These days when I open the file where newspaper opinion pieces from around the nation are routed to my computer, I am greeted with these headlines: “Romney for president” or “Obama for president.” When it comes to newspapers in North Carolina, there’s the additional “McCrory for governor” or “Dalton for governor.”
Yes, we’re smack dab in the heart of political endorsement season. For the past few decades, the Times-News has not taken part in such endeavors. It was part of the corporate philosophy of our longtime owners, Freedom Communications, Inc. not to endorse candidates. And while I didn’t always see eye to eye with Freedom’s opinion page directives, I always agreed with that one. Here are the reasons.
1. I see little value in a newspaper endorsing a political candidate because it invariably colors how people judge our news coverage. 2. It’s arrogant of newspapers to presume to tell people how to vote for a political candidate, which is often a very personal decision based on factors unrelated to actual issues. 3. Nearly half the readers will love the choice, an equal segment will hate it and none will take the advice anyway. And 4. Besides, who cares what we think about politics?
So even when we were sold to Halifax Media earlier this year I was pretty dead set against changing that particular policy. As it turned out, Halifax didn’t want us to endorse candidates anyway. Obviously I’m cool with that and you won’t read candidate endorsements on our pages anytime soon.
But like Freedom, Halifax also believes it’s OK for its newspapers to write about ideas for potential endorsement or not. We took a stand earlier this year on the same-sex marriage amendment to the North Carolina Constitution. For this election, we will also offer an opinion on the Alamance Community College bond referendum and accompanying quarter-cent sales tax. We will do so in the Sunday Times-News.
Getting the president on the record
And speaking of presidential endorsements by newspapers, the matter came up this week for the Des Moines Register in Iowa. It has historically offered endorsements and often the presidential candidates — including the actual sitting president at the time of the election — would meet with the newspaper’s editorial board to get it. At some point Mitt Romney met with the board. Earlier this week, President Obama did so as well, but by telephone. The White House asked for an off-the-record interview, which almost made the newspaper balk. Ultimately, the editor and publisher agreed to the terms because, as they pointed out, they’re talking about an interview with the “leader of the free world.”
But they blogged about it until the matter rightly became a journalism issue. Eventually, the White House released the phone transcript of the conversation for publication.
Nice to know that the press still has a little clout with politicians, no matter how powerful.