An apology to my newsroom colleagues

Staff writerApril 12, 2013 

Editor's note: This editorial was originally published June 1, 2003.

It was a blessed relief to be vacationing in France, an ocean and a continent away from the police scandal traumatizing Tacoma.

Bicycling through the splendid valley of the Dordogne River, visiting ancient castles, sampling local wines and French cooking was living in a fantasy world.

Back to reality. Back at home, we dove for the vacation pack of newspapers The News Tribune left on our doorstep. We found the city is still reeling from the incredible twists and turns the David Brame case has taken in the three weeks we were gone. The story is still at full boil. And some of that hot water has splashed on me.

More about that in a minute. First, some catching-up-on-the-news impressions:

* City Manager Ray Corpuz, now on voluntary paid leave, throws in the towel. He announces he'll retire once the various investigations into the Brame affair are completed.

Corpuz is no dummy. He understands that regardless of whatever else turns up in this bizarre mess, it will take a new manager to restore public trust in city government. Try to imagine a bruised and battered Corpuz, if he survived, trying to hire a new police chief. Most Tacomans wouldn't want him anywhere near the process.

Give him him credit, though, for announcing his retirement with a classy statement apologizing and accepting responsibility for the "failures and weaknesses in our system" that allowed a man who failed his rookie psychological test to become Tacoma's police chief.

* After some dithering - and considerable pressure from this editorial page - the City Council waived the city's attorney-client privilege to allow city officials to talk publicly about their roles in the events leading up to Brame's appointment as chief and his murder-suicide April 26.

That's a good start - an essential step toward the openness and transparency city government needs if there is to be any hope of regaining public confidence. But serious butt-covering is still getting in the way, as the next item demonstrates.

* City Attorney Robin Jenkinson and her counterparts in the city's Human Resources Department tell diametrically conflicting stories about what was said in a meeting the day before Brame killed his wife and himself. (See today's lead editorial.).

Jenkinson's story smacks of artful lawyering. One of these department chiefs probably won't be standing when this is over.

* And yours truly got a taste of the embarrassment that happens when office e-mails meant to be private get into the public domain - a torment we journalists regularly inflict on public officials. It's my turn to squirm.

Amid the flood of revealing e-mails that have emerged from city files as a result of public information requests was the one I sent to Brame on April 25, the day the story about his marital troubles broke.

As I recounted in an April 27 column, I had sent Brame an e-mail advising him we were going to run an editorial the next day about Crystal Brame's allegations, and asking him to let me know if he wanted to say anything before we went ahead.

We often call officials to hear their side of the story before we skewer them in editorials. It's only fair, and sometimes new and important facts come to light. What makes me cringe now, in hindsight - and has my newsroom colleagues justifiably ticked off - is what I wrote about the newsroom's ongoing investigation of Crystal Brame's allegations. "As you probably know, " I wrote Brame, "we were sitting on it because the newsroom didn't think it was substantial enough to run."

Yeow. In the cold daylight, those words are gravely insulting to a newsroom that took the allegations seriously when reporters first got wind of them weeks before the story broke. How I wish I could do a rewrite now.

Editors and reporters weren't "sitting" on the story at all, nor did they think it was insubstantial. It was a critical news story they had diligently investigated and were prepared to run. But editors wanted to strengthen the story with more reporting. As it happened, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke the story on April 25.

The record shows that The News Tribune's news staff has pursued every aspect of the Brame story with remarkable energy and diligence. One aspect or another of the story has been on Page 1 every day but one since Brame killed his wife and himself.

One startling revelation has followed another. And this editorial page has consistently followed up with tough editorials demanding openness and accountability from city officials.

Readers should know that The News Tribune's editorial page staff doesn't tell the newsroom what to do, and the newsroom doesn't tell us what to write in our editorials. The separate lines of responsibility are clear.

Our newsroom has no apologies to make. I, on the other hand, owe one to everyone there.

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