Bil Browning

A maverick and a mouse: A tale of two newspapers

Filed By Bil Browning | October 27, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Alaska, Anchorage Daily News, Barack Obama, election 2008, Indiana, Indianapolis Star, John McCain, newspaper endorsement, Sarah Palin

Two large newspapers printed their presidential endorsements this weekend. The Indianapolis Star and The Anchorage Daily News are both the newspapers of record for their respective states and have the largest circulation numbers. That, however, is where the similarities end.

The Alaskan newspaper makes a nod to their Governor's historic candidacy, but in the end the Daily News endorses Senator Obama.

Gov. Palin's nomination clearly alters the landscape for Alaskans as we survey this race for the presidency -- but it does not overwhelm all other judgment. The election, after all is said and done, is not about Sarah Palin, and our sober view is that her running mate, Sen. John McCain, is the wrong choice for president at this critical time for our nation.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, brings far more promise to the office. In a time of grave economic crisis, he displays thoughtful analysis, enlists wise counsel and operates with a cool, steady hand. The same cannot be said of Sen. McCain.

The Star, however, decided to "withhold an endorsement in the presidential race this year." The Indianapolis newspaper will not support the Republican presidential candidate for the first time in four decades, but they can't bring themselves to actually endorse Obama.

After lengthy and impassioned discussions, the Editorial Board remains evenly divided, along philosophical lines, over whether McCain or Obama is the better choice for president. For that reason, the board will withhold an endorsement in the presidential race this year.

That decision should in no way discourage any voter from enthusiastically casting a ballot. The issues facing the United States are critical, and the two major-party candidates offer sharply contrasting visions of how the nation should proceed. It's more vital than ever that Americans help shape their future by active participation on Election Day.

The Anchorage Daily News has truly decided to take a courageous stand. While Gov Palin is currently riding the wave of the national campaign, like Cinderella at midnight, pundits and polls think she'll be sent home with her pumpkin soon. If she keeps her day job as Alaska's Governor, she will be able - at least to some degree - to control the newspaper's political access; the sensible route would have been to endorse your soon-to-lose Governor and curry favor with her administration.

RoveProjects.jpgMeanwhile, Senator Obama has fought hard to win Indiana's electoral college votes. Hoosiers haven't supported a Democratic ticket since Lydon Johnson, but things are looking awfully blue lately. Regardless of CNN's maddening refusal to move us out of the "Leans Republican" category, three polls released last week showed Obama leading McCain in Indiana. MSNBC lists us as a tossup state. Even Karl Rove has turned our state blue on his website tracking the election.

In these days of declining circulation numbers for print newspapers, investigative journalism has become one of the first casualties of the traditional media vs online content wars. Newspapers have consolidated or been swallowed up by large corporate entities; editing and proofreading has been outsourced overseas at many large dailies. Entire sections of the paper have been cut as part of the cost-cutting measures and even the grocery store circulars have moved to direct mail now that the newspapers reach fewer and fewer people. Election year endorsements has become one of the few standards of greatness left clinging to the presses like Spanish moss.

Sadly, the Indianapolis Star decided to shirk their duty - to abdicate the only responsibility left to them. While our state - and the country - tilt decidedly blue, Hoosiers are left wondering if the Star has any relevance left with the community. Meanwhile, Daily News readers can know that their newspaper of record took the time to thoughtfully make a decision based not on populism, cronyism or party affiliation, but on a careful analysis of the candidates.

What mavericks.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 27, 2008 12:18 PM

Wow. I'm really surprised by the Anchorage Daily News. When the most widely read newspaper in your own state endorses your opponent, that says a lot!!!

The star's a pretty sucky paper anyway. Not surprised by this.

Actually, I think Alaskans have the good grace enough to be embarrased by Palin, unlike my state, which should be hanging it's head in shame and telling anyone who will listen that, Bush is a yankee carpetbagger and not a native Texan.

Yeah, no surprise about the Indy Star. It's always been a yellow rag.

Wilson46201 | October 27, 2008 7:27 PM

To the Star's credit, they did endorse progressive Democrats like Congressman André Carson as well as Mary Ann Sullivan, John Barnes and Ed Delaney for the Indiana House...

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 27, 2008 8:12 PM

I too was hopeful that the Indianapolis Star would endorse Obama, and believed it a distinct possibility. So I was disappointed a bit.

On the other hand, knee-jerk bashing of the Star and associated name-calling tends to overlook what those of us who have lived in Central Indiana for over 40 or so years well recall: The days when the publishers, the Pulliam family, and their puppet editorial staff marched lock-step with the most right-wing of the right wing of the Republican party, every day, every week, every year. I still recall as a grade-schooler in 1948 listening to my dad reading a typical editorial diatribe against Democratic President (and nominee for re-election) Harry S. Trumen, using terms as "this vile and treacherous man", in endorsing his Republican opponent Thomas E. Dewey. The paper was uniformly Paleolithic when it came to social issues, it was one of the last holdouts in condeming the excesses of Senator Joe MacCarthy, and did the bidding of radical right-wing Indiana Senators William Jerrer and Homer Capehart. TOday's Star is a far, far cry from what us "old timers" in Indiana recall.

Anyone during most of the Star's history would have believed it unthinkable that this newspaper could ever in their wildest dreams have editorially opposed the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" in 2007, as it did.

So yes, I was disappointed, but find significant comfort in the fact that this newspaper, with all of its history, shunned strong precedent and failed to give the nod to the Republican candidate. Alex, call it a "sucky" paper if it satisfies you; Polar, if it does someting for you day to term is as having always been a "yellow rag", whatever works for you. As for me, I tend to see a little progress. But we always must make the perfect the enemy of the good, don't we?

I completely disagree, Don. The Star has swung away from their roots in Dan Quayle's family, but that doesn't excuse their lack of an endorsement. In fact, an endorsement of McCain wouldn't have spurred this post - just because they would have at least endorsed someone.

To utterly abdicate their responsibility of endorsing a presidential candidate is to give up their last bastion of relevance. Most of us don't get a chance to interview the candidates directly like several of the editorial boards do nor do we influence the public with our opinions. The Star keeps telling us they are needed in the community as a thought leader and source for unbiased information. If so, they have a duty to sort it out and make a decision.

As one of the few things people specifically pick up a newspaper copy for, the election endorsements are a high priority for most dailies. In these days of dramatically declining circulation numbers, the Star's lack of direction is directly reflected in their reduced readership.

As Andrew Sullivan said today about newspaper circulation numbers, "The latest data are more than worrying. These declines in circulation have come during one of the most riveting campaign stories in modern times. If the news of the last twelve months cannot sell papers, nothing can."

Yet, the Star takes it one step further. If they can't make a presidential endorsement "during one of the most riveting campaign stories in modern times," they have no hope of surviving.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 28, 2008 8:13 AM

From a survey of Star reader reactions, your view on this seems to be carrying the day, although frankly I detect more of a "how dare you not recognize the superiority/historical inevitability of Barak Obama's presidency" than a neutral principled stand. My purposes was not really to defend the Star but to try and provide a little historical perspective.

As to the impact of "sitting on the fence" on circulation, although perhaps there will be a few angry "Cancel My Subscription Immediately, You Awful Fence-Sitters!!!!" phone calls, they almost certainly would have been dwarfed by either "Cancel My Subscription You are worse then Robert Ayres ever could have been!!!!", or (a bit fewer) "Tell the carrier never to throw your McCain-Palin right-wing rag onto my driveway again!!!!!" missives. Not to mention the impact of the Internet as an alternative news/opinion source for many.

It may well be, as you assert concerning the election for the President this year, that "The Star keeps telling us they are needed in the community as a thought leader and source for unbiased information. If so, they have a duty to sort it out and make a decision." Maybe that duty in this case means making sure an editorial board consists of an odd number of members, or some mechanism (coin flipping?) to deal with a tie. But I'm not sure that having a role as a "thought leader and source for unbiased information" automatically carries with it a duty to go one way or another on all issues or candadacies. Sometimes the best opinion may be that neither candidate makes the grade.

So I'll continue to pass on whether or not that duty exists. If I pull in my arms and legs I can probably survive in the median strip of this two lane highway. At least long enough to hit the "submit" button.

This has been one of the most groundbreaking elections in history. Indiana is in play for the first time in over 40 years. Candidates are spending unprecedented sums of money in Indiana for a presidential election.

This is one of the most historic elections in history and the Star decides to sit it out to play it safe. That's pathetic and proves exactly why their numbers are tanking and their relevance is dwindling.

I can't imagine defending sitting on the sidelines of history, Don. I just can't.

It certainly was a disappointment that the Indianapolis Star chose not to endorse either candidate; however, it was not a surprise as the Indianapolis Star has become a daily disappointment. More than 40,000 Indiana citizens were one block away from the Indianapolis Star offices on Thursday standing and waiting for hours to see and hear the next President of the United States. Barack Obama decided to come to Indianapolis with little more than two days notice for a scheduled eleven o'clock in the morning, on a work-day speech. The crowd was black , white, rich, poor, old, young and everything in the middle. No one minded waiting. No one complained about the wait or the lines. There was electricity in the air and loads of enthusiasm. The crowds lingered after the speech with many of us feeling we had seen an historic event. I know it was historic. Barack Obama was dynamic. Barack will heal the divisions created by eight years of Bush-Cheney-Rove and company. I am hopeful our Civil Rights will be restored and this Country will again be respected around the world as it was before Bush. For the Star to have all of this going on outside of their own offices and be blind-eyed and oblivious to history as it is being made tells what a dying industry stale news has become. The Indianapolis Star may be the paper of record in Indiana, but a weekly could do just as good a job as they have done over the years. My partner and I voted today. We both felt empowered and proud of the fact that we voted for Barack Obama. There were hundreds of others voting. I think Indiana will be a very BLUE state on November 4th when all of our votes are counted. The lines were long, but no one seemed to care even though it was chilly and took a while. The only thing that seemed to matter was that everyone we talked to was purpose-driven and I feel pretty good knowing we all had the same common purpose.