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    Tuesday, October 26, 2004

    Get your wimpy newspaper off of my porch 

    Talk about an election that's too close to call: As reported earlier, President Bush's hometown paper, the Lone Star Iconoclast of Crawford, Texas, endorsed John Kerry. Now we learn that John Kerry's hometown paper, the Lowell, Mass., Sun, has endorsed Bush.

    Those of us in the news profession probably make too much of newspaper endorsements. They probably fall more into the "preaching to the choir" category than the "persuading to cross the aisle" variety. People generally read political editorials to have their views validated, not their preconceptions challenged.

    But at least we're keeping a conversation going, and if we do it well, people might even stumble across an idea or two. There might be well be ensuing arguments, people engaged in the fine art of debate. I think it's fair to say that the electorate is involved this year as they seldom have been in recent history. Those of us in the opinionatin' bidness owe it to them to provide the fodder that makes the involvement interesting.

    After my endorsement editorial ran Monday (backing Bush, of course), I received two immediate pieces of feedback that were distinctly different (we sign our editorials, so people know exactly whom to call). An acquaintance in the building thanked me for writing "such a well-done piece" that made the case for Bush so eloquently. And an ill-tempered and anonymous reader let me know he could not possibly continue to subscribe to a newspaper that would print such drivel. Obviously I had succeeded both in captivating someon's intellect and pushing someone's emotional buttons. I'll leave it up to you to decide which was which.

    The Evil Empire across the hall (we're a two-newspaper town by virtue of a joint operating agreement) a few days ago came out with its endorsement, for Kerry, lamentably. Though I found their logic faulty, their reasoning specious and their conclusions laughable, I admired their dedication in taking a stand and backing it up. They were serving their readers, even those smart enough to disagree with them.

    I reserve my scorn for those who have wimped out, those great organs of public discourse that studied all the conflicting evidence on the greatest issue of our day and ... announced they just could not make up their minds. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has just joined the Tampa Tribune (two not small newspapers) to bail on their readers. The Plain Dealer even had the audacity to say, after announcing it could not take a stand, that it trusted its readers to be able to make up their own minds.

    Well, of course we all trust our readers to make up their own minds on every issue that confronts them. We give them our advice anyway, on the theory that we might have studied the issues a little more closely and that our readers might like to have our opinion as one more piece of evidence to consider. If a newspaper is going to duck the biggest issue to confront its readers, why bother to give them an informed opinion on anything? If I were a reader of the Tribune or Plain Dealer, I'd cancel my subscription immediately. They have shown themselves, in very serious times, to not be serious participants.

    If anyone's keeping score, by the way, the latest numbers from the Editor & Publisher Web site (as of Tuesday evening), have 142 newspapers with a combined circulation of 17.5 million endorsing Kerry and 123 papers with a combined circulation of 11.5 million endorsing Bush. Don't have a fit; this ain't the Electoral College we’re talking about.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:41 PM


    On the left: Carol Towarnicky, chief editorial writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, from a liberal point of view.

    On the right: Leo Morris, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel, from a conservative point of view.

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