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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How The Times Chose to Frame the Sutherland Harassment Story

posted by on July 16 at 11:30 AM

So after sitting on information that Republican state lands commissioner Douglas Sutherland had repeatedly sexually harassed a young Department of Natural Resources employee—an allegation corroborated in official state documents by several eyewitnesses—for FOUR MONTHS, the Seattle Times finally ran with the story today, after David Goldstein at Horse’s Ass wrote about it yesterday. Their take? Well, at least he apologized.

Washington public-lands commissioner apologized after complaint by employee

Washington’s public-lands commissioner, Doug Sutherland, inappropriately touched and made remarks to a young female employee who soon quit the Department of Natural Resources despite his formal apology, according to public documents on the incident from his own department.

During a workplace meeting in 2005, Sutherland touched the woman’s back and waist and made suggestive comments that made her uncomfortable, according to written accounts from the woman and a witness.

After an internal investigation, Sutherland met with the woman at her request and apologized to her. He agreed that he had violated departmental policy on appropriate behavior, according to the documents.

Sutherland has maintained that his contact with the woman was simply meant to be a friendly gesture.

So, basically just a he-said, she-said, right? Except that: 1) That’s not what the eyewitness accounts in the documents say, and 2) The Times story has exactly two sources (not counting a two-word quote from Sutherland’s opponent Peter Goldmark): Sutherland… and Sutherland’s campaign manager. Gee, I can’t imagine why they would maintain that repeatedly rubbing a young female employee’s back and waist was just a “friendly gesture.”

For the record, here’s how Sutherland’s own aide recalled the incident at the time (notes appear to be from an oral interview):

Shook Jesse’s hand, then got to [the woman], instead of shaking hand he turned her slightly and ran his hand all over back.

I was uncomfortable, & made joke: “And she’s quite strong too.”

Doug turned her to front: “And she has some other great parts also.”

[The woman] was very embarrassed. Taken aback.

That account matches closely with the woman’s own notes, which recall Sutherland turning her around and running his hand over her back and waist, saying something about “just looking,” then adding something like “could’ve felt the other side.”

At least the Times (sort of) covered the story. The P-I chose to ignore it entirely—a decision political assignment editor Chris Grygiel told me he made because the case didn’t involve disciplinary action or a payout of state money. During a podcast I participated in at Drinking Liberally last night, P-I columnist Joel Connelly noted that the P-I has just one reporter in Olympia, and there’s a lot going on down there. Guess how many reporters Horse’s Ass has in Olympia?

RSS icon Comments


Guess how much I don't care?

Posted by [ THIS MUCH ] | July 16, 2008 11:42 AM

Good post, I think you are right, framing it as "he apologized" once again makes the male the subject the women the object it takes the powerful govt. leader's point of view.

She had to quit her job for christ sakes.

"Despite" his apology? That ungrateful bitch.

She should sue the pants off him, er, I mean, she should really sue him a lot. Let a jury decide how much.

Then the P-I might find it newsworthy as it would be about it payout of state money.

Posted by PC | July 16, 2008 11:46 AM

The PI has one reporter in Olympia? What a joke.

Posted by Greg | July 16, 2008 11:52 AM

How old and disconnected is this dinosaur? He's checking out subordinates like they're a fucking sports car or something. Does he even know what decade it is?

Can't we just tie people like this naked to a tree and laugh at them for a few days in addition to suing them for all they're worth.

Posted by Super Jesse | July 16, 2008 11:58 AM

The P-I has been too busy covering garbage like this

Posted by DOUG. | July 16, 2008 12:07 PM

Wow... what a horribly written Times story. More importantly though, ECB and Joel Connelly were in the same room? Awkward!!

Posted by girlgerms | July 16, 2008 12:22 PM

Thank you Erica for reporting on this properly. The Times and P-I should be apologizing for creating apathy towards sexual harassment in the workplace.

Any word on the legal standing of the "ok harassment" vs "bad harassment" aspect of the internal investigation? That seems ridiculous to me.

Posted by Jonny H | July 16, 2008 12:45 PM

Did the Stranger cover this investigation? Did you even know about it? How many reporters does the Stranger have in Olympia?

Your paper didn't cover the incident at all, but as always, you'll quickly criticize the reporter and the paper that at least make an effort write something.

ECB and a real journalist were in the same room? Awkward!

Posted by Seattle's only newspaper | July 16, 2008 12:48 PM

What political party is the victim? Because it means a lot.

Posted by Your hill smells of carrorts | July 16, 2008 1:16 PM

ECB, good for you and Goldy getting visibility on this and shaming at least one lumbering MSM dinosaur into farting out something about it.

The Times and PI ought to have "Countdown to Folding Forever" clocks on their buildings...and when they do close, I have dibs on the PI's spinning globe sign. Sorry.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 16, 2008 1:27 PM


Great post. Just curious, do you mind telling me how the Stranger is immune from the same symptoms ailing the dailes?

Less people reading the print edition = less print advertising revenue.

Online ad revenue is non existent at best.

The cost of newsprint is rising.

The cost of gas is rising, making distribution more costly every day.

I guess if escort ads and tranny hookers pay the bills then they'll be fine, right?

Posted by Bryce in Newbridge | July 16, 2008 1:52 PM

@11, I'm not sure you were being sincere when you said great post. You seem to have a problem with it.

But since I call bullshit on passive-aggressives, I'll look you square in the eye and tell you candidly what I really think about your question.

I have no insight into the financials at The Stranger, so I cannot state with the same assurance you do that "online ad revenues are non-existent." It could well be that the golden path to profitability is lined with tranny hookers. Or not.

I'm also not at all certain of their print edition readership trends. But you are. So, just taking your word on it, if that is dropping and other expenses are rising, The Stranger will indeed need to reduce expenses and drive greater revenue.

At the end of the day (or even now, a bit past noon), The Times and the PI trot out under the hallowed halo of "real journalism," when, as we all know, they're just sprayed with a news-candy-coating, hiding a solid core of "What's your favorite color of Peep?" and "Bellevue real estate set for major rebound...soon" 100% USA Grade AAA turd underneath.

The Stranger, on the other hand, proudly displays its turdness without artifice. It can smell like hell, but it's awful fun to set fire to on the mean old neighbor's porch.

But hey, all that aside, as fun as The Stranger is it's not immune to market forces and you seem to have the lowdown. So please, just tell me when they are going out of business so I'll have time to get me a tranny hooker before it's too late.

Carry on.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 16, 2008 2:03 PM

Erica, thanks for posting the link to Goldy's original post, and thanks for following up on it. I actually voluntarily listened to the Conversation on KUOW just know, because I thought they were going to talk about this, but it just turned out to be the same old turd the Conversation is every day.

I plead with you to do some more investigation and write something fabulous. This is totally the space where the Stranger can step in and give us a good old-fashioned investigative piece. And don't feel like you have to rush it into next week's paper - take your time!

The "excuse" that the PI only has one reporter in Olympia is such bullshit. Seriously, how hard is it for someone to get in their car and go down and do some investigating?

Posted by asteria | July 16, 2008 2:14 PM


Thanks for the reply. I was sincere. I agree with you 100%, too bad you feel the need to lick their balls instead of asking them to lead by example when it comes to "journalism."

I won't wait for Erica's ball-busting expose, because she is big on outrage and short on actual follow through.

Carry on.

Posted by Bryce in Newbridge | July 16, 2008 2:21 PM

@14, Bryce in some post I did yesterday (I'm too lazy to look for it) I basically begged ECB to take a deep breath, dig up the facts and write a great piece of journalism about this. Basically the same sentiment asteria expresses @13.

As for licking Stranger balls, I'm actually more interested in the enormous whozeewhatsit I keep hearing about.

Carry on.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 16, 2008 2:28 PM

So, it's ok to sexually harass someone if you apologize?


How craven can the Times and PI get?

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 16, 2008 2:37 PM
Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 16, 2008 2:40 PM

Seriously, Erica, you should be publisher. You should be running the whole show over there. Why you aren't already is beyond me. You got jacked.

Posted by Handicapped Express Bus Rider | July 16, 2008 3:20 PM

@8 - based on the earlier posts about this, the Times had the source info on this situation and the Stranger did not (ECB's earlier point was that they sat on it and did not run anything). Since this information seems to have just been brought to light, it hardly seems fair to criticize the Stranger for not having covered it. Especially since there have been 3-4 Slog posts on it in the last couple of days.

Posted by Julie | July 16, 2008 3:48 PM

I'm just mystified that in 2008 there are people who think there's a difference between "OK harassment" and "bad harassment" as Jonny H puts it. The scene you describe is clearly criminal conduct and should at the very least get you fired immediately. This has been true for twenty years at least; no one could possibly be confused on this point.

Posted by Fnarf | July 16, 2008 4:24 PM

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