At a press conference this morning, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz said he's never seen anything like the Seattle Times Company's current political ad buy in his 35 year of doing politics in Washington State.
"I think it crosses a sacred line in journalism," Pelz said, with former KING 5 news anchor Mike James standing by to hammer the point home.
"The Times has never made its overwhelming support for [Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob] McKenna a secret," Pelz continued, noting that previously, this support was contained on the editorial page.
Because of that, until now Pelz said he has been giving the paper's news reporting an "innocent until proven guilty" presumption when it comes to questions of bias. Now that he paper is bankrolling $80,000 worth of ads for McKenna through Election Day, Pelz said, he will be giving the paper's news reporting a "guilty until proven innocent" presumption when it comes to questions of bias.
"Unfortunately, I think it casts questions on the veracity of the journalism that comes out of the Times," Pelz said. He called the paper's gambit, which is supposedly meant to prove the power of print advertising, "A horrifying precedent and a really poorly designed marketing experiment."
Then Mike James stepped up to the podium and said he doesn't even buy the idea that the newspaper is conducting a marketing experiment.
"I don't buy this experiment," James said. "It’s more like petulance. It’s like saying, 'People aren’t paying enough attention to our editorial endorsement, so let's go out there and support it with political ads to see if that makes a difference.'"
James said he's been hearing from friends in the Times newsroom that they're outraged about their company's move—which matches what I've heard—and he thinks "the damage it has done to this newspaper's credibility may be irrecoverable."
Pelz then said he wishes that, if the Times Company was really determined to conduct a public experiment to prove the value of print advertising, it would have done it "on soap or cars—don't do it on elections with three weeks to go."
Asked whether the Times Company's experiment will end up proving the value of printed political ads if McKenna wins, Pelz shot back: "No."