State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz called a news conference Thursday to criticize The Seattle Times Co. for its decision to run a series of free newspaper ads promoting Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.
Speaking at the Democratic Party’s downtown Seattle headquarters, Pelz said he was “shocked” by the action, which he’d never seen before during his 35 years in Washington politics.
Times officials have said the decision was made by corporate executives without the input or involvement of the newsroom, but Pelz said the action crossed a “sacred line” in journalism and that it would raise questions about the veracity of the newspaper’s reporting. “Previously the reporting was innocent until proven guilty and now I think the reporting at The Times will be seen as sort of guilty until proven innocent,” he said.
Pelz added he didn’t buy statements by Times executives that the ads are merely an experiment to show the power of newspaper advertising and attract more political ads.
“If CBS News announced on a national level that they were gonna donate hundreds of millions of dollars advertising for Mitt Romney to run an experiment to see whether it would elect him President of the United States, I think everybody would be horrified by that,” Pelz said. “The idea that they’re gonna run an experiment that says if we donate advertising to Rob McKenna, we want to find out if this elects him as governor, I think that’s a horrifying precedent and a real poorly designed marketing experiment.”
“If they want to find out if their ads sell soap, you know, run ads for soap and see if it sells soap, but don’t do it for candidates,” he added.
While Pelz focused on the McKenna ads – a $75,750 independent expenditure campaign with newspaper ads scheduled to run through election day — he said he also disagreed with the Times Co. decision to run a similar slate of ads urging a yes vote on Referendum 74, which would legalize gay marriage.
The Times editorial board has endorsed both McKenna and gay marriage.
Asked about the Democrats’ comments, Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie said in an email that the “one-time pilot project” has nothing to do with the newspaper’s editorial endorsements. “It has to do with the fact that we rely on advertising to provide outstanding, unbiased journalism for our community,” she said.
With more than $100 million being spent on political advertising “in our area,” Mackie said the Times “wants to demonstrate that print advertising is a useful and effective means of reaching voters” and added that the paper’s McKenna a campaign “is a drop in the bucket.”
Meanwhile, the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Jay Inslee seized on the Times ads to raise cash from supporters.
In a fundraising email with the subject line “Un-freaking-real,” Inslee campaign manager Joby Shimomura called the ad campaign “outrageous” and noted it made the Times Co. the third largest contributor to McKenna’s campaign effort.
“We can’t allow this to go unanswered. Will you contribute $3 right now to help us fight back against this unprecedented move?” she wrote.