Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My attorney's letter to the P.I.

I am posting this with the permission of Mr. Cliff Freed, my attorney, who wrote the letter. So far the paper has not replied to him.

June 2, 2005

Duston Harvey
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Seattle Post Intelligencer
101 Elliott Avenue West, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98119

Re: R.M. Campbell

Dear Mr. Harvey:

I represent Ilkka Talvi, the former Concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony. On Tuesday, May 17, 2005, the PI published an article entitled "Fired Concertmaster Apologizes for Blog Attack." The article was written by the PI music critic, R.M. Campbell. I believe that Mr. Campbell is guilty of journalistic misconduct.

In his article, Mr. Campbell describes with specific details the terms of a settlement agreement allegedly entered into between Mr. Talvi, Maria Larionoff, and their respective spouses. The existence of that agreement, by its very terms, was confidential. Mr. Campbell, by quoting from the agreement, obviously had access to it.

In my view, publishing the terms of a confidential agreement would be unethical, tantamount to aiding and abetting the violation of an obligation held by others. I understand that most journalists would not subscribe to that same standard, and for that reason I bring it to your attention only as background for my chief complaint. In reporting the settlement, Mr. Campbell only disclosed those terms of the agreement by which Mr. Talvi and his wife were bound. In that respect, a "spin"was placed upon the article that was unfair and misleading. This was a bilateral agreement, with promises running both ways, and obligations imposed upon Ms. Larionoff and her husband, as well. Notably, Mr. Campbell made absolutely no effort to contact Mr. Talvi or his wife in order to obtain from them their version of events. Perhaps Mr. Campbell failed to do so because he recognized that Mr. Talvi and his wife would have been understandably upset to find out that the confidentiality of the agreement had been breached. Nevertheless, I think Mr. Campbell's refusal to contact Mr. Talvi was a breach of journalistic ethics, and certainly, if nothing else, shabby journalism. According to the Poynter Institute and the Society of Professional Journalists, Mr. Campbell violated several journalistic ethical principles.

Given his position as "critic," Mr. Campbell can opine to his heart's delight. I offer no judgment on Mr. Campbell's opinions. However, I know this: with respect to this story, Mr. Campbell was reporting alleged facts, and in doing so, he was not objective, and he made an intentional decision to not be objective. It is one thing to get it wrong with a headline that Mr. Talvi was "fired" (he was not); it is another to deliberately mislead the reading public in order to purposely make another look bad. By doing so, Mr. Campbell loses any claim to journalistic integrity, and becomes just another hack. It does your newspaper, and its readership, a disservice.

There are only two newspapers in this city, and as a result of the uncertainty regarding the joint publishing agreement, even that status is unclear. One would think that the PI would make greater efforts to provide unbiased and factually correct information. Mr. Talvi and I are deeply disappointed in the PI.

I would the appreciate the courtesy of a response.

Very truly yours,

Cliff Freed