In a commentary published in the Maine Sunday Telegram of Sept. 2, a former campaign aide to President Barack Obama asserted that the Maine newspaper’s decision to stop endorsing candidates for political office is nothing less than an abdication of the newspaper’s responsibility and a threat to democracy.
Michael Cuzzi, who now manages the Portland and Boston offices of VOX Global, a communications and public affairs firm, accused the newspaper, owned by hedge fund investor S. Donald Sussman, who is married to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, of “catering to right-wing political pressure.” He contends that a newspaper somehow has an obligation to urge voters to support one candidate or another — that voters cannot make an informed decision on their own without receiving an assessment of a candidate’s knowledge and demeanor by an editorial board.
In their editorial announcement on Aug. 31, editors of the Telegram pointed out that “editorial endorsements are a tradition from the 19th century, when American newspapers were affiliated with political parties. Those newspapers existed to affect the outcome of elections, not just to report on them.”
Today’s newspapers, whether published daily or less frequently, offer opinions on all manner of subjects on their editorial pages. Each day or week, they choose an editorial topic from a nearly inexhaustible array of subjects and issues. Many still do endorse candidates. Others, including this newspaper, do not, with rare exceptions. Are we to assume, as Cuzzi asserts, that those newspapers that limit their comment to matters other than those seeking political office, are shirking their responsibility? We think not.
Cuzzi suggests that, without newspaper endorsements, voters face “a critical shortage of credible, impartial and factual information” and will be “making decisions on a paucity of information, often from sound bites, TV ads or other anecdotes….” That is true only for voters who make no attempt to seek out the wealth of candidate-related information generated by responsible news organizations in a variety of media, including newspapers.
Most major newspapers, and many smaller publications, make an earnest attempt to report on political campaigns, interview major candidates, ask tough questions and report the results of those efforts to their readers in the news columns. In the weeks leading up to a local, state or national elections, regular readers of those publications will have ample opportunity to assess that information — credible, impartial and factual information — as they make their choice of candidates. It’s silly to assume that those who aren’t regular readers will flock to the newsstands for that one issue containing candidate endorsements before they make up their minds.
In their editorial announcing the change in endorsement policy, the Telegram editors asserted: “We will still look hard at the candidates and probe their ideas. We will tell you when we think that they are right and when we think that they are wrong, and we will tell them what we think they should do. We’re just not going to tell you how to vote.”
That sounds just right to us.