The Spokesman in Eastern Washington

Dear Group,

Some say that nothing important happens in Spokane without the approval of the Cowles family and Avista Corp. The Spokesman Review is first to come to mind when I hear the name Cowles. After all, a majority of print media in Spokane have been owned and run for a hundred and thirty years by four successive generations of William Cowleses, distinguished by Roman numerals and middle names. (By this hereditary naming system the full moniker of the current publisher of the Spokesman is William S. Cowles. The name he is commonly known by, Stacey, is the surname of his mother, Allison Stacey. His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all William H. Cowles, either III, Junior, or Senior.)

The Spokesman Review in eastern Washington is only a minor portion of the Cowles family’s current assets. I invite you to explore the website of the Cowles Company and HCC Foundation. There you’ll find a catalogue of the family’s holdings: Inland Empire Paper Company produces “over 500 tons of newsprint every day,” supplies paper to over 160 customers, and manages 117,000 acres (that’s 182 square miles!) of timberland in northeast Washington and northern Idaho. KHQ (Q6) is another holding of the Cowles Company, so is River Park Square, nearly an entire block of downtown Spokane  The Spokesman offices and print facility occupy close to another block. Betsy (Elizabeth) Cowles, Stacey’s sister, is Chairman, Stacey is “president of the print media division which includes The Spokesman-Review daily newspaper and several weekly and bi-weekly publications and their associated websites.” 

Elizabeth (Betsy) and Stacey also manage the Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation, one of the oldest non-profits [501(c)(3)] in the State (founded in 1944 by Betsy and Stacey’s great grandfather, the original William H. Cowles, in memory of his wife). Like other  501(c)(3)s, the Cowles Foundations’ tax deductible contributions are opaque. In 2013 its income was over ten million dollars. The Cowles Foundation is a traditional non-profit philanthropic organization with an impressive list of civic, cultural, and education endeavors it supports. That is in contra-distinction to the host of more recently founded 501(c)(3)s like the Washington Policy Center, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation whose purpose is to foster a political agenda while enjoying non-profit status and shielding the identities of their donors. (See Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” below.) 

Which brings us to Anne Cowles, another locally familiar name, Stacey’s wife of thirty years. Anne Cowles serves on the Board of Directors and the Eastern Washington Advisory Board of the Washington Policy Center, the Koch donor group funded Republican/Libertarian think tank that has recently brought to Spokane such luminaries as Nigel Farage (“Mr. Brexit”), Charlie Kirk (Turning Point USA), and the union-busting, education defunding former governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

Anne Cowles’ presence on the Board of the Washington Policy Center helps me understand how Stacey Cowles can write an Editorial [non] Endorsement last fall that correctly and roundly condemns Matt Shea (State Rep, Legislative District 4, Spokane Valley plus) for a litany of bizarre right wing activities while failing to endorse Shea’s opponent, Ted Cummings. Mr. Cowles cannot bring himself to endorse Cummings on account of Cummings’ union support, Cummings’ opposition to a “right to work” proposal (a word-meistered darling of the anti-union crowd that is strongly supported by WPC) and the allegation Cummings is too “liberal” for this “deeply red district.” (Is this what psychologists call projection?)

Who will Mr Cowles endorse in this year’s Spokane mayoral race? He wrote an incisive Editorial on homelessness entitled “Forget the library, dispel myths about homelessness.” In that piece he avoids mention of the name of any mayoral candidate, but Mr. Cowles’ myth-busting is a perfect repudiation of Nadine Woodward’s fear-mongering on the issue. The myths he busts could be run as support of Ben Stuckart’s grasp of the “Realities” Mr. Cowles emphasizes. He cites a Washington Policy Center panel discussion as a good source for the facts. In the Spokesman’s coverage of that panel the two most progressive panelists, City Councilwoman Kate Burke and Jonathan Mallahan, Catholic Charities’ vice president of housing, mostly clearly grasp Mr. Cowles’ facts. Will Mr. Cowles conservatism, the WPC influence, and the huge infusion of cash support for Woodward from the Washington State Association of Realtors lead him to endorse the very conservative Ms. Woodward in spite of her rejections of fact? We’ll see.

The Spokesman Review is Spokane’s only daily. The ownership of the Spokesman, several regional weeklies, and KHQ, by the Cowles Company gives the Cowles an outsized voice in the region, the kind of voice that could be used to nudge electoral opinion. To that voice we own much that is positive in our community. Historically, the City of Spokane’s park system and a number of public works were supported by public opinion that was systematically cultivated by Cowles media influence. (See a great resource book, “News for an Empire” (1952) available to read and search online for free.) 

The influence of the Cowles family dynasty has loomed large in eastern Washington for a hundred and thirty years. The Cowles’ influence is not and has not been strictly partisan. Democratic and liberal voices are found in Cowles-owned media on some issues, However, the growing connection of Cowles media with the Washington Policy Center’s single-minded right wing Republican advocacy should raise of flag of caution…especially in the area of political endorsements.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Cast of Characters of the Cowles Newspaper Dynasty:

William H. Cowles Sr. (1866-1946) purchased the Spokesman-Review in 1897, many details of his life can be found in “News for an Empire

married to

Harriet Cheney Cowles ( -1938) memorialized in a library and a foundation

William Hutchinson Cowles, Jr. (1902-1971) ran the paper 1946-1971

married to 

Margaret Paine (1902-1991)

William Hutchinson Cowles III (1932-1992) ran the paper 22 years 1971-1992, died suddenly while jogging

married to 

Allison Florence Stacey (1934-2010)

William Stacey Cowles (1960- ) publisher of the Spokesman from soon after his father’s untimely death in 1992 to the present. He has an undergraduate degree from Yale and an MBA from Columbia

married in 1989 in New York to

Anne Boden Cannon Cowles (?1964- ) of Ridgewood, NJ,, Undergraduate degree from Holy Cross, Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia

Elizabeth (Betsy) Cowles, Stacey’s sister, Bachelors from Dartmouth, Doctor of Law from George Washington University, is chairman of the Cowles Company