UPDATED: After calling to 'restart' the economy, the Spokesman-Review didn't print this rebuttal letter from the Spokane health officer

UPDATED with a comment from the Spokesman-Review's managing editor.

Ten days ago, the Spokesman-Review editorial board, which now only represents the views of publisher Stacey Cowles, called for Washington to "restart its economy soon."

The editorial called for the "cold calculus of balancing one harm against another." Saving lives has never been the "singular, unassailable goal" in this country, it argues, pointing out that no economic shut down occurs to prevent the spread of the flu, "which has claimed up to 62,000 lives this season." (The novel coronavirus has officially claimed nearly 60,000 lives already in the U.S. since February, despite social distancing and stay-home orders.)


"It is not wise to risk the wealth and strength of the entire nation on a relatively small number of lives that statistically tend to be older and have pre-existing conditions," the editorial states.

The piece does not represent the views of the newsroom. Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal called it an "awful editorial" on Twitter.  And the paper ran a piece the next day stressing that Editor Rob Curley doesn't see the editorial page before it goes to press.

Still, Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Health District Health Officer, took issue with the editorial.

"It's essentially marginalizing a population as unimportant and allowing business to thrive at the expense of them," Lutz tells the Inlander. "And that doesn't fly by me."


Lutz wrote a letter to the Spokesman-Review on April 20 in response to the editorial. Lutz was asked by the paper whether he wanted it published or provided to the publisher. He said he preferred both, but that he sent the letter with the hopes of it being published "given I knew the publisher would see it in print."

It wasn't. So we asked Lutz if he'd send it to us, and he agreed. Here it is:
I find it disappointing the editor(s) do not believe "a relatively small number of lives that statistically tend to be older and have pre-existing conditions” aren’t worthy of consideration in efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Deaths attributable to COVID-19 affects all groups on the margin, both socioeconomically and agedly. This statement also speaks to the ignorance of another statistic – the CDC’s recently released preliminary data – 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are African American, even though they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Infections don’t discriminate by age, gender, geography, or race/ethnicity. Rather, long-held societal and institutional practices do discriminate against “other” populations, to include our Latinx and Native Americans citizens. The intersection of lives and livelihoods are part of daily conversations about where we are and where we need to go. Disregard of the facts does not well serve our community.
UPDATE: Today (April 30), the Spokesman-Review's managing editor, Joe Palmquist, sent us this letter to the editor, taking issue with us not reaching out to him prior to publishing our story. We did contact Palmquist yesterday, shortly after the story was posted online, but he declined to comment. Here is Palmquist's letter:
[The Inlander] did not bother to call The Spokesman-Review regarding a story about our failure to run Dr. Bob Lutz's "letter to the editor" in The Spokesman-Review. Readers were left with a clear impression that we did not print the letter because it was critical of an editorial. As readers know, we have always published letters critical of our newspaper. We had every intention of printing Dr. Lutz's letter. Shortly after we emailed Dr. Lutz to ask him if he wanted the letter printed, we received a guest column from his office (it ran on April 26). We mistakenly thought he wanted that guest column instead of the letter. It may have been a bad assumption, but we have absolute no issue running his letter and will do so in the Sunday paper, our most-read edition of the week.

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.