After a decade of producing 5-10 columns a week for various outlets, I’ve been mostly taking a break from writing these past few months, which is why Goldy’s comment the other day about my technically being a poster. But the P-I’s article this morning on city council candidate Joe Szwaja pissed me off sufficiently to post – and then I see Will already got to the article last night.
I really like Will, but his post on Joe Szwaja’s troubles in the past misses a really simple point: Why did the P-I run this story? How did Angela Galloway think to check Wisconsin court and newspaper records, and just happen to have a story on it ready the same week Szwaja’s kickoff event raised over $17,000? And if you’re going to compare Szwaja to Dixon, as Will does – a sort of ridiculous comparison anyway, since this is a non-partisan race and most of the people who have backed Szwaja for this race have nothing to do with the Greens – why did the P-I run only one story mentioning Dixon’s (non-) voting record, and never run any mention of his extensive legal problems, either Dixon’s current misdemeanor ones or his two prison stretches for rather serious crimes in the 1980’s? Somehow, that wasn’t relevant or newsworthy, but Szwaja’s misdemeanor incidents from nearly 20 years ago are.
I’ll tell you exactly why the P-I is running this story: because Godden’s campaign fed it to them. Jean Godden worked at the P-I for many years before jumping to the Times, and she has consistently received glowing, uncritical coverage from both papers during her four years on council despite being its most inert member. When running four years ago, her editorial board interview at Seattle Weekly showed a stunning lack of awareness of civic issues, and she hasn’t improved on the job – treating that powerful $100,000+ a year job as some sort of civic retirement prize for having attended all the right parties during her decades as a gossip columnist. I’ve had several council aides tell me privately the same thing I’ve seen with my own eyes: In four years, Godden literally hasn’t done anything of significance on the council. She’s barely kept the seat warm.
Want to know where the P-I is coming from? Any writer or editor will tell you that the subtle little twists of wording, as well as what’s omitted, are how you lead a reader:
Although he initially declined repeatedly to elaborate about what he said were inaccuracies in Madison newspaper accounts, he was more forthcoming in a later interview Wednesday…
A lot of interview subjects won’t comment on the record, or so do extensively, when first ambushed with questions about, say, their past personal life; when I did a piece on former radio host Mike Webb for the Weekly last year, I spent nearly a month getting him to go on the record with detailed responses, which, to his credit, he eventually did. It’s a standard part of the reporting process to get people to talk. I’ve never seen this sort of caveat dropped into the story itself.
[Szwaja] said he has had a good driving record since moving to Seattle in 1993.
You think the P-I didn’t check this? So why present it as Szwaja’s unsupported claim?
And so on.
Szwaja’s web site has a reasonably good response to these charges (another contrast with Dixon), and I’ve spoken with him about them and am satisfied with his answers. I’ve known Joe (though not well) through any number of activist connections over the years, and have always wished the Greens had more people like him. He’s smart, competent, and principled – and unlike Godden, he won’t treat a council seat as a gold watch. Maybe that’s why Godden’s campaign felt threatened enough to go after him through her former employer.