Ben Schroeter says "I know I'm a pain in the ass." The large, curly-haired Mariners program-seller is as relentless a political gadfly as was ever hatched in the festering pools of hippie activists. His weapons are usually his words, which he will gladly give to anyone with ears or write on any website that has a text-field for comments.
Our friends over at The Seattle Times know him well--mainly because they've banned him nearly a dozen times from commenting on their message boards for breaking rules involving insults and tone. But what happens when a known undesirable like Schroeter makes it into an actual Times article as a source? Turns out that banned means banned.
Schroeter, the son of old Seattle Mayor Charley Royer's beloved (and late) executive assistant Dorothy Schroeter and longtime ACLU lawyer Leonard Schroeter, says he "grew up around politics," so keeping his mouth shut is not in his nature. Last week, he was interviewed by Times reporter Lynn Thompson for a piece on Mayor Mike McGinn's sagging poll numbers. A critic of McGinn (though he admits he voted for him), Schroeter likely seemed the perfect man-on-the-street source for Thompson to get a reaction quote from. So she did.
But that quote never made the final draft of Thompson's story. It was killed by Times editors in part, they say, because of his reputation in the comment forums.
Schroeter calls it "a heinous crime." "What happened to the First Amendment?" he asks. "Since when does what I do in the comment section affect whether what I say to a reporter is relevant?"
Times Metro Editor Mark Higgins has a different take. He says that while a commenter's reputation bleeding into the editorial process raises an "interesting question," Schroeter's notion of being silenced is "just plain wrong."
"Like your newsroom or any newsroom, a number of factors enter into the editorial process," he says before admitting that Schroeter's commenter status did play a part in the decision to yank his quote. "We were aware of his commenting [when the decision to cut his quotes took place]."
Higgins says there is no hard-and-fast editorial policy on screening sources for their unrelated comments elsewhere, and that he wasn't aware of a situation like this coming up in the past.