Zero objectivity: Seattle Times report on Franklin Graham-backed police dinner hits new low

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Seattle is in trouble.

People don’t feel safe taking their kids into downtown Seattle, even the public parks (they support through taxes). The place is dirty. Mentally ill people wander about. Drug use and crime and widespread. And in the middle of it all are the demoralized Seattle police, who saw one of their precinct stations closed by rioters for three weeks last summer during the infamous CHOP occupation.

So, you’d think that an event honoring these same police would get some good press.

Not so fast. According to the Seattle Times:

The invitation to a free dinner at a four-star hotel in Bellevue starts out by thanking law enforcement officers for their bravery and service and goes on to promise an uplifting message, fellowship and practical wisdom from God’s word.

That invitation showed up in the inboxes of Seattle Police Department employees on Wednesday, according to a copy of the department wide email obtained by The Seattle Times. On Friday, police Chief Adrian Diaz revoked the email invitation because the dinner, billed as a law-enforcement appreciation event, is reportedly hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The invitation was signed by the association’s CEO, Franklin Graham, a conservative, second-generation Christian televangelist who has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights.

Some of you may remember that Graham got negative press treatment this time a year ago for setting up a tent in Central Park that had the temerity to treat COVID-19 patients. Largely ignored was the fact that a local health organization, Mount Sinai Health System, contracted with Graham to set up the tent. Most reports in the local media made it sound like it was as if Adolf Hitler had set up shop.

Despite his organization’s policy that only the caregivers, not the recipients of care, affirm centuries of Christian doctrine that marriage is only between a man and a woman, Graham was demonized as an anti-gay bigot. He couldn’t win; if he didn’t help out, he was neglecting the masses; if he did, he was imposing his beliefs on others.

I am curious if the Seattle Times reporter read this New York Times interview with Graham that said that New York City’s Commission on Human Rights found no evidence that Graham had discriminated against patients and included a link from the editor of a Jewish publication slamming local politicians for their own bigotry.

Now we’re moving the media-bias battle to Seattle. Back to the Times:

The email to SPD employees was sent by the department’s Wellness Unit after being approved by the unit’s lieutenant, according to the original email.

Diaz sent his own department-wide email just after 4:30 p.m. Friday and a message was posted on the department’s online blotter, stating that based on “Graham’s history and affiliations,” concerns had been raised that SPD does not fully support the community’s LGBTQ members.

The article then runs through the usual PR comments by various police officials, a withering quote by Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González (thanks to the council’s defund-the-police actions, a record number of 144 officers have left in the past year), an angry police officer (no doubt the source for the email being forwarded to the Times), an openly gay police officer and so on.

As someone who lives in the Seattle suburbs, the hypocrisy of it all stuns me. Here’s a city that’s overrun with homeless, whose tents are smack in the middle of major tourist attractions (like the city’s gorgeous waterfront), plus crime is surging and even Amazon is decamping for neighboring Bellevue and the media-friendly culture warriors are upset about this?

The police officers are telling local TV stations they are refusing to work for “this socialist city council” and when an outside organization tries to hold an appreciation dinner for the stoic officers who remain, the best the Seattle Times can do is a one-sided report?

Contrasted to the five sources that trashed Graham and his organization, the Times ran no balancing quotes from any local leaders who would offer an opposing point of view.

A sentence saying that Graham’s group didn’t answer an email sent the day before doesn’t cut it. The sponsoring Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is based in Charlotte, N.C., which is three time zones ahead of Seattle. The chances are good that the email arrived too late for anyone in charge to take a look.

Plus, when the reporter can’t find a quote from a prime source, she’s supposed to look for one from a secondary source. Evangelical organizations and churches do exist in Seattle and I can’t believe she couldn’t find a pastor in one of them who could have offered some kind of defense for Graham. Sadly, the Times did away with its religion beat years ago, so apparently the newsroom has no one with the local religious contacts.

Hint: There are plenty of evangelical organizations in town: (World Relief, Union Gospel Mission, Seattle Pacific University, Northwest University for starters) who’ve got talking heads. Start cultivating them.

To get right to the point: The Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers has a Seattle affiliate. I found a contact name and phone number in less than 30 seconds.

Plus, Graham himself recorded a video several months ago explaining why he wants to do these police appreciation dinners in places like Seattle, Portland and Kenosha, Wisc. Surely, a quote could have been lifted from that.

But no. Here we see “Kellerism,” a term created by a GetReligion reader after former New York Times editor Bill Keller implied in a speech there’s no need for balance or fairness when the reporting is about morality, culture, religion, etc. You can read the Keller quotes for yourself right here.

To find the other side of the story, I didn’t need to look much harder than this column by KTTH Radio show host Jason Rantz, who said that Gonzalez’ anti-cop views were at the base of it all. He said in part:

Gonzalez frames her concern over LGBTQ issues, calling out Graham’s religious views as anti-gay. But her concerns are contrived. This is about getting in the way of supporting police officers. In the process, she wins some plaudits from anti-police activists upset she hasn’t done enough to abolish the police.

The event is free for law enforcement officers. It offers appreciation for the work law enforcement does in a city where the Council and a loud activist community turn cop-hating into a sport. It’s also religious in nature, as the invite promises an “uplifting message, encouraging and practical wisdom from God’s Word, live music, and fellowship with other law enforcement officers.”

But because of its religious nature, and Graham’s religious objection to gay marriage, Gonzalez feigned outrage.

Now what the Times and the above column did add is that the event was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, not by Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse. Yes, the younger Graham signed the invite, but that was his only involvement. But folks out here in western Washington are going to punish him if that’s the last thing they do. The dinner will occur in mid-May and The Stranger, a local lefty site, is encouraging folks to bring their cameras and take photos of whichever police officers decide to attend.

But hey, doxxing is OK when the group is related to Franklin Graham.

I get that journalists can’t help the craziness that reigns in the Emerald City at present. But when it comes to reporting on something like this, at least try — try to include an opposing point of view. Show some respect for people on both sides of public debates. It’s called “journalism.”

I know it’s a stretch. But it can be done. Trust me.

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