Long before Mitch Levy allegedly plunked $160 in cash upon a bedside table in anticipation of a good old fashioned happy ending, The Seattle Times had already determined they’d be severing a long-standing association with Levy’s employer, Sports Radio 950 KJR.
The newspaper and the radio station had no real reason to be on the outs were it not for Frank Blethen, the publisher and CEO of Seattle’s paper of record. Blethen, who has been at the Times’ helm since 1985, was done with the relationship for various reasons – chief among those being a certain level of frustration over KJR’s criticism of the Times’ controversial stance on two different Seattle arena proposals, as well as perceived criticism of the paper itself. As a result, Blethen chose to enforce a moratorium on Times writers appearing on both Sports Radio 950 KJR, as well as “competing media” in the local Seattle area. The Times would later clarify its stance, singling out KJR as the sole outlet from which writers were explicitly forbidden, while also adding that some semblance of managerial permission would be required for employees to appear on-air with other local entities. Previously, this lack of autonomy had not existed.
By now we know that the Times cited “off-color” and “sexist” remarks from KJR radio personalities as the reasoning behind their imposed operational changes. However, that language didn’t emerge in an official statement until Thursday, August 31st, which might not mean much if it weren’t for Levy and his fateful blunder nearly a week earlier.
He certainly couldn’t have known that he was being set up. No one walks into a room in anticipation of being taken into custody. If he knew a trap had been set, he surely never would have arrived at the Bellevue condominium where he ultimately met law enforcement officials. But he likely knew none of this, of course, and so it came to be that on Saturday, August 26th, Mitch Levy found himself not in the presence of a “masseuse,” but rather arresting officers who whisked KJR’s morning show host off to prison shortly thereafter.
By this time, personnel at both the Times and KJR were well aware that their affiliation with one another was coming to an end on Tuesday, September 5th. Writers at the Times had already been informed that a split was coming. Meanwhile, KJR program director Rich Moore had been notified by a Times editor that the 5th would signal the end of the working agreement. Regardless of how any of the parties involved felt about the matter, the deal was done, and everyone knew it.
Levy was booked into King County’s South Correctional Entity, a prison built for misdemeanor offenders, on the afternoon of the 26th. In the hours that followed, word slowly began to trickle out that the radio host had been caught. By nightfall, at least one major news outlet in Seattle knew about Levy’s incarceration. Media was encouraged not to reveal any details of the arrest or others like it, however, since Bellevue Police and the King County Sheriff’s Office were planning to carry out the prostitution sting over a seven-day period. Hence, Friday, September 1st became the first day upon which information about any of the details involved would be released.
Somewhere between the date of Levy’s arrest and the date the Times published an article about the bust, the newspaper became aware of the incident involving Levy. In all likelihood, that date was prior to the afternoon of Thursday, August 31st, when an official statement on the breakup between the paper and KJR was unveiled.
Levy’s misstep was certainly ideal for the newspaper, which, in the court of public opinion, now found itself with a leg to stand on in justifying its breakup with the radio station. For KJR, on the other hand, such a transgression could not have come at a worse possible moment. All of which led to the coincidental timing of the statement on the broken relationship between two bastions of the Seattle media landscape: five days after a KJR host found himself in jail, but a day before the entire world knew.
As always, public perception rages on. One could reasonably understand how an onlooker might find a cause-and-effect association between Levy’s arrest and the Times’ embargo of KJR.
The one thing we know for certain, however, is that The Seattle Times did not end its partnership with Sports Radio 950 KJR because of Mitch Levy’s alleged involvement in a high-end prostitution sting. The timeline of the above events ensures that, and the paper even went out of its way to call attention to any potential misconception, stating in an article that the “decision [to sever ties with KJR] is not connected to Levy’s arrest.”
From KJR’s standpoint, the hits just keep on coming. Losing valued on-air guests at a Times executive’s behest was bad enough; losing the marquee voice of the radio station to a stupid mistake is much worse. With Levy absent from his own show on the morning of Monday, September 4th, it seems evident that iHeartMedia, KJR’s parent company, may be preparing to forge ahead without its morning show host until the legal process brings forth a resolution.
For the Times, it’s business as usual – business which now precludes writers from appearing on KJR. The future of cross-promotion between writing staff and other media entities is now firmly in the hands of Blethen, who appears content to impose restrictions on his employees for an indeterminate amount of time. It may not be good PR, and it may not work out in the end, but frankly, if newspapers had made all the right moves in the past, they wouldn’t be suffering the way they are now.
If there is one thing uniting each of these circumstances, it is this: ego. It’s what ultimately led Levy into a situation that has cost him his reputation, and it’s what has compelled Blethen to shackle the people who have helped make him money.
As for those of us who take a sliver of joy in reading the paper or listening to the radio, we are simply collateral damage in a game being played amongst men who have sacrificed their character for whatever it is that guides them. And that, unfortunately, is all too common in the world in which we live.