Seattle Post-Intelligencer Offers Haiku Contest - But No Help - in FBI Terror Probe

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is refusing to run the photos of two men the FBI is seeking to question in connection with suspicious behavior aboard a Puget Sound ferry - behavior that could be a precursor to a terror plot, or could be nothing nefarious at all.

The Seattle PI reports the story here and explains its rationalization for not publishing the photos here. And - in a steller example of complete touchy-feely uselessness - the paper is holding a haiku-writing contest for readers to write about how they feel about the FBI alert and the way the paper handled it.

From the report:

The FBI is asking the public for help in identifying two men who were seen behaving unusually aboard several Washington state ferries. About four weeks ago, the FBI fielded several reports from passengers and ferry workers about the men, who seemed "overly interested in the workings and layouts of the ferries," Special Agent Robbie Burroughs said Monday.

The FBI also publicized photos of the men, which were taken by a ferry employee, Burroughs said. The Seattle P-I is not publishing the photos because neither man is considered a suspect nor has either been charged with a crime.

From the excuse, er, rationalization, er, explanation by Seattle P-I Managing Editor David McCumber:

Ferry security is hugely important. So are civil liberties and privacy.

The P-I last year reported that according to a Justice Department inspector general's assessment, Puget Sound's ferries were the nation's No. 1 target for maritime terrorism.

This may well be a case of alert citizens spotting a very real threat. But running a photograph of two men who may as easily be tourists from Texas as terrorists from the Mideast with a story that makes them out to be persons of interest in a terrorism investigation seems problematic, to say the least.

Yeah. Of course it would be easier to find out which is the case if the FBI could find the guys. And it would be easier to find the guys if the Seattle P-I would publish the photos, so that Seattle-area residents would know what the men look like whom the FBI has asked the public to help them find. As it stands now, in the name of being politically correct, the Seattle P-I has decided to alarm the people of Seattle and leave them looking suspiciously at just about anyone who fits the general description of male and looking like they might be from the Middle East.

Besides, while McCumber raises the flag of "civil liberties and privacy," the men in the photo were photographed in public while on a public ferry.

There is no invasion of their privacy, nor of their civil liberties, by publishing the photos so that the authorities can locate and speak with the men.

Disagree with me on that? Consider this: If Managing Editor McCumber needed art to illustrate a story on the region's ferry system, he could and likely would dispatch a Seattle P-I photographer to one of the ferries, and publish a shot of random ferry passengers on the deck of the boat. The paper might not even bother to identify the people in the photo.

Newspapers publish crowd shots taken in public all the time without identifying the people in the photo or asking if they mind having their photo published - or knowing if they are or are not involved in some sort of criminal activity.

McCumber's excuse for not running the photos is ... beyond weak. It is a figleaf for political correctness run amok, political correctness that may compromise the security of the people of the Seattle area that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ostensibly exists to serve.

Politeness causes me to refrain from suggesting the editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer must be smoking something.

The good news: The P-I's decision to not run the photos is fueling widespread distribution of the photos in the blogosphere.

No word yet on how the Seattle Times is going to handle the FBI's request - the most recent story in the Seattle Times that seems relevant was this story published August 3.

Here's more from the Jawa Report. Also, the blogger at The View From Out Here, comments, "If we don’t know what they look like then how can we identify them? If you think they are just tourists, did you ever, on vacation, take pictures of a restricted area on a boat and tried to measure the size of the boat?"


The P-I should put the security of its community ahead of the desire to not hurt some folks' feelings.

Update: Michelle Malkin's excellent post on the Seattle ferry story reminds us of the the Seattle Times' investigation in 2004 on reports on jihadi probing of the ferry system.

Update: A commenter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's website notes how out of touch with reality the editors of that paper are about the new media world in which they now operate.

It's amazing to me to think that, in this internet era, the [paper] is arrogant enough to think that they can 'hide' something from the public. By not publishing the pictures, they are making themselves less relevant - additionally, through the controversy, they are making the story bigger than it would be otherwise. This is a perfect example of why newspapers, and big media in general, is losing readers by the thousands.
Neither the Seattle Post-Intelligencer nor the rival Seattle Times is the gatekeeper of information in the greater Seattle area anymore, if they ever were. Neither are any of the local TV news stations. There are just so many news outlets and distributors now - cable networks, websites of out-of-town papers, and blogs - that no matter what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did, the people of Seattle were going to see these photos.

Thus, their decision to not publish the photos does not in any way accomplish the goal that drove that decision, while simultaneously showing the people of Seattle that the paper will put political correctness ahead of the security of thousands of Seattle-area ferry commuters - and demonstrating its increasing irrelevance in the broad and varied new-media landscape.

A dumb and dangerous decision all around.

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