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June 20, 2007

Why reporting matters

Posted by David Postman at 11:18 AM

The mourning for Norm Maleng hadn't ended when speculation began about what would happen to the $194,315 in his campaign bank account. So goes the cold-hearted world of politics. Maleng would have been bothered by such talk, but not surprised.

But in this case the talk was based on nothing more than rumors and pure, partisan-bred speculation that Maleng's money would be used to help elect acting prosecutor, and longtime Maleng No. 2, Dan Satterberg.

Here's the fact, thanks to Neil Modie at the P-I:

"No money will be spent directly or indirectly to help (acting prosecutor) Dan Satterberg," Seattle attorney Mike McKay said Tuesday. Judy Maleng, the late prosecutor's wife, "has made that clear," he said.

Modie obviously did some reporting. Too bad others didn't and instead tried to make partisan gain from the theoretical possibility that the money would go to Satterberg. I don't see any evidence that anyone said that would happen, or until Modie's story, any sign that any of the speculators did any work to find out what would happen to the money.

Josh Feit started the speculation game last week in a footnote to a post about Satterberg:

Maleng left behind quite a campaign war chest of his own. The question is: What's going to become of that war chest. There's talk that it may go to the state GOP — and then get funneled back to Satterberg.

(Bold in original.)

That was seemingly enough for the state Democratic Party to put out a press release raising alarm that some illegal act was about to take place:

Top Democrats today responded to widespread rumors that the Republican Party is planning to funnel the $194,000 remaining in the campaign coffers of late King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng into partisan attacks intended to influence the special election this fall to name Maleng's replacement.


In the case of the prosecutor's race, State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz says that if large amounts of cash from Maleng's campaign coffers are funneled through the Republican Party back to the GOP nominee for the position, Republican Dan Satterberg — as some Satterberg backers have been whispering is likely — it would be tantamount to the sort of illegal and unethical political money laundering that Republicans have become known for on the national level.

Pelz was "responding to rumors" and what "some Satterberg backers have been whispering is likely." Not the most solid foundation for an attack on GOP ethics.

The Democratic press release then prompted David Goldstein to write.

For the past couple weeks I've been hearing rumors of Republican wags bragging that Dan Satterberg has a $180,000 head start in the race to replace the late Norm Maleng as King County Prosecutor. Seemed like an awful lot of money to raise so quickly. But now I understand what they were talking about.

The basis for his understanding was the Democratic press release — which of course was built on rumors itself. (Goldstein did update his post to include Modie's reporting.)

Goldstein, like the Democrats as well, used Maleng's memory and sterling reputation to criticize Satterberg.

Maleng gets a lot of well-deserved credit for having kept politics out of his office, and both Satterberg and Democratic frontrunner Bill Sherman have promised to build on that legacy. But I don't see how Satterberg can fulfill that pledge if he allows his handlers — such as two-time Bush-Cheney WA State chair Mike McKay — to help him win office by sullying Maleng's memory through creative accounting.

Let's review: This has gone from rumors to talk of "partisan attacks," "the sort of illegal and unethical political money laundering that Republicans have become known for" and "creative accounting" that would sully Maleng's memory.

Feit also wrote again to highlight the Democrats' press release.

Last week, I slogged about Norm Maleng's $194K campaign war chest--asking if the GOP would funnel it to GOP candidate Dan Satterberg ....


Well, the Washington State Democrats picked up on that question today, sending out a press release to head off any GOP shenanigans.

I suppose that will be the defense: That some shenanigans would have happened if the echo chamber of rumors hadn't been fully exploited. I understand that we all have different standards of reporting, from the newspapers, to the Slog, a partisan blog or the party itself. But I'm confident that the spreading of baseless rumors and allegations from unnamed whisperers isn't the way to honor the memory of Norm Maleng that Democrats seem so intent on protecting.

MORE: Feit now has some response from King County Republican Chairman Michael Young. Young makes Pelz' attack into something directed at Judy Maleng, and says it shows the Democratic chair was a cad and a jerk.

"You know, I was surprised at the tone and the tenor of Dwight's statement. It was tacky and tawdry. Here it is just a few week's after Norm has died and he makes this shot across the bow, a personal attack on Judy Maleng [Norm's wife, who is in charge of the funds now] based on no evidence whatsoever."

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