The Seattle Times Co., trying to spin its decision to do and independent expenditure ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and an in-kind contribution for Referendum 74, the marriage equality measure—sent a letter to local, state, and federal officials last week as the controversy was breaking urging them to take out ads in the Times.
The letter, which went to the Capitol (not campaign) offices of numerous King and Snohomish County legislators, as well as the office of Mayor Mike McGinn, among other local officials, maligns political consultants as "a stubborn bunch [who] are not just going to take our word that The Seattle Times has changed and is anxious to work with political campaigns."
At the same time, the Times reportedly sent a letter to political consultants urging them to advertise with the paper (minus the language maligning consultants).
PubliCola obtained a copy of the letter to the elected officials insulting consultants, and heard a description of the letter urging consultants to advertise with the Times from consultant sources.
The letter to officials, which misidentifies the gay marriage referendum as R-78, reads, in part,
We think print newspaper advertising can play an important role in campaigns given newspapers' broad reach and very high number of subscribers who are registered to vote. [...]
Political consultants are a stubborn bunch and they are not going to just take our word that The Seattle Times has changed and is anxious to work with political campaigns. We decided the best thing we could do was to demonstrate how advertising in The Times can make a striking difference.
As a one-time-only effort to prove our point, The Times has decided to run print ads for one candidate race and one issue race in Washington. We selected R-78 [sic], the Marriage Equality Referendum, and the campaign of Rob McKenna for Governor to demonstrate the power of print advertising. These races were selected because each is high profile and each dependes on the vote in the Puget Sound region. [...]
We hope you and your political consultants will take note and take a closer look at The Times for print ads in future elections.
State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burien, W. Seattle), one of the state legislators who received the letter, said he found it "super unprofessional" for the Times to send a solicitation for political advertising to elected officials' non-campaign offices.
"That's pretty basic for an organization like the Seattle Times to understand that there's a separation [between an official's campaign office and their official office] that they should respect. The fact that they didn't even have the correct number for the marriage equality referendum suggests to me that it was kind of a haphazard thing.
"The fact that they didn't even have the correct number for the marriage equality referendum suggests to me that it was kind of a haphazard thing."—Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon"They're [also implying that] political consultants are stupid because they don't advertise in newspapers. They don't advertise in newspapers because there’s not a lot of evidence that that works, and I think it’s pretty far-fetched that [the ads are] going to make the case that newspaper ads work. You can't target it the way you need to target it.
"Do they really think that any campaign is making decisions about resource allocations two or three weeks before the election?"
We asked Fitzgibbon about the reaction to the letter among his colleagues.
"Everybody certainly is taken aback by how bold they were in taking this step for McKenna. For me, it wasn't hard to believe, given how outside the mainstream they've been."
We have a call out to Times' spokeswoman Jill Mackie.