Misjudgments All Around: Seattle Times fires Columnist after First Column.


On July 13, I wrote a reply to David Volodzko, the Seattle Times’ editorial writer. In the Sunday paper on July 9, he had argued that the people of Seattle should think about taking down the statue of Vladimir Lenin in Fremont because of what a monster Lenin was. While I agreed with him about Lenin, I argued that his statue ought to stay. Then, a few days later, Volodzko was fired.

And I thought, “That’s the job I used to have.” I sat in Volodzko’s seat from 2000 to 2013, when I retired, so I’m inclined to see this from his point of view.

His trouble began in his Seattle Times piece on Lenin, when Volodzko quoted his grandfather, who had escaped from a Nazi prison camp. His grandfather told him that the Russia that Lenin built was worse than Nazi Germany. His grandfather’s statement raised the blood of the Twitter trolls, who asked: Which was worse, Lenin or Hitler? It was a classic no-win argument, a dispute to stay out of. And Volodzko dived in. He wrote, “In fact, while Hitler has become the great symbol of evil in history books, he too was less evil than Lenin because Hitler only targeted people he personally believed were harmful to society whereas Lenin targeted even those he himself didn’t believe were harmful in any way.”

In a piece posted later on The Free Press, Volodzko amended that statement, “I was only speaking in terms of intention—of who wanted to kill more, not who actually did, and in a follow-up tweet I explained: ‘Hitler was more evil than Lenin if we’re looking at what they did to people and that’s a pretty important metric for assessing evil!’ ”

Too late! The Twitter trolls had him! They had found a member of a major newspaper editorial board who they could say was defending Hitler. Volodzko hadn’t done that, but the trolls said he had. It gave them a thrill to have the Times squirm when they threw mud at Seattle’s daily newspaper. That was enough for publisher Frank Blethen, and Volodzko was out.

Blethen was trying to protect the family paper from being soiled. I get that. And he had a right to do it, because Volodzko had been there less than two months, and was an at-will employee. But it was unfair to Volodzko, because he was not what the Twitter trolls said he was. These were, in the main, left-wing trolls who took the view, that the Times is a right-wing, Trumpy, neocon paper. Which it is not. (I worked there. I know.) 

Volodzko is no apologist for authoritarian regimes, Nazi or otherwise. He’s a journalist who has published in Foreign Policy, the New Yorker, and The Nation. You can read his work on his web page. According to his piece in The Free Press, he has been an international correspondent in Japan, South Korea, China, Nepal, India, and Israel, with a specialty of writing about totalitarian regimes and human rights.

When he received the job offer to be an editorial board member and columnist,” he wrote, “Our entire family had moved to Georgia together—including my parents, my brother, and his wife—so it was a tough call. But after consideration, we sold our house. My wife and baby daughter flew to Seattle. I drove the moving truck.

“I knew Seattle only by reputation… I should mention that our politics fit the bill: I am a democratic socialist and my wife is a DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] trainer. Suffice it to say, the city felt like a great fit.” In Seattle, he and his family marched in the gay pride parade with other Times people.

Volodzko has gotten a lot of heat from right-wing trolls for calling himself a democratic socialist. “Not like the Democratic Socialists of America,” he told me. “Somewhere between a liberal and a social democrat.” Oh. Well, in Seattle, you have to come out stronger than that to be considered a socialist.

It was nearly two months before his new employer gave Volodzko space in the Sunday paper for a bylined piece. For his debut, he was encouraged to write about the statue of Lenin. Volodzko knows the history of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the century-old arguments between the Marxist sects. He is a grandson an immigrant who fled the Soviet Union. In his time in the U.S. South, he had seen 21st century Americans who were taking down statues of Robert E. Lee that were no longer politically acceptable. What better subject for a big piece in the Times than a statue of Lenin?      

The editors gave him an entire section front in the July 9 paper. That’s an indication of what they thought of him and what he wrote.

Then Volodzko made his mistake: “I posted the column on Twitter and compared Lenin and Hitler.” He added, “It’s the kind of topic that you can debate among trusted friends over drinks or dinner.” Not with anonymous nitwits on Twitter.

On the internet, his friend Vladislav Davidzon wrote in Tablet, “Hunting for Nazis online is a kind of sport… Frenzied social media mobs destroying lives for pleasure. Fake laptop warriors celebrating their fake wars on nonexistent Nazis. The total lack of social norms regarding the way that Americans discuss and use or misuse history. The pathos of those who violate in some minor way the puritanism of those who wish to destroy sinners without any chance of reprieve. The manifest cowardice of the scribbling classes. The lack of backbone from institutional elites who refuse to stand up for institutional values or their own staff. Every element is present in this parable of the insipid and sad moment that we are now living through.”

“The official reason for firing me,” writes Volodzko, “was ‘poor judgment’ and ‘continuing to engage online’” after he had been told to stop. The next day, the Times tweeted: “A Seattle Times editorial writer engaged in Twitter in a way that is inconsistent with our company values and those of our family ownership. Effective immediately, he is no longer employed by The Seattle Times. While we passionately believe in creating lively discourse through a variety of viewpoints, we do so with respect and appreciation for all communities. We apologize for any pain we have caused our readers, our employees and the community.”

Volodzko told me that at an earlier job, he’d been swarmed by neo-Nazi trolls, and everyone agreed to ignore it. Who cares what they think? They make a noise, you grit your teeth and it’s over. If the Times had taken that approach, Volodzko said, it would all have blown over by now.

His firing hits home. He has a wife and baby daughter. He needs to make a living, and his firing, he says, puts “a sign around my neck.” He and his wife would like to stay in his new city. “We love Seattle,” he says, adding that he has been encouraged by support from journalists. But he says, “It’s expensive here.” And at 43, he is only halfway through his career in the hazardous world of American journalism.

Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey was a business reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 1980s and 1990s and from 2000 to his retirement in 2013 was an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times. He is the author of The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression, and is at work on a history of Seattle in the 1930s. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Anne.


  1. Great piece. It was poor judgment but the Times might decently have gotten him to apologize and then stood up for him. One question: if he’s 43, how old must his father have been to have “escaped” from a Nazi prison camp? More likely his grandfather, one would think.

  2. Nice job on a difficult story, Bruce. As a former editorial writer and columnist at The Times myself (1977-1990), and founding editor of the Sunday opinion section, I fully agree that Volodzko was treated terribly. First they “had his back,” then they stabbed him in it. Whoever made the final decision to fire him should be deeply ashamed. They should publicly apologize and rehire him. Not gonna happen, but it would be the right thing to do.

    • And THAT, right there, is the best advice to heed. It appears that Volodzko was told to stop engaging with Twitter, and he did not. THAT seems to have been the problem, not the initial column.

      Still, Seattle and King County is a weird place, where, as “Phil” notes, much of the Left believes the Seattle Times is right-wing (clearly, they do not actually pay attention to who gets endorsed), and the Right believes the Seattle Times is left-wing (maybe because the Seattle Times has, decades before it was popular, advocated for DEI-type policies, including putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising to oppose Initiative 200, which overturned Affirmative Action in Washington, and consistently seeking out diverse voices for its editorial board. But the increasingly thuggish behavior of the far-left, unleashed and urged on during the Kshama Sawant/Bernie Sanders era, has become dangerous to our discourse, if not our democracy.

  3. I thought it was an extremely odd topic for a brand new columnist. The Times is probably searching for an identity and this guy is probably not it. Somehow the left believes the Times is right wing and the right considers the Times biased to the left.

    Difficult situation. To me, the Times needs to figure out who its paid subscribers and target subscribers are and cater to that. Danny Westneat seems to have a way of connecting to readers.

  4. Glad to see Times reporter Dominic Gates complaining about the rash decision, and standing up for the rights of writers. I would have thought the chief of the edit page, Kate Riley, would stand up for her right to select writers and defend their published views. It’s not a good public relations to demonstrate that publishers seemingly easily dominate the editorial pages (though in tough calls they need to weigh in). The Seattle Times now has two image problems: too close to the business establishment, and intolerant of unpopular views.

  5. Very rash decision by the Times. Surprising when calls to have the statue taken down have floated around for years. You’d think with various Confederacy statues and symbols no longer being acceptable the Times would welcome such a voice.

  6. Attempting to rewrite history has many problems. First, history is history. If it is not portrayed honestly, all is a lie. The people in our American history made mistakes. These should be learning opportunities. To suppress our truths is the wrong path. For those we accomplished great things we should amplify those efforts, and not try to re-interpret the prevailing events. Teach our children the wonder of the forefathers of American government.

  7. How much time can the Seattle Times afford to spend, helping a new columnist adjust to the realities of his job? If he’s going to be a good one, in the same league with Westneat or Judd, they can afford to spend a lot of time – but they probably wouldn’t have to, would they?

    I don’t expect a writer to roll into Seattle and just automatically recognize what kind of a place Fremont is (or was, anyway.) But the good ones are going to look at that and wonder, what’s going on here? and they’re going to have a pretty easy time finding out. Fremont isn’t hiding anything.

    I don’t expect a young writer to automatically recognize how toxic a Twitter conversation about the relative merits of Hitler vs. Lenin can be to a public personality, but a tip from the publisher should be enough to get it.

    He apparently has top notch analytical skills that served him well in previous positions – but aren’t really what was needed here. It’s a shame they didn’t figure that out earlier. It’s a shame they can’t afford to hold on to writers who aren’t super successful right off the bat, I can imagine that leading to less enthusiasm for applying for ST jobs.

  8. Liberals consume themselves when one leaves the reservation, especially journalists on the Left, and engage in thoughtful analysis. A Liberal journalist I have high regard for due to their journalistic integrity, and intellectual curiosity you know something rarely seen in today’s media wrote a piece for liberal journal “The Nation” about the DNC Russia hack, that wasn’t. He was fired and virtually exiled from the Progressive reservation over the article. Liberals often accuse Conservatives of intolerance, when in fact they embrace, and wield it fully as a weapon if one does not subscribe to their approved group-think positions, or issues.


  9. My first question:
    Doesn’t, as a matter of normal procedure, anybody at the SeaTimes (e.g. an editor) review the work of a reporter/columnist? Especially a brand new one?

  10. And this is why, after almost 40 years of subscribing to the “Seattle Times,” I quit. Editors and management kowtowing to the authoritarian neo-left has ruined the paper. Fragility trumps spirited debate. Censorship rules. Journalistic vigor has been squashed. Apparatchiks rule. See ya!

  11. It’s not surprising that the Communists at the Seattle Times got upset when someone had a bad word to say about Lenin.

    • And there you go. There are no “communists” at the Seattle Times, and precious few in Seattle itself – try using a dictionary – European-style capitalism with a social safety net isn’t “COMMUNISM!!!!”.

      Do get back to me when someone proposes nationalizing the means of production and/or sending everyone who makes more than $50K/year to re-education camps.

      That being said, this was a dumb decision (and I say that as a well left-of-center person who thought his piece was off-base and tone deaf, but that still fell far short of anything I’d fire a new employee/writer who was still finding their voice over),

  12. I simply don’t get it; I’m out of my depth here. Couldn’t the Times have given this superb writer a probationary warning ( or whatever) rather than summarily firing him? This topic was assigned to him; he didn’t choose it. What did the Times heads expect?

    I have trouble believing no one else saw his piece before it was published. He must have gotten a go-ahead. Or was promised a completely hands-off approach to his columns as part of the promises they dangled him, to get him to Seattle.

    He did try to clarify what he meant, vis-a-vis Hitler vs. Lenin, in response to the angry crowdhowling on Twitter. And yes, engaging on social media is the definition of pointless.

    Still. Is there something wrong with offering an obviously talented writer a longer chance to prove himself than ONE assignment?

    Well, 43 is young. Who hasn’t been fired, sometime? Sorry this had to be so public for him.

    • “This topic was assigned to him; he didn’t choose it.”

      Well, from the story: “For his debut, he was encouraged to write about the statue of Lenin.”

      So, in my mind, all the more reason that it feels like he was left out to dry.

    • I feel I could make more pronouncements on how dangerous a world it is out there for public personalities on social media, and how important that it is for their employers to be able to absolutely count on them, but …

      … it’s impossible to know what really went on. Maybe we would see that they had their heads screwed on after all, or maybe we wouldn’t. But until the movie comes out, it’s kind of an unusual exercise in futile second guessing. This being kind of a journalists’ club publication, I can see how it might be interesting for them to look inside the sausage machine etc., but we aren’t really seeing inside, we’re just making up stories to fit a very small amount of observable fact. Did they talk to him about the editorial? Was he all ready to have a second go at it, but they didn’t let him, because someone on the team never liked him in the first place? Let’s make up a story that he came into the office afterward and they went on to have a big argument about Hitler and Lenin, and … OK, I’ll stop.


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