Way beyond endorsement

What the Seattle Times is doing in two of this fall’s campaigns is beyond unusual.

To set the norm: Editorial endorsements are standard. And it’s not too unusual for corporate newspaper executives to contribute to political campaigns. But it is highly unusual for general circulation newspapers, in this country at least, to dip into its own pocket to post advertising for a candidate or issue.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog today:

The Seattle Times announced Wednesday that it will develop and run ads for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna as an “independent expenditure” that is supposed to show the value of political advertising in newspapers.

The news, three weeks before the November election — and appearance of a big Times-created McKenna ad on page B6 of the newspaper’s Wednesday editions — immediately raised two questions:

Can Seattle Times reporters and editors be trusted to fairly cover McKenna’s opponent Jay Inslee? Can the newspaper fairly report on a campaign where the Times has a vested financial interest in the outcome?

The Times described the effort as an independent expenditure, like that of a super-PAC.

If you look carefully enough in the direction of the Times building, you can probably see the mass cringing going on now in the newsroom …

Among other things, it has led to headlines like this: “The Seattle Times Is Officially a Republican Newspaper,” in the Stranger Slog, which at this point can pretty credibly say it’s no more overtly political than is in the city’s big mainstream daily.

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