When we sat down Monday to begin our discussion about whom to endorse for president, someone remarked that The Philadelphia Inquirer (which in Knight Ridder days was a sister paper of The State, but no more) had done an unusual thing — run an endorsement of Obama, and a dissenting opinion favoring McCain.
At that point, not knowing yet where we would end up but sensing that we’d be divided (I was right, by the way), I said that was quite a coincidence, because I had been about to suggest that wherever we ended up, we should run a same-day column from a board member favoring the candidate who did not receive our endorsement.
As of this moment, we plan to do that.
But what we’ll be doing will be wildly different from what Philly did, I realized when I actually went and read those pieces online. They didn’t have an editorial endorsement of one candidate and then a column from an individual dissenter. (For those of you who don’t understand the difference, an editorial is the institutional opinion of a newspaper, an opinion arrived at by the editorial board; it is therefore unsigned. A column is the opinion of the individual who signs it. Big difference, as far as we’re concerned.)
Instead, they had TWO SEPARATE editorials. At least, that’s the way it looks online. I’d be interested to see a copy of that day’s paper to see how it was presented.
First, they endorsed Obama, and did a pretty good job of it. It was better reasoned, I thought, than the much-ballyhooed Tribune endorsement (I came away from the Trib one thinking, Folks, if you’re gonna make history, do a better job of explaining the thinking that went behind it. You left me with the impression that you were "making history" just to say you did so.)
THEN, they had a separate editorial endorsing McCain, and the only explanation offered was this editors’ intro: "The Editorial Board’s endorsement of Barack Obama was not unanimous. Dissenters said:…" That was it. What followed was not only a differing opinion, but one seemingly based on alternative interpretations of reality. Like the first one, it was well reasoned, and even MORE strongly worded than the Obama endorsement. But the disconnect between them is weird. The first editorial complains of McCain’s "persistent deceptions in this campaign." The other one says flatly of McCain, "His word is good," and goes on:
Ask people to describe McCain and the first response often is, "He’s honest." What you see is what you get. There are no mysterious associations to dance around. No 20-year attendance of a church whose pastor preached anti-American sermons. No serving on an education reform panel with a domestic terrorist. No financial support from a convicted felon. No ties to a group currently under investigation for possible voter-registration fraud.
Those two thoughts — faith in McCain’s essential integrity and disappointment over the way he’s conducted his campaign — CAN be reconciled; they CAN be held by the same person or the same board. But reconciling them requires a coherent effort to do so, not starkly opposite statements.
Folks, I understand that choosing to endorse one or the other is not easy. It hasn’t been easy for us, and we did consider alternatives. But we have chosen, and will present the result this weekend, along with plenty of both supporting AND dissenting info. But what we say will be straightforward (I hope; we haven’t started writing yet). Philly was just confusing.
When I heard that someone had explained what happened at Philly in a blog post, I went eagerly to read it. But I was disappointed. It was just something from a former reporter at the paper — someone who would have known little of the editorial board’s workings even when he worked at the paper — offering little more than his uninformed guess about what happened. Basically, the paper has left a information vacuum that invites such speculation.
MY uninformed impression is that this is an editorial board in disarray, probably from too many leadership changes in recent years. The paper has had four editorial page editors that I can recall in the time I’ve been in this job, and I wasn’t trying to keep up with them — it could be more. (And that’s sad. At the last meeting of Knight Ridder editorial page editors in January 2005, the two people I remember being most impressed by were the two Philly editors, Chris Satullo of the Inquirer and Frank Burgos of the Daily News. Both are out now; Chris has stayed with the paper as a columnist, but Frank left.)
But then, I’m just guessing, too. The one thing I do know is that it was weird.