Generally speaking, I tend to like the Seattle PI better than the Seattle Times. However, when a crane collapsed in Bellevue last November, I was disgusted by the PI’s response: an immediate front-page article digging up and detailing five-year-old accounts of the past drug use of the poor guy operating the crane that day. As if this guy’s day wasn’t bad enough — he goes to work, climbs to the top of a tower crane, and then rides the thing down as it collapses into nearby apartment buildings — he then has to endure the ingominy and public humiliation of having his past transgressions dug up, splashed across the front page of the newspaper, and implicitly blamed as the cause of the accident. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t had a drug conviction in five years, nor that his employer required drug tests that he had reliably passed, nor that there was no indication of drug use at the time of the accident. What mattered was that he was guilty! Guilty, guilty, guilty!
This morning, the PI reported on the official determination of the cause of the crane’s collapse:
A poorly designed foundation was the primary cause of the tower crane collapse in Bellevue, a deadly construction accident that spurred state lawmakers Friday to introduce crane-safety bills that would rank among the toughest in the nation.
A three-month investigation into the crash by the Department of Labor and Industries has found that the crane’s steel foundation failed, and that the 210-foot-high structure would not have toppled if it had been bolted into concrete like most other tower cranes, sources close to the investigation told the Seattle P-I.
I, along with more than a few other people, feel quite strongly that the PI owes the crane operator an apology. Easy as it may have been to do, their public vilification of the crane operator — based on nothing more than sensationalistic items in his past, not through any verifiable current information — was a slimy, sleazy way to grab eyeballs and sell papers at the expense of his reputation. Trial and conviction should be handled in the courts, not in the headlines.