Washington state Democrats aren't the only ones fuming about the Seattle Times' unprecedented decision this week to run a full-page endorsement ad this week in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. More than 100 staffers at the Times' signed a letter to the publisher, denouncing the paper's news advocacy role.
The controversy provides another example that makes a mockery out of the long-standing conservative cry that America's media suffer from a blanket liberal bias.
Times management insists its full-page Republican support wasn't about politics, but about business. Through a new pilot program it's trying to highlight the "power of newspaper political advertising and to attract new revenue for the newspaper."
In other words, the Times is jealous that campaigns are spending an estimated $100 million on media buys in Washington this year, and spending most of it on television. So the best way to get in on some of that campaign money is for the Times to spend nearly $80,000 of its own money promoting not the newspaper's vast reach, but promoting talking points for a Republican politician? ("An easy way to end the gridlock that threatens to cripple state government.") That seems like a strange approach.
Also, if the Times wanted to highlight what a great media vehicle the newspaper is, shouldn't its marketing effort have taken place in August or September, not the middle of October when most of the campaigns' money has been spent or previously allocated. (The Times claims full-page ads in 2012 will spur political spending in future campaigns.)
The Times noted that it plans to run similar ads in support of Referendum 74, a vote to legalize same-sex marriages. However, polls indicate Referendum 74 will likely pass easily in Washington, whereas the state's race for governor remains in a dead heat. In that regard, the Times' Republican ads are worth much more politically.
As Derek Thompson wrote at The Atlantic, from a business perspective almost nothing about the Times' Republican ad push makes sense. And that's why local Democrats don't buy the Times' explanation. They see it as a clear example of a major media player using its substantial resources to try to tilt a local campaign.
"Not even Fox News has ever done anything like this before," wrote Joby Shimomura, campaign manager for Democrat Jay Inslee.