Sunday, October 24, 2010
ARE NEWSPAPER ENDORSEMENTS INSULTING TO VOTERS?
There was a day and an age when newspaper endorsements were worth their weight in gold.
But no more!
Times have changed and newspaper endorsements in addition to being no longer not worth their weight in gold but carry the added baggage of actually generating a contrarian reaction. A voter is more and more likely to say: "If The Repository endorsed candidate x, then I am voting for the opposing candidate because The Rep is so incredible to me that if they are for candidate x, then something has to be wrong with that candidate."
So how is it that newspaper endorsements are not the rave they once were?
The Report believes that the erosion set in when voters began realizing that neither political party had answers for the many problems vexing communities, and that increasingly they were more alike than different in the solutions (as unreliable as they were anyway) they offered.
So what does this have to do with newspapers?
Most newspapers gained a reputation of being the handmaiden (editorially speaking) of either the Republican or Democratic parties. Locally, The Repository has been known as Republican in orientation, whereas the Akron Beacon Journal is Democratic in leaning.
As the electorate has loss confidence in America's two political parties; they have also lost confidence in those allied with them. In this sense, both The Rep and the ABJ have been victims - in terms of editorial credibility - of their own biases.
It also used to be that voters would take the final list of a newspaper's endorsements with them to the polls and dutifully vote every one of the candidates/issues as recommended by the newspaper editorial staff.
Somewhere along the way, voters became more and more aware that newspaper gurus were no better informed than they were and, moreover, it was embarrassing to have to admit in a candid conversation with friends and neighbors that they followed voting marching orders from the editorial staffs at The Rep and the ABJ.
It is okay to cite a well-reasoned newspaper endorsement in a given race as a reason for voting for candidate x, but to take the list "lock, stock and barrel" is another matter. Obviously, newspaper editors implicitly suggest to voters that taking their list of endorsements into the voting booth is a wise thing to do.
However, voters through experience know better.
For instance, how many Stark Countians voted for deposed Stark County Treasurer Gary D. Zeigler because of The Repository endorsement? Think that doesn't leave a foul taste in the mouth of those who followed that Repository recommendation?
Another Repository example: Janet Weir Creighton when she ran the first time for mayor of Canton. David Kaminski, the then executive editor of The Rep, announced after The Rep endorsed her, that he planned to write ad nauseam trumpeting the endorsement.
Of course, this was the same guy who wrote metaphorically that The Rep was a 800-pound gorilla that buy ink by the barrel.
So the opinion was not "merely" an opinion (i.e. the Creighton endorsement). It became something The Rep was intent upon jamming down the readership's throats.
And, of course, The Rep is Stark County's only countywide newspaper, and as a monopoly, one has to be bombarded with the arrogance expressed by Kaminski, if one is to read a newspaper that deals with the whole of Stark County.
There is very compelling evidence that newspaper endorsements are not all that persuasive these days. Many endorsed candidate lose. It is likely that more win than lose, but the operative factor is that newspapers are biased toward incumbents and the winning has more to do with incumbency than with the endorsement.
As endorsements go, the SCPR believes that the ABJ endorsements are more credible than those of The Repository.
Because The Report's take on The Rep's endorsements is that they are more "from the gut" than the ABJ's, and the ABJ not only endorses in a more thoughtful way, but also points out qualities about the non-endorsed candidate that provides more material for the voter to make his/her own choice.
"His/her own choice?"
Yes, "his/her own choice," that should be the way one votes. Voters should gather information about the candidates from many sources and should get to know candidates on a one-to-one basis in local races which is a doable exercise.
WHBC's Ron Ponder - "Points to Ponder" - and yours truly had a discussion this past Monday on the need for voters to become better informed. We agreed that "to help Stark County voters become better informed" is our primary mission for being.
Unfortunately, both of our area's major newspapers serve as gatekeepers, and censor what gets out to the general public about public officials and candidates.
Why would they do this?
It is hard to say. Serving their biases? Not wanting to undermine public confidence in officialdom? Undoubtedly, there are a number of rationales for the filtering.
It is said that "information is power," and, indeed, it is.
For our democracy to have credibility, decisions have to be made by individual voters making considered judgments. Merely being conduits for the likes of newspaper editorial boards is to avoid personal responsibility which is the cornerstone of our democratic way of life.
Voters should look at newspaper endorsements as one bit of information of equal weight with many other bits of information and opinions they gather in determining which way to vote.
Taken in this context newspaper endorsements are okay.
But to the extent that voters are encouraged to use them as a forfeiture of their individual choice in the exercise of the franchise, they are at best insulting to voters and, at worse, do a great deal of harm.