JASON RANTZ

Rantz: Union head declares Seattle reporters support defund police movement

Aug 2, 2020, 5:04 PM | Updated: Aug 3, 2020, 7:41 pm
Carmen Best, CHOP murder, defund police Seattle...
SPD Chief Carmen Best addressing media Monday after another shooting in the CHOP. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The executive director of a union representing local broadcast journalists testified to the Seattle City Council claiming union members support the move to defund the police by 50%.

Shellea Allen is the executive director of SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local. Last week, during the public testimony portion of a council meeting, Allen read a statement on behalf of “the labor union that represents journalists” backing the political movement.

Members of this union include on-air talent at KING 5, KIRO 7 and KUOW.

This incident is the exact kind of declaration that further erodes trust the public has for journalists. How can they objectively cover a movement that their union says they support?

Defund Seattle police? Union heads says reporters back it

Announcing herself as the executive director of the union, Allen quickly declared support for the radical movement to defund the Seattle police.

“A new kind of policing is possible,” Allen said to the council. “Defending Black lives and defending our First Amendment rights as journalists means defunding the police and reinvesting in the community.”

She went on to say SAG-AFTRA supports the group Decriminalize Seattle, which has called for the 50% cut of the Seattle police budget.

Allen, who deleted her Twitter account after I posted the video of her comments, offered a brief statement via email to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH claiming her “statement was officially rescinded on the record with city council.”

But she didn’t explain what this actually means. Was the message rescinding the statement made during another portion of the public commentary where people could actually hear it, as they did her irresponsible endorsement of defunding the Seattle police? Or was it made via email where the public won’t have reasonable access to her statement? She did not respond to any direct questions.

But a spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA did respond, claiming, “[Allen] notified the City Council that her statement should be rescinded from the record as not representing the views of SAG-AFTRA​.” So, in other words, it was private and SAG-AFTRA has no intent on publicly clearing the record.

Some journalists in and out of the union rebuked Allen’s statement.

Rebuking Allen

Some local TV reporters (in and out of the union) were not pleased with Allen, though few would go on the record. Others wouldn’t comment either way, pushing me toward their union stewards. Some, however, took to Twitter to complain.

“I, just as I believe any of my colleagues who are members of this union, denounce anyone or any organization backing one side of an issue, claiming to speak for journalists,” KING 5 reporter and union member Vanessa Misciagna tweeted. “I hope our union learned a lesson about the danger of her words.”

Q13 FOX reporter and anchor Brandi Kruse is not a member of the union. But she offered a harsh critique of Allen.

“She claimed to be speaking for journalists – but all she did is further erode public trust in the press. This is beyond bizarre,” Kruse tweeted.

KIRO 7 reporter Deborah Horne serves as Vice President (Broadcast) for the union and shop steward for KIRO 7. She declined comment.

KING 5 co-shop steward Mark Wright posted a statement to Twitter.

Update: On Monday evening, KUOW’s Jon Ryan weighed in to rebuke the comments. 

Rantz: Shock poll shows only 32% support to defund SPD by half

SAG-AFTRA responds

A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA downplayed the comments in an email to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. They claim the comments were merely about “journalist safety and policing.”

That’s not true. Speaking on behalf of the membership, Allen very clearly and specifically endorsed the defund movement. But the spokesperson did say the comments aren’t a reflection of the membership.

Her statement reflected her personal position on these topics and not that of the membership of SAG-AFTRA. She has since clarified this fact.

As a union that advocates for members across this the country and around the globe, the voices of SAG-AFTRA reflect a diversity of opinion on many social issues.

We believe strongly in the power of individuals using their voices, but maintain a clear line between personal and institutional viewpoints on the issues of the day.

In this instance our local executive director was expressing a personal opinion only.

We have no further comment.

The union also emailed a statement on the topic of journalist safety, connected to a subpoena from the SPD for local outlets to turn over video evidence of criminal behavior during a May 31 riot in Seattle. They sent me the statement in response to my questions about Allen. It seems clear they intend to pretend her statement was on the issue over the subpoena and not over the very clear support and endorsement of the defund movement.

Rantz: Activist group says Seattle cops targeted them. Video shows otherwise

This erodes public trust in journalism

Anchors and reporters should remain objective, not taking positions on the news stories they cover. By so publicly endorsing the defund Seattle police movement, Allen makes it easy for the public to distrust local media members in their coverage.

Don’t like the coverage of the riots or protests pushing for the defunding of police? A news consumer can just chalk it up to the reporter or anchor allowing their personal view to frame their coverage. After the comments by Allen, it’s not an unreasonable position for some people to take.

And the silence by some union members speaks volumes.

“Can you imagine if her testimony had been AGAINST defunding police?” Kruse asked on Twitter. “Reporters who belong to that union would have fallen over themselves putting out statements to distance themselves from her remarks.”

There’s no doubt a contingency of local journalists do, in fact, ideologically side with the progressive movement. Some reporters don’t hide their views; a quick perusal of their Twitter feeds is quite revealing. But the vast majority of local journalists treat issues fairly, regardless of their ideological views. The comment by Allen makes their job more difficult. And the ones staying silent do a disservice to their profession and the viewers they serve.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter and Instagram or like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Union head declares Seattle reporters support defund police movement