation’s recent round of union-busting local initiatives. So it should’ve been a bit of a scandal here in progressive Microsoft country that the company was ever involved in ALEC at all. Amazon quit ALEC two years ago in the midst of shareholder protests. So you’d think Microsoft quitting ALEC would be a local news story too. Huh.

In any case, good on Microsoft for finally leaving the Koch-suckers at ALEC behind. And boo on our local media for largely ignoring the story.

Open Thread 8-19

- This is What Climate Leadership Looks Like

- With its own credibility on the line, the British Columbia government on Monday ordered an independent investigation of the tailings dam breach on Aug. 4 that sent huge quantities of water and metal-contaminated sand into important-salmon spawning waters.

- Yay for low income fare Metro trips.

- In case you’re interested in the proposed bike corridors in Olympia (and I can’t imagine you aren’t) here you go.

- Yakama Nation to Coal: And Stay Out.

- Congrats to Scarecrow Video. Here’s hoping the transition to nonprofit works out well.

A Simple, Surefire Solution for Calming the Unrest in Ferguson

Arrest Officer Darren Wilson.  Book him, fingerprint him, and charge him with murder or something. Invite the media so that they can broadcast the image of Officer Wilson being marched, handcuffed, into police headquarters. Then call a press conference and urge the public to go home and allow justice to take its course.

To be clear, this wouldn’t be a “rush to judgment” as some have warned. There is ample suspicion. And once charged (and most likely released on his own recognizance), prosecutors would have plenty of time to build their case—or perhaps even drop the charges if that’s what the evidence ultimately bears out. An arrest is not a conviction. And it’s not an overreaction. After all, if you’re willing to arrest journalists for walking too slowly, it certainly shouldn’t be hard to justify arresting a man for shooting an unarmed kid in the face.

And if Officer Wilson truly cares about the city he serves and the citizens he’s sworn to protect, he should be willing to make this sacrifice—to suffer the humiliation and inconvenience—for the sake of keeping the peace. If he’s innocent—if, once the facts are known, this turns out to be a clean shooting—then Officer Wilson should have nothing to fear from the local justice system. (I mean, it’s not like he’s black or anything.)

So arrest Officer Wilson, charge him with the murder (manslaughter, negligent homicide, whatever) of Michael Brown, and end the unrest. It’s simple. Certainly simpler than the current apparent strategy of arresting the entire city of Ferguson.

Are You a Dues-Paying Member of HA Local 1?

Always punch up, that’s what I like to say, which I suppose is what the odious Freedom Foundation is doing in featuring an HA post in a recent fundraising email:

Freedom Foundation is scared of

So, two things to note from this email. First, McCabe is absolutely blunt that their primary objective is to “defund” organized labor. There’s zero talk about freedom or liberty here. These initiatives have nothing to do with workers’ rights, or transparency, or good government. And there’s certainly nothing grassroots about them. This is a purely partisan fight by a corporatist-backed corporate shill seeking to defund the political opposition. Because if money is speech, then only the 1 percent deserve to be heard, or something.

Second, hear that, labor bosses? According to McCabe, I’m now one of you! So if I speak for “the labor unions,” I demand to be treated like a labor boss, invited to all your steak and whiskey dinners, and given equal time on the luxurious big labor yacht, the Jolly Teamster.

So thanks, Tom, for transforming this shitty little local blogger into the second coming of Samuel Fucking Gompers! I appreciate the promotion.

Still No Retraction on Seattle Times’ Bogus “Death Tax” Editorial

Still no word back yet from Seattle Times editorial page editor Kate Riley regarding my request that the paper retract and correct its blatantly erroneous “Death Tax” editorial. But several HA readers have reported that they’ve received from Riley the following cut-and-paste response:

Thank you for your note. We are looking into this and trying to get back in touch with the McBride family.

We want to be accurate and appreciate when our readers bring such questions to our attention.

Or, so she says.

Huh. Not sure why I wasn’t given the courtesy of a reply. Must be some sort of inadvertent clerical error or something. Otherwise, I’d have to assume that they don’t appreciate when I bring such questions to their attention.

But regardless, you would think that the editorial board of a major American newspaper would bother fact-checking before publication rather than after, especially considering that anybody who knows anything about the estate tax would know that a $4.5 million working farm is not be subject to any state or federal estate tax at all. I mean, that’s the law.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle


What’s on your mind these days? Are you thinking about the upcoming fall elections? Do you have an opinion on Ferguson or the militarization of local police forces? Perhaps you are still pondering the Seattle Times’ bizarre estate tax op-ed, or have an urge to do something about it? Or maybe you are curious about the Perry indictment.

Whatever it is that has you thinking politics, consider the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally as your weekly sounding board for all things political.

We meet tonight, and every Tuesday evening at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. The starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks show up before that for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle? Perhaps you can check out another Washington State chapter of Drinking Liberally over the next week. The Tri-Cities and Shelton chapters also meet this Tuesday. The Lakewood and South Seattle chapters meet this Wednesday. And on Thursday, the Tacoma chapter meets.

With 205 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

Dear Seattle Times: Retract Your Misleading “Death Tax” Editorial

Thanks to the social media magic of Facebook and Twitter, over 12,000 people read my post on the Seattle Times’ lyingest editorial ever—not bad for a shitty little local blog over a weekend in August. Meanwhile, the editorial’s own comment thread was dominated by readers calling bullshit on the bullshit, even before I chimed in with my thorough takedown.

But make no mistake: despite all the criticism, the Blethens have achieved their objective. From here on out when partisan bloggers and right-wing “think” tanks go looking for concrete examples of heirs losing the family farm to a punitive estate tax, this editorial will find its way toward the top of Google (notice they break from tradition and refer to it as both a “death tax” and an “estate tax” in order to up its search ranking). It’s from the editorial board of a major US newspaper, so surely the facts had to be checked and the thesis vetted, right? For years to come, this editorial will be cited as documented anecdotal evidence of the estate tax forcing the liquidation of a 131-year-old family farm. Whereas my refutation—however devastating—will drift away into obscurity.

And that is how myths are made!

Which is why it is not enough to merely ridicule the demonstrably false assertions in this editorial. For the sake of preserving the integrity of the first draft of history, we must also demand a retraction:

Ms. Kate Riley
Editorial Page Editor
Seattle Times

August 18, 2014

Dear Ms. Riley,

I am writing to request that you print a retraction of your August 14, 2014 editorial “Death tax imposes cost on family business stability,” and update the online archive of this editorial to reflect that 1) working farms are entirely exempt from Washington’s estate tax, 2) the McBride property is not a working farm, and 3) regardless of his property’s classification, Ralph McBride’s estate is far too small to be subject to either the state or federal estate taxes.

The thesis of this editorial—that the estate tax cost the McBride’s their family farm—is clearly refuted by the public record. For the sake of promoting an informed and honest public debate on this issue, as well as maintaining the credibility of the Seattle Times, I respectfully request that you correct these errors.

Thank you,

David Goldstein
Seattle, WA

I have sent the email above to Seattle Times editorial page editor Kate Riley and publisher Frank Blethen. I encourage you to do the same (in your own words or mine), appending your full name and contact information, and use the power of social media to spread this as widely as possible.