An Open Letter to the Seattle Times

To the editors, the Times:

I will let Mr. Eaton speak for himself:

“We navigate our way uncomfortably among teenagers who occupy Westlake Park, hanging out with their pit bulls, backpacks and skateboards, lately with their babies, freely smoking their now-legal marijuana. With utter dismay we read the stories of random violence…

“Tragically, fear may lead to resentment of the poor and the helpless.”

Did none of you see the dissonance there?

I value the chance to read points of view different from my own in the Seattle Times, which is good, since you run so many of them. (Go on, print a pro-union piece, I dare you.)

But when you run a piece so obviously lacking in thought, it reflects poorly on the quality of the Times. Here’s a man whose heart is plainly in the right place, and yet is, with equal plainness, falling victim to one of the problems he’s deploring. I’ll give Mr. Eaton the benefit of the doubt and assume that no one pointed out the tinge of hypocrisy in his argument. But since you were presumably editing the piece and should have pointed out exactly that, this does mean that I can’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Eaton again:

“I have no expertise in these complicated matters, only a love for this city, a care for the poor and a belief in the power of community… Maybe we start with the trashed flowerpot in front of Macy’s, the gum spots all over our streets or the camped-out teenagers; we begin with the little things.”

When a man can write that he “care[s] for the poor” and then, just a few paragraphs later, puts homeless teens on the level of trashed flowerpots and used chewing gum—when a man can profess love for his fellow humans and then calls them “things” in the next breath—I must be deeply skeptical of his words. And I must be even more skeptical of a newspaper which finds such words worth printing.


Paul Christiansen

[Addendum: many readers of the editorial will observe other gaping flaws. I elected to stick to a single point in the letter itself, following Lincoln’s policy of giving ground on secondary issues while standing firm and prevailing on the crucial point. I do see Eaton’s lack of compassion, disguised as it is in compassionate language, as the key point. Any number of other issues could be raised with his flawed argument, however:

  • The “broken window” theory has been rather discredited
  • The Seattle Police Force clearly requires greater scrutiny at present, not less
  • Mr. Eaton seems to be demanding action about symptoms, not causes
  • If Seattle is a “broken city” then Detroit must be a war zone, and Mogadishu must be Hell itself
  • The Salvation Army is a great resource for the poor… unless you’re gay