Media, Federal Budget


When you buy a death notice in The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, you get as much space as you're willing to pay for. A family also gets to say anything it wants about the deceased, whose departure from this reality is the only fact the newspapers' advertising department confirms. So it was for the family of Stephen Byrne, 50, who shot himself at his Edmonds home Nov. 22. Said his lengthy death notice in Sunday and Monday editions this week: "More than anything in the world, Steve loved his daughters, Kelsey and Hayley. . . . He taught them by example to love the world, to be adventurous, and to be gentle. There is great tragedy in how his life ended, and theirs, but know that this was a loving, good man who did the best he could while struggling against an incomprehensible burden that none of those of us who loved him could have known. . . . Steve was preceded in death by his father, John J. Byrne in 1997." All no doubt true, but not the complete truth. Stephen Byrne's daughters, ages 11 and 9, also preceded him in death, probably by minutes or hours, because he apparently killed them before killing himself. That version of reality, found in the news coverage of the same newspapers, wasn't lost on a number of Times and P-I readers, who asked how the papers could have printed such a sanitized account of a man's life, even if his relatives paid for it. (Interestingly, though she wasn't mentioned in the death notice, Byrne's ex-wife and the girls' mother, Suzanne Dawson, was OK with how it turned out, says Times spokesperson Kerry Coughlin.) It does raise questions about the gray area of paid death notices, which supposedly are factual, but selectively so, and, as a practical matter, can't be held to the same standard as content created by a newspaper's journalists. The ideal for us readers, of course,

would be to have a staff of reporters write about every ordinary or extraordinary person who dies around here, for their lives often are fascinating, and they all have left a mark. But that would be prohibitively expensive for a newspaper to do. As the Byrne death notice demonstrates, you get what you pay for. Reader beware. CHUCK TAYLOR

Federal Budget

While fiscally conservative—cough!—President Bush last week was approving an $800 billion increase in the debt ceiling, the D.C. watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste announced its "Pork Advisory Level" had been raised to red, or severe. The feared weapon of mass deception was a $388 billion omnibus spending package pushed through Congress, containing God knows what. Buried within 1,690 pages are thousands of pork-barrel special-interest projects. For those of us in Washington state, the pork news is good, or bad, depending on your view. (One man's pork is another man's white meat.) According to the waste-fighting group's annual Pig Book, our state slipped from 12th to 22nd, garnering just $250 million, an average of $41 per person (the national average is $31). Many state projects on the list, overwhelmingly transportation-related, seemed worthwhile. Still, there was that $1 million "wind turbine effort in Bellevue" and another million for something called an "integrated data query sharing system for maritime domain awareness." Alaska once again led the field, snagging $808 per person. Among the items pulled from the greasy bag of that Santa Claus of pork, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, was $200,000 for recreation improvements at a place called the North Pole. Reindeer just wanna have fun, too. RICK ANDERSON

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