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October 22, 2008

The endorsement

We have chosen not to endorse any candidates in this year’s Election Guide, partly because we’re tired of this hideous presidential campaign, but mostly because we believe that, given the information included herein and consistently in this newspaper, such choices are self-evident. In low-profile races, the political endorsement is often useful.

For instance, if you generally trust the judgment of your newspaper’s reporters and editors, you are likely to abide when they counsel you to vote for a certain candidate for judge — a race maybe you haven’t followed closely but would like to participate in nonetheless. It is not the same with presidential or congressional candidates. They have spent months (if not years) and millions of dollars precisely so they can endorse themselves directly to you.

There are websites, countless newspaper and magazine articles — truthfully, almost any bit of information you could desire is there for the taking, and it takes minimal judgment and effort to ascertain the accuracy of this information. For instance, the e-mail about Obama being a Muslim and, by extension, that being bad: False. Or, more pertinently, the one about Obama being a socialist: If you follow any news, you will understand that the Bush administration has just taken this country closer than ever to socialism with The Bailout (except socializing debt while continuing to privatize profit is more like a mixed economy of fascism). By offering tax breaks to the middle class, Obama appears to be attempting to draw it back the other way, though that’s a rich topic actually worth debating.

Mostly, mainstream media outlets appear to treat endorsements as a service, an opportunity to drop the veil of objectivity for a moment and be direct and honest with readers. We have no need to perform such contortions in the world of alt-weeklies — we do that every week. Our readers trust us to call foul when we see it, to praise what we consider necessary, inspired or just plain good, and to always play fair.

Fairness is not achieved simply by giving both sides equal time. It is found through honest attempts at truth, exposition and context, some of which are lost through contortions of so-called objectivity that allow for truth to succumb to innuendo and flat-out lies. We believe it’s more honest to work to advance the public dialogue from a point of disclosure, rather than attempting to cover or contain such humanities. This ethos not only enables us to offer deeper, more nuanced reporting and storytelling than your average daily newspaper; it allows us to engage our readers without the vagueness of inaccurate, preconceived notions.

Consider that the mainstream news cycle has been dominated of late by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama. Consider now that many of the newspapers that have played Powell’s endorsement as front-page news have also endorsed Obama — according to Editor and Publisher, as of Monday evening, the Illinois senator had secured 39 newspaper endorsements to McCain’s 15; the combined daily circulation of pro-Obama papers more than doubles that of pro-McCain ones.

How many people were waiting on Powell to decide whom to vote for? By extension, if you are using readership in part to judge what is major news, how does this qualify? It’s another way to cross-purpose a newspaper’s agenda against its staid image of objectivity, a walk-around that tends to foster mistrust among readers for its vaguely biased appearance.

It also ignores common reality, which is that people tend to be smart enough to make up their own minds when provided good, honest information; or, at the very least, allow their dumb animalistic urges to betray the gut-level rednecks hiding in the bushes along the McCain-Palin trail, and then we know who to avoid. The false construct that seems necessary to drive a mainstream daily’s agenda in this way erects an unnecessary barrier between consumer and reporter. Rush Limbaugh and his right-wing facsimiles have done a brilliant job convincing their consumers that mainstream media — however you choose to define it — is decidedly liberal, mostly by citing examples like I’ve just done. In the absence of a trustworthy news source to represent the conservative point of view, they conveniently offer themselves, having just been the deliverers of a stunning revelation that leaves you feeling vulnerable.

Neat trick, and profitable. The difference is motive. It’s easy to game a bunch of vulnerable people by subtly repackaging what they already believe into something that seems to need daily reinforcement. Judging by the size of our newspaper, you can believe that money isn’t our motivator.

My endorsement: Think.

Tagged: Editor’s Note |