Yesterday, the Washington State Capitol Campus in Olympia was once again the site of a rally and march called by the Proud Boys, a far-right, militant extremist group that espouses a violent agenda of hate. While rancorous weekend right wing gatherings in Olympia aren’t uncommon, what was notable about yesterday’s event was the extent to which it was promoted by a representative of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns Seattle-based KOMO TV.
Sinclair, as many Cascadia Advocate readers are no doubt aware, is a giant media conglomerate with fervent right wing ownership that has spent years buying up local television stations all around the country and turning them into local versions of FNC, with Murdochian attributes and tendencies. About ten years ago, Sinclair gobbled up the former local media company Fisher Communications, with FCC approval, giving it control over KOMO and other stations like Portland’s KATU.
Ever since then, KOMO has been on a downward trajectory.
The former home of Dan Lewis, Kathi Goertzen, and Steve Pool is nowadays perhaps best known for its right wing narratives, like the “Seattle is Dying” nonsense it aired several years ago. Keeping the “Seattle is Dying” line going in 2022 with endless tweets carping about the living conditions of the city’s unhoused population is the responsibility of KOMO’s Jonathan Choe, who has worked for the station as a “Crime and Justice reporter” since April of 2020.
Yesterday, however, Choe took a break from his “Project Seattle” duties to go down to Olympia to ostensibly cover the Proud Boys rally. I say ostensibly because if you look at what Choe posted about the event, there’s no actual reporting there. It’s just a bunch of what could charitably be called promotional videos and tweets… in essence, publicity for a hate group that the Anti-Defamation League says is “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration.”
Choe’s first tweet about the gathering, posted at 12:38 PM on March 19th, could have doubled as an announcement for, or invitation to, the event:
Proud Boys rally: From 1pm-4pm, “rally for America,” happening at the Capitol Campus in Olympia. Lots of “Let’s Go Brandon” chants expected to break out. Organizers say they’re protesting the treatment of those arrested during the Jan.6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. @komonews
That was followed by a bunch of videos and captions that portrayed one of the nation’s most notorious hate groups in the most favorable light possible:
Law enforcement watching: Proud Boys and organizers emphasizing today’s march in Olympia will be a peaceful demonstration. More than a hundred people including kids so far.
– 12:46 PM
Ground rules: And the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
– 12:49 PM
Prayer before march: Taking a knee.
– 12:51 PM
Proud Boys rally is on: Now marching and chanting for “freedom” in downtown Olympia. Organizers say this is for camaraderie. Calling those arrested during Jan. 6 Capitol riot, “political prisoners who have been denied basic rights while imprisoned.” @komonews
– 1:01 PM
Olympia Police trailing: Rally organizers say safety is priority and telling marchers not to engage hecklers. @komonews
– 1:04 PM
Marching through downtown Olympia: Now going through busy shopping corridor. @komonews
– 1:07 PM
Not everyone’s a fan: Marchers being met with a few hecklers. @komonews
– 1:11 PM
Marchers returning: Heading back to the Capitol Campus. More speeches expected for next few hours. Waiting to see what happens next. So far, no issues. @komonews
– 1:19 PM
One more look: “Freedom mobile” is an attention grabber for sure. #Olympia #Capitol #ProudBoys
– 2:15 PM
After taking a break from tweeting, Choe added this just before 5 PM:
That’s a wrap: Proud Boys and other marchers say they will stay on the Capitol Campus in Olympia for a few more hours to mingle and answer questions if anyone is interested in learning more about their cause and mission. @komonews
– 4:55 PM
That last tweet has since been deleted, but not before it was preserved for posterity via screenshot.
Choe added another at 5:53 PM that was still up at press time:
Final Note: Members of the Proud Boys and the organizers with “Medium Free” declined my requests for interviews or comment. They are leery of the mainstream media. But they allowed me to record freely on public property without interference. No umbrellas or hands in my face.
At no point during his afternoon of tweeting did Choe bother to mention that the Proud Boys have been designated a hate group, that they have a violent agenda, or that many of their members have been convicted of crimes. Instead, he portrayed them as patriotic, peaceful, devoted to the flag, and family-oriented.
I watched all of the videos Choe posted with his tweets. None of them contain voiceovers or any critical comments or any context of any kind. The videos simply depict the Proud Boys and their allies in action. They’re indistinguishable from videos the Proud Boys might have posted themselves for recruitment purposes.
KOMO did not run a story by Choe during its Saturday evening broadcasts about the Proud Boys’ Saturday gathering in Olympia. But he has over 16,000 followers on Twitter and access to larger audiences by way of people like Andy Ngo.
It’s telling that Choe deleted his tweet that practically invited his followers to come on down to the Capitol, mingle with the Proud Boys, and learn more about their “cause and mission.” The Proud Boys couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic, fawning characterization of their activities and existence.
In the very first tweet, there was an allusion to the January 6th insurrection, but notice that Choe doesn’t connect the dots. He tweeted “Organizers say they’re protesting the treatment of those arrested during the Jan.6 U.S. Capitol insurrection” without bothering to then explain that the Proud Boys were involved in the January 6th insurrection and are thus protesting the effort to hold their own members accountable for attempting to violently overthrow American democracy.
You might think that a self-described “Crime and Justice reporter” would describe the criminal, seditious behavior of a group he’s chosen to spend an afternoon shadowing, but at least in this case, you’d be totally mistaken.
Ethical journalism is supposed to be about seeking truth, providing context, minimizing harm, acting independently, exposing unethical conduct, standing up to powerful interests, protecting democracy, and challenging hate and intolerance.
Choe calls himself a journalist — he even emphasizes that label as part of his Twitter handle — but he does not seem to be a skilled practitioner of what the Society of Professional Journalists defines in their code of ethics as journalism.
Yesterday, he pretty much dropped any pretense of being a journalist and instead chose to act as a press agent for the Proud Boys during his afternoon in Olympia.
Choe’s LinkedIn profile says he studied journalism and graduate with a degree in journalism from Boston University, but it also revealingly includes this note: “Barely made it out. Thanks to all my profs for being patient.”
Wonder what Choe’s journalism professors would think of his behavior yesterday?
Anyone with a camera-equipped phone can shadow a rally of violent extremists and throw up a few video clips, no journalism degree or broadcast job required.
Practicing journalism is harder, and covering extremist groups appropriately is something that can be difficult and tricky to get right, no pun intended.
As a trained journalist with access to airwaves owned by the public and licensed to his employer, Choe is supposed to be seeking truth and reporting it as a public service to the people of this region. Clearly, he’s not doing that.
Choe has worked in the news business for decades, at many different stations, so by this point, he should be able to critically report on an extremist hate group. He emphasizes in his KOMO biography that he “mentors young journalists and is always encouraging more minorities to enter the business.”
But he’s not setting a very good example for those he mentors.
If you share our concerns about Choe and KOMO’s direction, then let Sinclair’s Seattle office know. KOMO maintains an email address for viewer comments that you may send a message to: programming (at) komotv4 (dot) com.
POSTSCRIPT: After the publication of this story, Jonathan Choe deleted all of the abovequoted tweets and blocked NPI on Twitter along with hundreds of other activists, journalists, and elected leaders. The Stranger’s Rich Smith and Daily Kos’ David Neiwert report that Sinclair has ended Choe’s employment; his biography is gone from the KOMO website and his name is off the station masthead. The videos Choe posted have been preserved by Daily Kos and can be seen here.