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Monday, May 12, 2008

Shit’s in the PI

posted by on May 12 at 11:28 AM

This was originally posted on Saturday. I’m moving it up for readers who may have missed it because, unlike me, they actually have better things to do on the weekends than lurk on Slog.

This morning’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer features one of its biannual uplifting stories about someone overcoming drug addiction. Just in time for Mother’s Day PI reporter John Iwasaki introduces us to a woman fighting to regain custody of her daughter:

This mom’s keeping her head above water

Standing on her mother’s shoulders in the shallow end of the pool Thursday evening, the 5-year-old girl in a purple Speedo suit squealed every time she jumped into the water.

“Let’s do it again, Mommy!” she said after one leap sent waves splashing over Pauline Walker’s head.

On Mother’s Day nearly a year ago, Walker’s face was wet for another reason. Incarcerated for doing drugs and separated from her daughter, the holiday left her ashamed and weeping.

“I spent the whole day in bed,” she said.

Pauline Walker is clean now and I sincerely hope for Walker’s sake, and her daughter’s sake, that she stays clean and doesn’t wind up in another relationship with a violent asshole, stealing to support her habit, and dealing drugs on the side. That would suck for her and her daughter. And here’s hoping that Walker, when she gets out of the halfway house she’s living in now, finds employment and regains custody of her daughter.

Walker hopes to become a drug-abuse counselor—don’t they all?—and that may be for the best. Because, as the PI made clear in November of 2006, people with a history of drug abuse aren’t allowed to hold certain jobs. Like operating heavy machinery—you know, like cranes. Remember Warren Taylor Yeakey? Here’s a Slog post I wrote in November of 2006 after a crane collapsed in Bellevue:

Every six months or so one of Seattle’s daily papers runs a story about some drug addict who, through drug treatment, managed to turn his or her life around. The stories are usually self-consciously gritty and predictably uplifting. “See?” they say. “Drug treatment really works! With a little help anyone can get his life back on track!”

Meet Warren Taylor Yeakey. Until Thursday night, Yeakey was a perfect candidate for one of those gritty turned-his-life-around profiles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Until six years ago, Yeakey was in almost constant trouble with the law. He had a history of drug abuse, and busts for meth possession in 1994 and 2000. He served four months in prison after his 2000 arrest. He then completed a drug rehab program, got his GED, and got married. He also managed to get a good-paying job in construction.

Another drug-rehab success story, right? Yeah—until the crane Yeakey was operating collapsed in Bellevue on Thursday night, killing one man and causing millions of dollars worth of damage to three buildings. Yeakey was in the control booth at the top of the crane at the time of the collapse. It’s a miracle he survived the fall.

When the PI learned the Yeakey—like Waker and all the other recovering addicts that the paper had exploited/heaped praise on in nearly identical stories to the one in this morning’s paper—had a history of drug abuse, it splashed this hysterical, prejudicial headline across the top of paper:

Operator in crane wreck has history of drug abuse

And here’s the first two paragraphs of the PI’s front-page crucifixion of Warren Taylor Yeakey:

The man who was operating the massive tower construction crane at the time of its deadly collapse in downtown Bellevue Thursday night has a long criminal record, including at least six drug convictions.

Crane operator Warren Taylor Yeakey, 34, of Tacoma, who survived the fall with minor injuries, went into a drug treatment program in 2000 after an arrest for methamphetamine possession in Pierce County, records show.

A former drug user like Yeakey—who almost died himself in the accident—was guilty until proven innocent. The man had abused drugs—unlike, you know, all the writers and editors at the PI, none of whom has ever so much as touched an illegal substance—so the paper convicted him with a headline and a lead. (The crane was ultimately determined to have collapsed due to a faulty design.) So much for the PI’s bleeding-heart empathy for former drug addicts who’ve managed to turn their lives around, huh?

And you’ll never guess who wrote that story about Warren Taylor Yeakey: PI reporters Andrea James and John Iwasaki.

So, Pauline Walker, it’s just as well that your career aspirations don’t involve construction, factory work, driving a truck, bus, or cab, or any other gig that involves operating heavy machinery and carries with it some small risk of being involved in a fatal accident some day. Because the story John Iwasaki would write about you if were involved in an accident wouldn’t nearly so supportive as the one he wrote for today’s paper. Because, as we’ve seen, the PI’s bleeding heart scabs over damn quick when a recovered drug addict is involved in an accident.

RSS icon Comments


I think you're reaching a bit on this one Dan.

Posted by Jerod | May 10, 2008 9:25 AM

I don't think so. I think he's dead on this time and apparently has had a nap.

Posted by Cat in Chicago | May 10, 2008 9:28 AM

Well, the PI is a Hearst paper. And wasn't William Randolph Hearst credited with pioneering yellow journalism? They're all a little ditzy down at the PI.

Posted by raindrop | May 10, 2008 9:28 AM


Posted by egid | May 10, 2008 9:31 AM

Ex-addicts can't handle responsibility like operating a crane. Best they should get an easy job like raising a child.

(Yeah, raindrop, and the GOP was founded by Abraham Lincoln, and you can so tell.)

Posted by elenchos | May 10, 2008 9:36 AM

Least he doesn't have to smile at the camera between stories, right?

Posted by Kent Cudgel | May 10, 2008 9:45 AM

Dan actually explains a lot here.

The thesis makes total sense-- look at the results from the US Govt. administration, when it's run by an ex-substance-abuser.

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | May 10, 2008 10:00 AM

You know, I'm not such a big fan of the special-interest story. I'm such a damn pessimist that I am constantly thinking "yeah, but you'll go back to your shit-eating, gas-guzzling, non-exercising ways, only maybe in some different, equally destructive way." Lose the meth, gain religion. I dunno.

Posted by el | May 10, 2008 10:22 AM

This is one time I agree with him. The press has a predictable schedule of topics to run around each "holiday," Mother's Day falling into the "let's pull on the heartstrings, folks" category. And it's obvious this reporter thought readers had short memories - or were just plain stupid. We have this to look forward to/ Father's Day: "My courageous dad" / Memorial Day: "feisty old vets" / Fourth of July: "a new citizen's dream" and so on, you know the score by now..

Posted by Rocco | May 10, 2008 10:41 AM

@3 - Exactly.

Hearst is one of the Founding Fathers of the Drug War, so it's not surprising that the media continues the charade today.

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 10, 2008 12:33 PM

Great post. Except this sentence (and similar sentences which you often put in these sorts of posts) are never needed:

"The man had abused drugs—unlike, you know, all the writers and editors at the PI, none of whom has ever so much as touched an illegal substance—so the paper convicted him with a headline and a lead."

We get it. On top of all the other good points you're making, you're trying to say that some/all PI writers and editors are also hypocrites because they've used drugs before. So... where's your proof? Got none? Or none you're willing to share? That's fine. Then leave these baseless accusations out. They take away from your central argument.

Unless, of course, you're willing to provide proof that you really did see Goody Proctor with the devil. :-)

Posted by James | May 10, 2008 2:01 PM

. . . .after a little searching, okay, Iwasaki DID write both of those stories with opposite tones to them.


You do have some good points, Dan. And so do 3, 5, 9, 10, and 12.

Posted by feom | May 10, 2008 3:58 PM

Doubt this one's getting nominated for any journalism awards. Had to take off my tinfoil bandanna for a second just to try to make the connections, thankfully Zoldar IV my robot explained it all to me.

Posted by Bob | May 10, 2008 4:11 PM

You'd do well to take #12's comment to heart Dan. This was an excellent post, but you really took it down a notch or two with that little dig at the PI writers and editors.

Have many of them probably used a drug in the past? Sure. But you don't know that. You can't prove that. You backed up all your other assertions quite well, but you can't back that one up (and if you CAN, then DO IT).

Guess what? I'm a journalist. I write stories for a mainstream daily newspaper. I'm almost 35 years old. And I've never used drugs, or even TOUCHED an illegal substance that I know of. Heck, I've never had a drink of alcohol.

If you commented on one of my stories and wrote that shit about me, YOU'D BE WRONG.

It's a bad habit you're in, Dan, taking shots at people like that. It distracts from the good points you make.

Posted by karl t. | May 10, 2008 4:18 PM

I've done drugs with people that work at the PI.

Thank you for playing Slog.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 10, 2008 6:18 PM

Theirs. Shitty. Am I talking out of my ass?

Posted by Kent Cudgel | May 10, 2008 6:40 PM

I am so glad that we still have self serving bigots in the only goes to show that to some people there is no such thing as hope,forgiveness and a new start.....I know this lady and she has worked hard to get where she is now and I hope that she and her daughter are giving the chance at the new life she has worked so hard to reclaim....I hope this person never makes a mistske and has to live in the world he wants for others

Posted by MICHELE SINGH | May 10, 2008 6:45 PM

he should sue for libel. if the accident was no fault of his own, then bringing up his drug history is clearly misleading and defamatory.

Posted by ellarosa | May 10, 2008 9:22 PM

Well, Dan's done drugs, and some PI people have done drugs; I guess that means everyone has. Or all the cool people, anyway.

Posted by hikitty | May 10, 2008 11:40 PM

The stigma lives one, people who do drugs are bad and are more judged for the mistakes or bad choices they make. It's sad that in todays day and age people still are hung up on the stigma and drug addicts. Having worked with them for the last 14 years, there are some who make it, get their kids back, their lives back and never use again. But there are still people out there who are afraid to give them a break. I say to them -- "Must be nice to have never made a bad choice in your life!"

Posted by Laura S | May 11, 2008 5:34 AM

"I've done drugs with people that work at the PI."

Again, it's a useless accusation to all of us. You provide no proof, no names, etc. Hell, here you just say "people that work at the PI." Not "writers and editors," as you point out in your original post. Even though PI employees include more than just writers and editors. So, it's just this baseless accusation, and again detracts from all those excellent points you made.

And I don't think you should actually provide proof, or name names. Unless it's the man who wrote the article, this'd just explode in a witch hunt where it's your word ("I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!") against theirs ("Did not!"). I'd like to think you're better than that, especially as far as drug policy is concerned. It's too important an argument to lose your audience with unnecessary distractions.

Posted by James | May 11, 2008 7:18 AM

Good post, Dan Savage.

Posted by Mother | May 11, 2008 10:45 AM

Writers and editors, James. And I can't name 'em because they would be victimized by the very drug-war-witch-huntery that the PI's writes and editors cheerlead for on its pages with such depressing regularity.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 11, 2008 10:51 AM

Exactly my point, Mr. Savage. You can't out them; it'd be cruel. So, next time, don't even bring it up unless you're willing to go all the way with this.

Posted by James | May 11, 2008 2:05 PM

You're missing the point, Dan. We understand (now) that you know that writers and editors at the PI do drugs.

And you want to point out the hypocrisy of those writers and editors.

But you can't name those writers and editors. You can't tell us who the hypocrites are.

So don't bother. It just distracts from your otherwise good points.

It's a chippy foul, as the sports commentators would say, whereas the rest of your post is a good, hard foul.

Posted by James is right | May 11, 2008 7:34 PM

I'm surprised, but I'm agreeing with James is right @26.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 12, 2008 11:38 AM

Will in Seattle @27: why so surprised?

Posted by James | May 12, 2008 12:15 PM

i thought it was the footing of the crane that collapsed, not operator error.

if i may acknowledge the obvious, drug-addict mom was horribly, horribly morbidly obese. i couldn't feel good about her feel-good story.

Posted by max solomon | May 12, 2008 12:20 PM

max, you can't feel good about hurdles she overcame because she still has other hurdles to overcome? huh? she might never slim down much, but that doesn't get in the way of her mothering her child the way drug addiction and being in jail does. and maybe she will slim down at some point. what's your logic?

Posted by ellarosa | May 12, 2008 12:34 PM

Max is just being an asshole, ellarosa.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 12, 2008 1:26 PM

I've done drugs and had sex with someone at the NY Times. And no, it wasn't pot.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 12, 2008 1:30 PM

this is SLOG. i left my logic at the door.

i hope she stays off the crack. i really do.

Posted by max solomon | May 12, 2008 1:53 PM

meth, max.

Posted by ellarosa | May 12, 2008 1:54 PM

@32 Braggart.

Posted by PopTart | May 12, 2008 2:10 PM

And I was only 20.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 12, 2008 2:35 PM

It's really all about dueling insurance companies.

Posted by Vince | May 12, 2008 2:57 PM

Youth Pastor Watch exists because journalists reveal that detail in their reporting. A large portion of YPW posts are about events occurring outside of a youth group setting (such as Karate Class, for example). To complain about anti-drug sensationalism is to ignore your own anti-youth pastor sensationalism.

This is ironic, as the point of your piece is, "Oh, look how hypocritical they are in their presentation of former drug-abusers." You frequently post about a "former youth pastor" caught abusing a child intimating that (paraphrasing) if children were molested at Denny's as often as at church, we would shut them all down. What can we infer from what John wrote?

He "has a long criminal record, including at least six drug convictions." And the crane he was operating collapsed. And he had a history of drug abuse. Are those connected to the collapse? Maybe that's implied, but it's also reasonable to include that information anytime someone of note dies. He happened to have died and more than six drug convictions seems like relevant background.

My rambling discursive point is that you rely on that random background to put blatantly put forth your suppositions about youth pastors. Don't critique others when they DON'T make that connection yet you COULD make that connection.

Why not be honest about people when they die? If he'd had a history of drug convictions, should they pretend he didn't?

In the words of Death Cab:
You're a disgrace to the concept of family
The priest won't divulge that fact in his homily
And I'll stand up and scream if the mourning remain quiet
You can deck out a lie in a suit but I won't buy it.
I won't join in the procession that's speaking their piece
Using five dollar words while praising his integrity
And just 'cause he's gone it doesn't change the fact
He was a bastard in life thus a bastard in death.

Posted by Mr. Joshua | May 12, 2008 6:57 PM

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