October 22, 2006
Understanding Newspaper Endorsements

It seems some of our friends in the liberal blogosphere are immensely confused about the process of newspaper endorsements. Indeed, some conservatives would question the value I place on them at times. A brief discussion of both points is in order.

On the latter, conservatives used to newspaper endorsements going against them tend minimize their value. At times, that choice is correct (see the P-I). Yet newspaper endorsements remain a notable potential boost to campaigns, especially challengers. When an upstart candidate seeks to dethrone the incumbent, the independent validation of a prominent, thoughtful newspaper endorsement can be quite helpful, especially for purposes of campaign momentum. Candidates like Mike McGavick who win such endorsements tend to crow about them. Challengers who fail to receive them find themselves staring at a missed opportunity to move their campaign forward.

As to the liberal blogs, their reaction to recent endorsements by the Seattle Times has only served to weaken whatever credibility they may have had with non-liberal readers. The Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) blog responded to the Times' endorsements of Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris, and Mike McGavick. Horse's Ass chimed in with a vengeance on the Reichert endorsement as well.

What's striking about their retorts, other than the fact both websites imply writers at Sound Politics are responsible for the drafting of the Reichert editorial, is the harshness of their language.

NPI says about the Reichert endorsement:

This editorial is, without a doubt, not worth the paper it's printed on. The Seattle Times has disgraced itself and its reputation with a nonsensical, shoddy piece of writing that does its readers no service. The Times is marginalizing itself and its owner, preoccupied with his hatred of the estate tax (both state and federal) doesn't seem to care.

And about the McMorris' backing from the Times:

The Seattle Times is rapidly losing credibility and relevance with its readers and with the community. Its owner's delusional obsession with repealing the estate tax has turned the Times into a one-issue paper, and that's a shame.

Then further on the backing of McGavick:

Frank Blethen and his editorial board are nothing less than deceitful hypocrites...Frank Blethen seems clearly bent on destroying the Seattle Times' credibility, and he's doing a fine job of it. His endorsements are indefensible, his rationale is ludicrious [sic], and his criticisms of Democrats have been bizarre, false, and one-sided.


The Seattle Times may as well start editorializing daily on repeal of the estate tax, and only repeal of the estate tax - because that's all their owner really cares about.

Goldy, of course relies on profanity to convey his more nuanced points:

Once again failing to distinguish between being serious and being solemn, this soporific and stiffly written unsigned editorial displays the intellectual rigor mortis that has come to define the dying newspaper industry...To this there is only one reasonable response: [Bleep] YOU!

Ok, timeout. A brief discussion here on how the editorial board process works.

Some would have their readers believe Frank Blethen merely holds court while his dutiful writers scribble away, hurriedly transcribing his words of wisdom for conversion into future editorials. In reality, the editorial board meets with candidates then deliberates to make a decision as a committee. Based on the slightly left-of-center tilt of the Times, sometimes such decisions are close, such as their 2000 endorsements of George Bush and Maria Cantwell. Sometimes they are more decisive as a slate, such as 2004 when the paper endorsed John Kerry, Patty Murray, and all the Democratic Congressional candidates in western Washington. Sometimes they are not as one-sided - though if the Times' one motivation is to end the estate tax then their 2004 endorsements down the Democratic ticket would be beyond ironic.

In reality, to suggest that their decision making process is driven only by one issue about which the publisher happens to care is rubbish. Does one really think Jim Vesely, Lee Moriwaki, Joni Balter, Lance Dickie, Bruce Ramsey, Kate Riley, and Lynne Varner are all going to bow to their publisher and exercise none of the journalistic integrity of their positions? That is insultingly trivial. Person for person I suspect I'd disagree with most of those individuals on a majority of the issues of the day, and I've not been shy about criticizing them in past. But to think they're just a bunch of stooges for Frank Blethen is laughable.

Yet, NPI in particular would have you believe this:

Many observers were confident the Times would endorse the incumbent, Senator Maria Cantwell. After all, to endorse her challenger would be an insult to the Democratic city and state where the Seattle Times calls home.

As if editorial boards sit around pondering the impact on its readership based on what editorial positions they decide to take. Please. I've worked with editorial board members all over the Northwest for my day job, and dealt with a number of candidates going through the endorsement interview process. I've not once encountered such a notion.

Moreover, even if once accepts the amateur Oliver Stone conspiracy theories about the Blethen family, how does one explain the Bellingham Herald endorsing Mike McGavick, or the Spokane Spokesman Review endorsing Cathy McMorris? Perhaps it might be that some editorial board members find them and their candidacies more impressive than those of their opponents. Good people can disagree about such things.

I have no qualms about tearing into an editorial board when one thinks they're dead wrong, but creating an army of straw men clothed in the dark uniform of deceit supposedly designed by one newspaper publisher really doesn't deserve a place in serious public discourse.

Posted by Eric Earling at October 22, 2006 09:47 PM | Email This
1. I'm a little confused by your inclusion of the Spokesman Review in this. The SR is super conservative as is the family that owns it. Why would anyone think the SR would indorse Goldmark?

Posted by: me on October 22, 2006 09:52 PM
2. Eric,

Just some corrections for you:

"On the later, conservatives used to newspaper "

Should later be latter?

Posted by: pbj on October 22, 2006 10:10 PM
3. pbj - good catch, thanks.

me - the Spokesman endorsed McMorris' opponent, Don Barbieri, in 2004, and recently endorsed Larry Grant (D) in this year's race for Idaho's 1st Congressional District. The family might be conservative, but the paper's editorial board is not solidly Republican, and Goldmark is in theory the kind of Democrat they could support.

Posted by: Eric Earling on October 22, 2006 10:22 PM
4. The S-R isn't super conservative, unless you are Leninist. Why do all those folks call it the Socialist-Review? Been a decade since I was in tune with Spokane, but I doubt much has changed.

Posted by: AP on October 22, 2006 10:26 PM
5. Blood's thicker than politics and Don Barbieri probably dines with the SR folks at the Spokane Club and buys lots of ads in the paper.

You can't really compaire 04 and 06.

Posted by: me on October 22, 2006 10:34 PM
6. Rally for Mike McGavick with Dino Rossi, Senator John Thune, and Dave Reichert at the Bellevue High School Arcade on Monday 10-23 at 6:00 PM. Sounds like a good one! I'll be there. Hope many other SP'ers show up, too!

Posted by: Michele on October 22, 2006 10:38 PM
7. Eric,

Remember, these are the same people who believe that Bush Blew Up The Trade Center Towers, regardless of whether they admit that openly. The only thing impressive about Goldstein, et. al. is their uncanny ability to insulate themselves from reality.

The biggest insult to their own intelligence and arguments comes from Goldstein and Co.'s regular reliance on the mainstream media as it mostly suits their needs. But then to suddenly find themselves in gleeful agreement with the right in declaring the death of the mainstream media when it fails to endorse a cause du jour.

This kind of entertainment is priceless. Nothing is going to be more satisfying than watching the en masse personal meltdowns of the left after November bears witness to the real majority.

Posted by: Jeff B. on October 22, 2006 10:59 PM
8. Most people have no idea how a newspaper works.

Posted by: Reporterward on October 22, 2006 11:35 PM
9. I'm just not sure why anyone cares at all about endorsements. What we are talking about here is an opinion. Yes there are more objective things like experience, but what it comes down to is whether you like McGavick's views or Cantwell's. I am really not sure why anyone should care what a small group of journalists and editors think about these things.

Granted in smaller races its is free press, which is generally a good thing, but in a state wide race I just don't see it mattering. Whether its the PI and Cantwell or the ST and McGavick.

Posted by: Giffy on October 23, 2006 06:29 AM
10. "The SR is super conservative...."

No, it isn't. Perhaps you dreamed it.

This, after all, is the paper that in 2004 used sleazy innuendo to accuse George W. Bush of being a druggie. The story was so pathetically weak that even the rest of the Bush-hating media didn't pick it up.

Posted by: ScottM on October 23, 2006 06:44 AM
11. Like it or not, some voters are swayed by editorial endorsements. For various reasons, the correct endorsement will be enough to cause some people to make a final decision about a candidate or issue. And the endorsements give the affirmed campaign something to rally around during the waning days of an election.

In my area, the candidates HATE to be endorsed by a certain editorial board. It's like death to a campaign and the opposing campaign will use the endorsement as a weapon. What's funny is that I don't think the newspaper even knows it! This editorial board came out against I-920 and in their editorial, they made a better case for it than I have seen anywhere.

Posted by: Elaine on October 23, 2006 07:04 AM
12. The Spokesman-Review is also the newspaper that entrapped Republican Mayor Jim West by hiring a computer geek to "out" him.

Posted by: cc on October 23, 2006 07:21 AM
13. Eric asks:

"Does one really think Jim Vesely, Lee Moriwaki, Joni Balter, Lance Dickie, Bruce Ramsey, Kate Riley, and Lynne Varner are all going to bow to their publisher and exercise none of the journalistic integrity of their positions? That is insultingly trivial."

And Don Ward answers:

"Most people have no idea how a newspaper works."

The answer to your question, Eric, is a resounding YES. That is how THIS newspaper works. Please do not claim to know more than I do on this subject.

Posted by: ivan on October 23, 2006 07:46 AM
14. I wonder if the SR is truely interested in the truth. Are they one of the papers that is pressing to reopen the Divorce records of Dotzauer so the people of Washington can have ALL of the facts before voting? Any paper worth its ink would be.

Posted by: Smokie on October 23, 2006 08:20 AM
15. Gosh iban, did you used to change the urinal cakes at the slimes building as well?!

Posted by: alphabet soup on October 23, 2006 08:29 AM
16. To ALL "Disaffected Conservatives":

No one can make you vote. But if you are one of those people who doubted the patriotism of the left when they leaked and published secret counter-terrorism programs, smeared good people, down-played the economy, or slandered our troops, look in the mirror. Assess your own feelings of patriotism as we were all urged to do after 9/11. And then ask yourself, is refusing to vote the act of a patriot and whose interests does that serve?

Posted by: John425 on October 23, 2006 10:15 AM
17. So John425 ... i completely understand your point. However, how are the republicans ever going to learn to be conservative if we keep re-electing them with no consequences.

once they have spent more than all democrats have since LBJ, if not now, then when? I think the Republicans just laugh at their base after every election and try to win the affection of the leftist who you say you don't like. It would be nice to see democrats trying to be conservative then the current embarrassment we have.

Posted by: John McDonald on October 25, 2006 11:15 PM
18. The Democrats have "distinguished" themselves here as a bunch of whiners, narcissistic spoiled snots and finally victims. This shows up in their reactions to the Seattle Times endorsements. If they would show more class in their dissent, I would be more inclined to want to empathize with their point of view.

What this says to me is that the Democrats running for that particular office are too mediocre and pathetic for a typically liberally slanted newspaper to endorse. Credit to the Seattle Times for reaching for the truth and being objective, which is more that can be said for the Pee-Eye.

Note that many candidates are distancing themselves from Bush & it is possible for a party to have some decent candidates in spite of the mediocre performance (in a number of areas) of a sitting President of the same party.

Posted by: KS on October 29, 2006 08:49 PM
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