Regret the Error: Massive failure of disclosure by writer brings Seattle Weekly cover story into question*
Seattle Weekly published a remarkable cover story last week. Over the course of more than 6,000 words, it made the argument that true crime author Ann Rule made a series of mistakes and false conclusions in her book, Heart Full of Lies.
The book tells the story of the shooting death of Oregon pilot Chris Northon. He was killed by his wife, Liysa. Seattle Weekly’s story argued that she “was failed by her original lawyer, an overzealous district attorney, and Rule, who claimed that Liysa was not the battered wife she’d portrayed herself to be, but rather a sociopath who’d concocted tales of abuse as a justification for shooting her husband.”
The author of the piece is Rick Swart, the editor and publisher of the Wallowa County Chieftain, a community newspaper in the area where the crime took place. He pitched the piece to Seattle Weekly and they published it last week.
The problem is Swart committed a massive failure of disclosure. Here’s how Seattle Weekly’s Caleb Hannan explains the issue in his editor’s note, which is here and was added to the top of the cover story:
What Swart failed to reveal to us is that he’s now engaged to Liysa.
Oh yes, that’s a bit of a problem. After being asked about his failure to disclose this major piece of information, here’s what Swart told the paper:
It’s a freelance piece first of all. I’m selling you a product. So it’s not like you’re my boss and you need to know my personal life. My background is in community newspapers where we write about people we know, people we have relationships with, all the time. We don’t have the luxury of big staffs. So we’re not as able to have those arms-lengths relationships I guess…I’m willing to have all this fall squarely on my shoulder.
. . .