Newspaper Pulls Out of Inaugural Party

Posted December 19, 2008 at 11:33am

The Willamette Week newspaper has pulled out of a joint presidential inauguration celebration with the Oregon Democratic Party, the publication’s editor, Mark Zusman, confirmed Friday morning.

The newspaper published a couple of articles in the heat of Oregon’s bitter 2008 Senate race that were politically damaging to Sen. Gordon Smith (R). Republicans cried foul over the inauguration party, charging that the event proved that the Willamette Week was politically invested in ousting the incumbent. State Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) ousted Smith on Election Day.

In an interview earlier in the week, Zusman said the inaugural party was put together by the paper’s marketing department and the state Democrats.

“After I learned about this … we pulled the plug,” Zusman said Friday morning in an e-mail. “It’s been a learning experience for our promotions director.”

The Willamette Week and the Oregon Democratic Party had planned to co-sponsor a presidential inauguration party in Portland on Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in. The party was to occur at the club Holocene.

Down the stretch of the bitter 2008 race, the Willamette Week wrote scathing stories on Smith’s business practices at his frozen food plant, which Democrats immediately turned into a series of effective political hits. Smith and his family owns the Oregon-based Smith Frozen Foods.

In two stories, the alternative weekly newspaper alleged that Smith’s company knowingly hires illegal immigrants, a charge the Senator’s campaign vehemently denied. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee used the stories to score political points in a tough campaign ad intended to boost Merkley’s candidacy.

Smith ended up losing to Merkley, 49 percent to 46 percent, with an independent conservative candidate garnering 5 percent of the vote. Merkley’s victory has been attributed mostly to the strong Democratic tide that enveloped Oregon on Nov. 4.