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Blethen tweet points to one-sided Seattle Times investigation

Frank Blethen
Frank Blethen

A lot of speculation has occurred regarding the Seattle Times' adamant opposition to the SoDo Arena, which has yielded an endless stream of articles attacking the project, with a blatant disregard for facts which have been assembled over 3 years of arduous process.  That speculation ended last week when the Times' dictator-in-chief Frank Blethen decided to put to rest any doubts about his feelings - and the Times' journalistic neutrality - on the issue.  Blethen's opinions, which were previously obvious but never publicly stated, are now publicly declared and this admission should lead to new questions about the work of his organization and employees.

For example, one story that has already received a tremendous amount of scrutiny involved an email acquired from M.T. Phoenix, a reported "investor" which received a coveted, above-the-fold front page headline by the Times only to be completely discredited and later revised in online editions.

In an article on Nov. 16, Sonics Rising detailed the circumstances surrounding M.T. Phoenix and left it for readers to decide whether the story had enough base validity to warrant its front page status.  The question was raised that perhaps Baker, a seasoned journalist who should understand basic journalistic standards, was negligent or perhaps even complicit in an overt manipulation of the news when he built a story around a farce of a company, based on a single email with no corroborating evidence.  Multiple other publications and pundits, assuming some base credibility from the region's largest newspaper have cited Baker in calling for consideration of M.T. Phoenix, without conducting enough preliminary background research to understand that the group was completely discredited soon after Baker's headline published.

I've heard Geoff's protests and understand that he does not consider minutia details like this one as worthy of his consideration.  Whether it's base credulity of a company he used to denigrate the mayor's performance on the front page of the Seattle Times or the factual accuracy of SoDo opponent positions, he (and his editors apparently) is content to put the stories out there first, take their shots in print, and then back away from their accusations by toning down the online version, all apparently with the blessing of Frank Blethen.

Anyone who has met Geoff Baker would understand that he is intelligent enough to know the difference between story and speculation.  In fact, when discussing M.T. Phoenix on Sonics Rising's Sin Bin, Baker went out of his way to pat himself on the back for understanding the value of deeper investigation to produce more substantive reporting.

I'll tell you what.  The one thing in Sports reporting, and I know this because I've been doing sports reporting for years, is that a lot of the sports reporting tends too much on quotes, tends to rely too much on what is coming out of people's mouths, rather than actually going and looking for the harder documents and the evidence...That's not journalism.   If you want to find out what is going on you have to actually find out what is going on and you can't always rely on people to tell you what is going on behind the scenes.  What you can rely on is public records. (8:10)

I'm with Geoff on this one.  It frustrates me that reporters and constituents have to work so hard to get the real facts and wish there was more transparency in our government.  I'm sure that Geoff, like me, would be appalled to read the following email, in which Seattle City Council Member Sally Bagshaw appears to be working with Mariners point person Pete Von Reichbauer to assemble a "coalition" in support of alternative locations, sent from her personal email account in a letter to various port commissioners at their own personal email accounts.  Baker, being a fierce advocate of transparency would probably confront Bagshaw or respond by using this email as grounds to request public disclosure of the personal emails of all the people involved since they are clearly using personal email to keep these conversations from him.

It is unlikely however that Baker would be aware of this email, because he hasn't gone very far out of his way to look for it.   Despite filing public disclosure requests more often than Donald Trump tweets there seems to be a glaring exception to Baker's search for truth, and that exception is the SoDo Arena's biggest opponent, the Port of Seattle.

That's right.  Geoff Baker, who claims that "a lot of the sports reporting tends to rely too much on quotes and on what is coming out of people's mouths, rather than actually going and looking for the harder documents and the evidence" has cast a broad web, looking for documents and evidence but has chosen to completely ignore the single largest stakeholder in the opposition camp, despite the fact that the port has previously been rebuked for poor stewardship of a $91,000,000 annual public subsidy, a lack of emphasis on public interest and ethical culture, and flat out faking statistics when they want to.

Had Baker chosen to file public disclosure requests with the Port, he would have found this email from Bagshaw, as well as a bunch of other interesting items which raise much more significant issues than the M.T. Phoenix hoax.  Unfortunately for Sonics fans, but not for Frank Blethen, none of these issues will ever grace the front page of the Seattle Times because, unlike M.T. Phoenix, they do not coincide with the agenda that Blethen has directed.

For example he could have followed up on this 5/12/2012 email to then Port CEO Tay Yoshitani in which an individual signing MB clearly acknowledges that the job numbers the port is putting forward in its arguments "just don't have any substance"  and recognizes Port opposition to the arena for what it is, a blatantly opportunistic attempt to "gain substantial concessions from both the City and the County regarding dedicated transportation infrastructure."

Third parties have indicated to me that the signature "MB" is routinely used by Mike Burke, Director of Leasing and Asset Management at the POS.  Unfortunately, this email, while seemingly pretty damning, was dismissed by editors of all the major newspapers, including the Seattle Times, on the basis that a single email does not meet journalistic standards for press.  Too bad "wish1231" didn't have a first class website like M.T. Phoenix did to corroborate the story.

Better yet, Baker may choose to ask why the Port of Seattle, which is a publicly funded organization, operated by elected officials, would be using our tax dollars to pay for an information campaign but then blatantly acknowledging that they are going to hide that campaign behind another organization, the Maritime Industrial Council, "ie - we pay but the jobs-communication happen via the mic"

At the end of the day though all of these things are just rhetoric and minutia.  The real issue that could be addressed, with a significant public disclosure request and some basic scrutiny of the Ports objections, is whether or not the traffic generated by the arena will negatively impact their operations.  Reports produced as part of the SEPA and EIS process seem to pretty clearly indicate that the traffic impact would be marginal and insignificant but the ILWU and POS are adamant that this data is wrong.  Clearly this specific dispute is something that a good investigative journalist could get to the bottom of.  At one point NBC's Chris Daniels chose to broadcast live from the street in question and count the truck activity but surely the POS has some clear and concise data that could be used to prove their point.

Unfortunately Geraldine Poor of the Port cannot provide those numbers.  After reviewing literally thousands of Port emails I cannot find a specific reference to actual truck counts being used in their arguments against the Arena.  These arguments have failed to be compelling to Seattle City Council because when referring to the severity of traffic impact they continue to use inflated numbers, substituting freight forecasts from a 2002 report (updated in 2005) for actual traffic counts in all of their reporting, because quite frankly the actual factual numbers don't prove the point that they are trying to prove.  Actual traffic at the Port of Seattle is closer to 1.5M TEU's (30% less than they are claiming) with about 95% of that cargo load being delivered prior to 3pm.

I'm looking forward to continued investigative reporting at the Seattle Times but given the audacity of Blethen's tweet, the absence of basic research of the opposition, and a 3-year track record of one sided coverage, do not expect to see it, or a retraction of the M.T. Phoenix story, on the front page anytime soon.