The Weekly on the Times on the Bushnell Story

By Erica C. Barnett February 5, 2010

Over at the Weekly—to which, by the way, I'm extremely grateful for giving PubliCola credit for a story we broke, credit that not every news outlet was willing to give—Caleb Hannan has a piece asking whether the Seattle Times sat on reports that Chris Bushnell, until yesterday an official top advisor to Mayor Mike McGinn, had a felony record for bank fraud and had falsified his educational record (claiming, inaccurately, to have a Ph.D).

In her original story, the reporter who wrote today's front-page Times story on Bushnell, Emily Heffter, claimed that over the past couple of weeks, "some of McGinn's critics targeted Bushnell, tipping reporters to questions about his educational and criminal background. They also called for his firing and blamed him for McGinn's decision to eliminate 200 of the city's top positions." (Heffter's editor later changed the story to acknowledge that PubliCola broke it, the editor confirmed in a phone call).

In emails to Hannan, Heffter went on to say that she didn't want to "drag [Bushnell] through the mud over a felony conviction 15 years ago, and that the kind of court reporting she was trying to do "takes time, but when someone's reputation  is at stake, I think it's worth it."

A few points of clarification:

1) PubliCola did not get the story from "McGinn critics." We heard it from multiple sources, including people involved in the McGinn campaign who were disappointed with the mayor's decision to hire Bushnell, people who did not support McGinn, and people who were not affiliate with either mayoral candidate.In fact, the majority of those pushing us to pursue the story were distressed McGinn supporters.

2) At no time did anyone who contacted us mention anything about McGinn's proposed job cuts. Maybe Heffter's sources had, as she said in an email to Hannan, "political motives," which would be "an important part of the story." Ours came from across the pro-to-anti-McGinn political spectrum, and never mentioned his proposal to cut strategic advisors in any context.

3) Far from looking into the story for "the past few weeks," we've actually been looking into it for well over a month. We, like Heffter, are well aware that good reporting takes time, and we took that time reporting the story and getting it right. We weren't given access to Bushnell—despite requesting it repeatedly, from both McGinn's office and by calling Bushnell himself—but I think we gave him a "fair shake" with our reporting despite the mayor's office being unwilling to play ball.

4) I think a felony fraud conviction is both relevant and newsworthy, even if it was 15 years ago, when it pertains to someone who's advising the mayor of a large city on economic policy (the seawall ballot measure), not to mention hiring and firing decisions (the displacement of budget director Dwight Dively by Beth Goldberg, with whom Bushnell worked at King County; transportation department director Grace Crunican.)

Moreover, lying about having a degree in a professional context, particularly when you're a public servant, just isn't kosher no matter how low you are on the food chain. Heffter may disagree, but I firmly stand by our decision to run with this thoroughly reported story, as well as by the details of the story itself.
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