Reporter's dedication unearths misuse of taxpayer dollars

May 31, 2002 

There are three things I want to share with you today: background on the centerpiece story on Page 1; a change coming to the paper this week; and two new items in the debate over American Indian mascots in sports.

On Page 1, reporter Beth Silver details how a public board in Grays Harbor County spent $17 million of your state and federal tax dollars on an Internet start-up called SafeHarbor. The idea was to create hundreds of jobs and a stream of income to support more such projects.

Here's where things stand: Most of the jobs were never created, SafeHarbor is fighting for its financial life, and the taxpayers' investment may never be recovered. If SafeHarbor fails, taxpayers also will pay off a $5 million federal loan.

The dot-com crash is a factor. SafeHarbor can also be faulted. But the main culprit may be the Public Development Authority created to make sure the tax dollars were wisely spent.

For reporter Silver, the story began more than a year ago when a source commented how strange it was that several private business executives were at the governor's reception after his State of the State Address. Normally only administration officials and politicians are invited.

The executives, including the governor's brother-in-law, were from SafeHarbor.

For months Silver quietly gathered information on the company, its viability and its political connections. During the fall and winter she pored over thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of sources.

Hunter George, Silver's editor, noted the story would never have been done without the reporter's personal dedication to bringing the matter to light.

Silver's take: "It's an important story because it involves the public's money. Washington taxpayers have been among the biggest venture capitalists in this start-up, and they have a right to know how their money was spent."

Now for the change. Beginning Wednesday we'll combine our SoundLife and Food sections. In the future there will be one section, with food as the primary theme.

In that one section you'll still find dining and cooking coverage colorfully presented on the front page, along with other interesting feature stories. Recipes and columns like Desperation Dinners will still be in the section, as will movie times, the TV schedule, the puzzle page and color comics.

Coverage of family issues, a staple of the Wednesday SoundLife section, will move to Mondays, where it will join our regular health and fitness coverage.

Our plan is to preserve the best of both sections.

And finally, the use of Indian mascots in American sports has been an issue for at least 30 years, since Native American activists asked the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians to drop their names.

Since then about 1,200 American schools have dropped Indian mascots; 600 remain. The issue took a couple of interesting turns in the past two weeks.

At the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley, an intramural team of Native Americans, Latinos and Anglos, adopted the nickname "Fightin' Whities" as a protest against what they see as insulting stereotypes of Indians.

Their T-shirt uniforms feature the slogan "Every thang's going to be all white!" along with a cartoon of a white guy in jacket and tie, with glasses and slicked-back hair.

They're stuck, however, on what their battle cry should be.

"It's interesting to sit around and think, what noise does a white person make?" Solomon Little Owl, a member of the team, told the Boston Globe. "When you say that about a white person, you realize how ridiculous the whole idea of having people as mascots is."

It certainly makes one think. But so does the other story, titled 'The Indian Wars,' by Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price.

In examining the ongoing controversy, SI employed The Peter Harris Research Group to survey 352 American Indians both on and off reservations. It's the first survey of its kind that I'm aware of.

Here's what SI reported: "Asked if high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames, 81 percent of Native American respondents said no. As for pro sports, 83 percent of Native American respondents said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots, characters, and symbols."

Three-fourths of Native Americans don't think the mascots and team names contribute to discrimination.

The issue of mascots has been a topic of newsroom discussion for those 30 years. A few newspapers will refer only to "the Cleveland team" and never mention them as the Indians. Most, including the TNT, use the names chosen by the teams.

Now these two items are added to the discussion. Neither presents a decisive argument. But they certainly fuel a debate worth having.

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