Seattle Times Fights Back

Below is an e-mail from David Boardman of the Times. (I had not written to him; he sent this on his own.)

My take on this issue of whether the Times held this story back - I think it's possible. I say that because of the issues that Charlie has raised, namely, that embedded in the Times' story of the internal auditor's resignation were many possible questions about Silas Potter.

That they were trying to get their facts right is good and admirable but it certainly took them a longer time than I might of thought given their resources. I'm a just one person, a citizen journalist so it is harder for me to press people I call for information. (However, that doesn't stop me from calling. Hey, I just left Fred Stephens a message to give me a ring. I won't hold my breath but it never hurts to ask.)

Here is my take on the issue of a conspiracy at the Times to cover the district and in particular, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Do I think the Times and the Alliance and Stand and the district all sat down in a room and said, "Here's what each of needs to do to move forward what we believe is best for public education in Seattle." No, I don't think that ever happened. I don't think even two of those groups got together in a room and said that.

They didn't need to. Look, the Times (and every newspaper) has a fairly defined POV. When this was a two-newspaper town, you knew what you were getting in the Times and in the PI. I give the Times credit for moderating their tone on some positions. But yes, I think there is a unacknowledged mind-set among those groups about "how things should be". No black helicopters, just that easy sense of being in the same club that controls the admissions door.

People with power tend to think they got there because of some greater sense of reasoning from their knowledge base (or money base). It's the Smartest Guy in the Room syndrome that seems to permeate our public discourse.

Nobody knows everything. Not me, not Charlie, not the Times. No one. We can all talk about serious issues and do it soberly because we are now talking about the very district that 47,000 children depend on for their education. But, no one should take his or herself too seriously. That where you fall into the smartest guy trap.

Was Charlie being sanctimonious to the Times? Maybe. Charlie himself admits that sometimes he just can't stop himself from saying things that maybe he shouldn't say outloud (or in print). But the Times has (and they know it) a greater responsibility to get it right. They have a public responsibility to get news out in a timely manner.

We will see as we go forward what the reporting, from all directions, looks like.

One last thing to Mr. Boardman - I appreciate that you recognize my efforts but at least give this blog the credit for being the first with the start of this story.

Start of e-mails from David Boardman

Dear Ms. Westbrook,

I thought it might be helpful to share with you a note I sent today to an SPS parent who had written to thank us for our coverage of the financial scandal and to share that not everyone buys the criticism of us from a certain "sanctimonious" (her word) contributor to your blog who seems to believe we are part of some vast conspiracy against Seattle public school students (a cohort that included my own kids).

Here it is, and feel free to share it if you like. Thanks much:

Dear Ms. X,

Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful note. I will admit that I have been amazed at and frustrated by some of the commentary accusing us of sitting on the story to fulfill some political agenda. I’m waiting next to hear the sound of the black helicopters overhead.

I can assure you that no such agenda exists as far as our news staff is concerned. It may be difficult to believe in the age of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann, but the news and editorial functions at The Seattle Times are entirely separate, with a virtual iron curtain between us in terms of what we report and when. It is quite common, in fact, for the findings in a news story to appear counter to a position our editorial page has taken.

We published this story as soon as we felt we had enough facts and verification to do so. Even on her own blog, Ms. Westbrook admitted that she had been trying to “ferret out the whole story” before we broke it.

That all said, I respect the passion and commitment of Ms. Westbrook and others, and we do recognize they bring valuable knowledge and background to this issue. I assure you we will monitor what they are doing as we continue our own dogged pursuit of this story.

Best wishes,

David Boardman


Chris S. said…
Here is a link to Charlie's comprehensive post. It took me a while to find it - so many comments! I don't think Charlie is out of line at all. He just doesn't like being called absurd.

It also appears that the word "sanctimonious" was first used by Charlie to describe Mr. Boardman.

It is remarkable they are talking to you now. Will they listen to you in the future?
Charlie Mas said…
For the record, I do not believe that the Seattle Times is part of a vast conspiracy. I never said that they were. Mr. Boardman's denial of an accusation that wasn't made is a clumsy effort at a strawman argument.

For the record, any such conspiracy would not be "against Seattle Public School students" as Mr. Boardman suggested, but in support of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Again, another clumsy strawman argument.

For the record, I am not concerned about black helicopters. That is yet another clumsy strawman argument made to discredit, dismiss, and marginalize the real accusations that I made against the Seattle Times.

For the record, and just to get ahead of any other sneering accusations that Mr. Boardman might invent, I don't cover my head in tinfoil, I don't think that aliens disguised as humans have assumed control of our political systems, and I don't take orders from the voices in my head.

Wow. What a dick.

And not just a dick, but an ineffective one. His attempts to distract attention away from my real accusation are feeble and inept.
Bird said…
I haven't seen anyone outline a "vast conspiracy against Seattle public school students".

I think Charlie just pointed out what is obvious. The Times is in the same boat as the administration. They did a crappy job; it's taken months and months for them to publish anything. They could have written more sooner. What little they did publish between the publishing of the audit last year and the recent release of findings was written in a way that made it difficult for readers to connect the dots.

Why didn't they pursue this story more aggressively when it first broke? Was it just because they are just bad at what they do? Was it because they've grown fat and slow, now that they no longer have to compete? Was it because their dying industry just doesn't have the resources to marshall for investigative journalism? Or was it because they because they wanted to shy away from damaging the district and the work it was doing?

We'll probably never know, but appreciate that Charlie has at least called them out on it. The Times can do better.

As an outsider, it was frustrating to read about the $1.8 million and the SPS department that became an indepedent company and not have an explaination or see someone pursue a fuller story or, at the very,very least, call out SPS adminstration on the ediorial page for it. I'm glad the auditor finally releasd the details.

The Times can say they "broke" the story, but would they ever have published anything if there wasn't an independent auditor?

I would hope so, but their apparently sluggish and weak response to the revelations last year doesn't look good.
Anonymous said…
Sanctimonious, thy name is Boardman.

THEY broke the story?! Yeah, after the SAO audit got published. Guess they missed the SAO public hearing the week before when Dorothy testified about these shenanigans. ST's scoop was about 1-2 years too late. Speaking as one who has had to put up with the district's stone-walling of public records requests, I find Boardman's crocodile tears hysterical. The Times has money for lawyers up the kazoo. They fight for public records...for themselves when it's convenient. Too hell with "bloggers" and plain ole parent-nobodies. What do we know anyway.

One of the emails I did wrestle from the district is MGJ crowing that she had seen the advance copy of, yet another, Seattle Times editorial glorifying her name. That must have been the one that appeared on her district webpage before it even appeared on the ST site.

Oh yeah, there was another from one of the district PR(!) flacks saying "we gave Linda Shaw an exclusive so that we can get more favorable coverage."

Don't worry Boardman. I'll dig those up and post them for all to see, okay?

Julian A.
hschinske said…
Okay, did he REALLY just pull "The lurkers support me in email"?

Helen Schinske
Anonymous said…
Note to Seattle Times:

Grow up.

Susan Sturms said…
I take perverse delight in the "I respect [Ms. Westbrook's] passion" comment. It's thinly veiled (and patronizing) code for, "how quaint of you to get all worked up." It never ceases to amaze me that parent advocates are characterized as hyper-emotional nitwits, regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I hardly think it adds to the good Mr. Boardman's credibility to imply that Melissa or Charlie are ill-informed, excessively emotional conspiracy theorists. I guess it's the absurdity of that notion that I (perversely) find delightful.
Anonymous said…
Melissa and Charlie - thanks for your great work. And Melissa - I thought your write-up here (re: Seattle Times) was particularly well-balanced and thoughtful. Jane
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
And to top it all off, is anyone else bothered by the two typos in his email??? Editor anyone?

Anonymous said…
And by "his email", I mean Mr. Boardman's email.

nor instead of not
so instead of no

Thank you to this blog for their coverage of the issue from the beginning!

Chris S. said…

"I can assure you that so such agenda exists as far as our news staff is concerned."

You heard it from Mr Boardman, folks! They SO have an agenda!
Anonymous said…
I know Boardman and yes he sometimes comes off as pompous but in general I find him to be an editor who does his best in one of the toughest professions out there the past 5 years. What he says is true. There is a separation of the Times newsroom and its editorial staff.

The Times opinion/editorial staff has clearly been a supporter of this superintendent and her national reform agenda. All the points of a group of "smart people in a room" talking to ... each other...apply. Lynne Varner especially makes me want to bash my head against the wall - does she EVER get out into a District classroom or Board Meeting and talk to parents and teachers? You might call the Opinion staff's boosterism a sin of commission.

In the News Room each journalist comes with his/her own political beliefs and perspective on what makes for a "good" news story. And feeding into that culture is what a paper's business staff is saying its subscribers want to read. In the aggregate, that becomes a newsroom culture. But that culture wouldn't extend to burying a story like this. What it might very well do, however, is not put a huge value on digging deep and often into the workings of this or any other Puget Sound school district. Especially given the fact that The Seattle Times has suffered a huge loss of reporting resources over the past 5 years. (Does the education reporter even work full time?)

In short, the newsroom may have suffered a sin of omission.

Anyone who is an ed news devotee in Seattle knows this blog is the best, fastest place to get the skinny on District business. It's been eating the Times' lunch on the reporting front for a couple of years. It would be graceful and smart if the Times at some point more readily acknowledged the place this blog plays in this community. Meantime, the Times does have the resources to dig more deeply into the issue at hand, and the long-term issue of how the District spends our tax dollars.

Lets hope the citizens informed by this blog, and now The Times' efforts, work to be sure that our District and its neighboring Districts stay focused on doing the best job possible for the education of our kids. And that this debacle is the end of the road for the institutional shenanigans of SPS administrators.

One Journalista's Perspective
My fault - Mr. Boardman did immediately send me another e-mail correcting his grammar errors and I neglected to put it in (he was texting it to me).
Charlie Mas said…
So it could be that the Times didn't intentionally choose against reporting on this matter. It could be that they just made a business decision not to commit the resources to reporting it?

Hmmmmm. Let me consider that for a minute...

No. I don't think I can buy that. Read the story on December 7 about the internal auditor's resignation. They had the information. They had the names. They just chose not to report them.

Also, the Times - suspiciously - didn't have the resources to report on the State's audit of Seattle Public Schools (instead they ran a bland, analysis-free AP story), but they had the resources the very next day to report on the extension of the Superintendent's contract. That allocation of resources is fishy.

So I'm not buying the proposal that this outcome wasn't intentional.

Was it the reporter's intent rather than the intent of the Seattle Times? Maybe, but the reporters ARE the voice of the Seattle Times, so, for me, that's a distinction without a difference. When Linda Shaw writes in the Seattle Times the copyright - and therefore the words - belong to the paper, not the reporter. She is the voice of the Times and if she writes it, that is the Times writing it. They are one and the same.
Maureen said…
journalista, Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think what concerns a lay person like me is that the resources the newsroom gets (Does the education reporter even work full time?) are determined, I suppose, by the Board of Directors. Ryan Blethen sits on that Board and is the Editorial Page Editor. Am I wrong to think that any Board agenda is likely to be exhibited on the editorial page and must impact the resource distribution in the newsroom?
Gouda said…
Since when is name-calling on this blog ok?

Wow. What a dick.

And not just a dick, but an ineffective one.

You all want the rights of journalists, but then you do crap like this. It's typical "have cake, eat too". I'm so sick of it.
Charlie Mas said…
Gouda - I don't claim to be a journalist. I never have.

I will, however, acknowledge that calling Mr. Boardman a dick is name-calling. Perhaps I should have just left it at explaining why I think he was being a dick and let the readers come that conclusion on their own.
Anonymous said…
If he was still with us,The Great Carnac might say "Stephens, MGJ, and S.Potter" ------ "Involved (heavily) in Scam, Buh-bye Ma'am, and currently "On the Lam"!....Mootay
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Well at least the Times isn't ignoring the story now. They have DeBell on record as being "outraged."

However, I am baffled at his surprise that this could happen. Is there anybody else who is surprised? I know I'm not.

In any case, will be watching very closely to see what Director DeBell does with this outrage.

Gouda said…

Oh, I get it... Melissa fights for the right to be a journalist, huffing and puffing when she doesn't get access that journalists do. You, on the other hand can be an ass. Good cop, bad cop.

I've got it now. Sorry for the confusion.
Anonymous said…
Hey, Seattle Times - just admit it, you blew it. Just about as bad as Q13 covering the police incident. Today you may have called on the Superintendent to resign but less than a year ago, you loved her (remember that: Clearly, your editorial board's opinions tranferred over to your reporting because you turned a blind eye to issue after issue after issue. The Nathan Hale Sentinel was one of the first (maybe the first) newspapers in this city to document her blatant violations of the law - including her conflict of interests and violations of Native American Education regulations (Real Change actually reported the second one before us) - and we (the Nathan Hale Sentinel) gave the Seattle Times our investigative findings back in 2009 after the article was published (exposing her conflicts of interest, outlining how they can explain decisions she's made, and otherwise documenting the replacement of community voices with special interest voices - a story The Sentinel won the Edward R. Murrow award for). But, instead of taking a look at obvious ethical issues, they decided to defend her in May of 2010. Now - when they are called out for being a bit slow on figuring Goodloe-Johnson out by the people that have been trying to hold her accountable for years now, Boardman got defensive. The work of blogs like this one, and small newspapers committed to true journalistic principles and investigation, speaks for itself. There is, after all, a reason newspapers like the Times seem to be struggling. I'm now at Occidental College in Los Angeles looking in on this situation. The Times gets the credit - but the credit really belongs here on this blog - where people recognized when things smelled fishy before newspapers like the Times started smelling at all.

Ryan S.
"...huffing and puffing when she doesn't get access that journalists do."

So I'm the big bad wolf? Not understanding the reference.

I get the feeling Gouda doesn't care for the work Charlie and I do. And yet, here you are. Weird.
wseadawg said…
We can always count on someone like Gouda to marginalize and find fault with someone like Charlie for making an off-handed or crude comment.

Go along to get along, Gouda. And tut-tut, don't use such awful language as calling someone a "dick." Oh my, cover my ears! Did he say "dick?" What an awful person!

Someone here is being a jack-a$$, and it's not Charlie or Melissa.

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