I suppose I owe the Seattle Times editorial board an apology. Since almost the day I started blogging, from my early, ponytail-in-inkwell-like obsession with WSJ pod-person Collin Levey to my relentless attacks on the board’s relentlessly selfish shilling for estate tax repeal, I have been one of the Times op/ed page’s harshest and most vocal critics.
I have been snide. I have been mean. At times, I have been downright disrespectful. But this morning, while reading the Times‘ endorsement of Dave Reichert, I realized that I had been underestimating the editorial board all along. While bloggers like me have struggled to define our growing role in the emerging new media landscape while eking out a little hard-earned credibility, if not an actual living, the comfortably paid editorial writers at the Times have soldiered on with a self-confidence that can only come from self-awareness. As a blogger, raised in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, an era when current events conferred on journalists near heroic stature, I have been slow to grasp a simple truth the Times‘ editorialists have apparently long understood: they are no better than us.
So, I am sorry Seattle Times editorial board… I’m sorry for holding you up to higher standards than you deserve, higher standards than you’ve obviously set for yourselves. I’m sorry for expecting more rhetorical honesty than I would from, say, Stefan. I’m sorry for demanding that you refrain from wallowing in your own self-serving agenda any more than I would demand a pig to refrain from wallowing in his own shit. But mostly I’m sorry that at some level, a tiny part of me still wanted to believe that even on your opinion pages you hold yourself to a higher journalistic standard than the lowest, muckraking blogger.
That said, it is now possible for me to embrace the Times endorsement of Reichert as the unmitigated, lying load of bullshit it really is — a turgidly written, rhetorically dishonest piece of sophistry more fitting to the pages of (un)Sound Politics than to that of a major American newspaper. Once again failing to distinguish between being serious and being solemn, this soporific and stiffly written unsigned editorial displays the intellectual rigor mortis that has come to define the dying newspaper industry.
The Times congratulates Reichert for showing “a conscience-driven independent streak” despite the fact that he has publicly admitted that the House leadership tells him when to vote against them, and they laud Reichert for opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge even though he voted for drilling in ANWR when his vote counted most. The Times points to his experience as a “first-responder,” ignoring his mismanaged, scandal-ridden tenure as Sheriff and his bungling of the Green River Killer investigation, and they highlight his chairmanship of a homeland-security subcommittee… a chairmanship he most definitely will not retain after the coming Democratic sweep.
They claim that Reichert appreciates “nuance,” a word he’d have to look up in the dictionary to spell, let alone define.
How far is the Times willing to go in defense of their endorsement? They even tried to spin one of Reichert’s biggest gaffes into a strength:
He surprised many recently by saying he’s not convinced about how much global warming is caused by human action. We are convinced it’s a substantial contributing factor.
But Reichert says he’s skeptical, so he’s investigating. That’s a better approach than adopting a ready-made ideology.
Global warming isn’t an “ideology,” it’s the scientific consensus for chrisakes! This is the same sort of facts be damned skepticism that freed Gary Ridgeway to go on killing for another 17 years after Reichert dismissed him as a suspect.
But in fact, even the Times has little to say in favor of Reichert, instead spending the bulk of their double-length editorial attacking his opponent Darcy Burner in a surprisingly vicious and dishonest manner.
The Times criticizes Burner’s lack of public service, as if voters are best served by a Congress filled with professional politicians. They belittle her resume and mindlessly repeat NRCC talking points. But what I find most offensive is their blatantly dishonest, one-sided, through-the-looking-glass portrayal of the 8th district race.
Still more disappointingly, Burner has run a mean-spirited campaign that would make Republican spinmeister Karl Rove proud. In The Seattle Times/KUOW-FM congressional debate last week, she accused Reichert of “lying.” She called him “unprincipled” and “politically crass.”
Those charges ring particularly hollow considering one of Burner’s approved campaign ads shamelessly obfuscates the truth about Reichert’s support of veterans funding.
To this there is only one reasonable response: FUCK YOU! As a Democrat I have spent much of the past decade being vilified by the Republicans, being branded as an immoral traitor and a coward, and of being an enemy of the state. I have watched Karl Rove and his cohorts swift-boat a war hero, and morph a patriot who left three limbs on the battlefield into Osama bin Laden.
And the Times has the temerity to tar Burner with the Karl Rove brush? They attack Burner for running a negative campaign when every single mailer and commercial coming out of the NRCC and the Reichert campaign has been an attack ad? This, after Reichert aired an ad that actually fabricated a quote from the Times? Have they no shame? Are they entirely fucking clueless?
I would be more offended… I would be angrier than I am… I would even take back my earlier apology if not for the fact that with this endorsement the Times editorial board has demonstrated once and for all how entirely irrelevant they have become. Sure, they still have a couple hundred thousand readers, but few will manage to wade past the sports section and the comics and the Sunday circulars to get to today’s op/ed page, and fewer still will take this endorsement seriously. The Times incessant shilling for estate tax repeal has so strained its credibility and bored its readers that its endorsements have become more an exercise in narcissism than civic engagement. The vast majority of readers who still bother to read newspaper editorials understand that the opinions expressed by the Times editors are no more well thought out, no more legitimate than, well… mine. And they’re damn less entertaining. Sure, newspapers still have more influence than bloggers, but it’s waning, and they know it.
Which I think helps explain the nasty tone and dishonest logic of this particular editorial, for in attacking Burner they are also attacking us bloggers and the Netroots Movement that helped propel her from a virtual unknown into one of the most hotly contested races in the nation. The Times‘ influence or lack thereof can be measured against their established record of endorsing losing candidates and causes. But a Burner victory would be seen as a huge victory for the netroots, and a clear sign of the growing influence of the barbarian blogger hoards amassing outside the gates of the traditional media.
In this light we can see the Times endorsement for what it really is. It’s not just a defense of the kind of status quo politics they find comforting. It’s not just a defense of a politician they can trust to fight for their pet issue of repealing the estate tax. In some way, at some level, this endorsement can be seen as a defense of the Times editorial board itself.
In such a close election, perhaps what little influence the Times editorial board still has with voters could be enough to swing the victory to Reichert. But if so, it will be a Pyrrhic victory, for by so distorting both the candidates and the tenor of this race to suit their own narrow objectives they have proven themselves to be no more credible and no more relevant than your average, run-of-the-mill blogger like me. And at least I’m not boring.