Image from Jonathan Choe video following the Proud Boys around
Image from Jonathan Choe video following the Proud Boys around

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

Jonathan Choe promotes the Proud Boys

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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6 replies on “Extremism Watch: Sinclair’s Jonathan Choe serves up lots of publicity for the Proud Boys”

  1. As you wrote, KOMO broad­casts on “air­waves owned by the pub­lic and licensed to [Sin­clair]”. That license expires on Feb­ru­ary 1, 2023. Help the FCC under­stand why it must not be renewed and that it must be tak­en from Sin­clair and giv­en to a more wor­thy par­ty. Com­ments can be tak­en now, and the renew­al file opens in October.

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