Often, newspaper endorsements are not universally endorsed. Shocking, I know.
Some folks think we make lousy picks. Others believe we shouldn’t be picking at all. A few are elated by our decisions. Many of them work for the candidates we chose.
Endorsements got a lot of attention this week. The Des Moines Register shocked some folks by picking Mitt Romney for president. We shocked almost no one by also picking Romney. I’m told that, since the 1940s, The Gazette has backed every Republican nominee, except in 1992, when we picked Ross Perot.
But should we bother?
Speaking for myself, as one member of the editorial board, which does the picking, I say yes.
We’re an institution that has public opinions, almost daily. Those opinions are expressed by the editorial board, which is a completely separate entity from the reporters who cover campaigns. We consult their work as we size up the candidates, but they don’t consult us on coverage.
And as an editorial board, we express editorial opinions on all sorts of policy issues, state, local and national. So I think we also should have opinions on who is going to be making those policies. And I’d argue the process leading up to our endorsements, which includes several weeks of interviews with candidates up and down the ballot, is more important than the final outcome. Being engaged in the electoral process helps us take better-informed and thoughtful editorial stands after the election.
And it’s important to consider what endorsements are not. They’re not voting instructions. They’re not guidance for political coverage. They’re not predictions. They’re not publicity ploys. They are simply the editorial board’s preferences, announced as many of our readers prepare to make their own important choices. Do we always agree on who to pick? Nope. This year’s presidential endorsement sparked a lengthy, spirited debate and yielded a very close vote. And I think that reflects the fact that our endorsements are not some elite pronouncement from on high. We struggle with this stuff like a lot of voters.
And I think going through that struggle and having to make a tough call gives us a better appreciation for candidates and voters who are now navigating a treacherous political landscape.
Some newspapers have stopped doing endorsements, perhaps hoping to stay above the fray. But the fray is where issues we care about are being shaped, so I believe we should be in there, too.