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In Final Election Stretch, Newspapers Weigh In With Endorsements

October 28, 2008 at 6:25 PM EST
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As Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain make their final cases to voters in critical states, newspaper editorial boards are weighing in with endorsements of the candidates. Editors from across the country detail which candidates their papers backed and why.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining me now are four editorial page editors to discuss their newspapers’ presidential endorsements. Backing John McCain are Robert Kittle from the San Diego Union Tribune and Bob Rayner from the Richmond Times Dispatch.

And backing Obama are J.R. Labbe from the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Harold Jackson from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Thank you, all four of you, for being with us.

Robert Kittle, I’m going to start with you, the San Diego Union Tribune. You endorsed John McCain. Why?

ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: Well, we based our endorsement, Judy, primarily on the economic policies that the two candidates espouse. And, frankly, we think that McCain’s emphasis on tax cuts and on controlling spending are what are needed to get the economy moving again.

And we are troubled by the tax increases that Barack Obama has advocated. He wants to increase the capital gains tax, which is particularly hurtful to businesses and to job growth, and his general emphasis on taxing the wealthy to redistribute wealth.

I think the emphasis ought to be on spurring the economy broadly to generate more wealth across the board. So it was really on the economic issues that we based our endorsement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, J.R. Labbe, Fort Worth Star Telegram, you were one of, what, 43 newspapers so far around the country that endorsed George W. Bush in 2004, but have gone to the Democrats this year. Why?

J.R. LABBE, Fort Worth Star Telegram: It wasn’t an easy decision, Judy, but we approached this recommendation by looking at five areas that the newspaper had historically weighed in on, issues like the economy, energy, tax policy, health care, immigration entitlements.

And by looking at both men’s policy stands, we felt that Obama’s more closely tracked where we had been on those issues.

Beyond that, we felt very strongly that McCain may have made a short-time tactical stroke with his selection of Sarah Palin, but strategically long term we believe that that was a mistake.

Her sell-by date came and went fairly quickly for us. While it energized the Republican base to get the voters out that they need, we really didn’t think she had the readiness to be the number-two in this nation should something happen to the commander-in-chief.

And that was important to us, but it was not an easy decision, in a county that is the reddest of the red in Texas and second only to Orange County in its Republicanism.

Editors explain decisions

Bob Rayner
Richmond Times Dispatch
But another theme that we hit was that we believe that McCain is simply superior in terms of judgment, experience on foreign policy and military affairs, and we still believe this is a dangerous world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to come back to some of those points you made, but let me turn now to Bob Rayner from the Richmond, Virginia, Times Dispatch, another endorsement for John McCain. Tell us why.

BOB RAYNER, Richmond Times Dispatch: As with the San Diego paper, Judy, we were concerned about some of Obama's economic policies. We mentioned that, in the Great Depression, which followed a financial panic similar to the one we're seeing today, two of the big mistakes in economic policy were raising taxes and restricting trade.

And Obama has made clear that he's going to increase taxes on capital, on businesses. We don't think that's wise. He's been all over the place on trade. So that worries us.

But another theme that we hit was that we believe that McCain is simply superior in terms of judgment, experience on foreign policy and military affairs, and we still believe this is a dangerous world.

We mentioned in the editorial that we're a little concerned that one of the dangers is that the people of the United States are not so convinced that this is a dangerous world anymore.

So we believe that McCain is head-and-shoulders superior to Obama in terms of experience. You know, Obama has talked about Biden helping him on foreign affairs. And from the comments we've seen from Joe Biden recently, it doesn't seem like he's going to be much help in that department.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. And, again, I want to come back to some of those points, but, Harold Jackson, to you next, the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why Barack Obama?

HAROLD JACKSON, Philadelphia Inquirer: Well, we did a similar thing, in looking at the candidates' records in a series of editorials that we did in the two months prior to our endorsement.

And on each one of those issues, Barack Obama was the superior person. He was most closely aligned to the positions that we have taken.

The bottom line for us is that we felt that there were two real criteria to look at here, and the most important one being leadership, but hope also was one that we looked at.

And we said in the end that hope, when properly directed, yields positive results. And we thought that Barack Obama was the best person for America at this time when it's looking for hope.

Weighing in on the issues

J.R. Labbe
Fortworth Star Telegram
They don't see the sort of socialism mantra that keeps being hyped by the Republicans as something to fear in Obama. They don't see it that way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Kittle, I want come back to you in San Diego. You said that the economy, their positions on the economy were the main factors in your decision. Was this mostly a pro-John McCain argument or an anti-Barack Obama argument in your mind?

ROBERT KITTLE: Well, that's a good question, Judy. And I think it was pretty much even on both sides.

I mean, we had as many concerns about Barack Obama as we had favorable things to say about John McCain. So it's hard to get into everyone's heads. And we had a very spirited debate on our editorial board. It wasn't a unanimous point of view among our editorial writers.

But in general, I think the general expectation was that McCain also brought more leadership to the position and that, while Barack Obama has demonstrated a great articulate way of describing the issues, he's knowledgeable about the issues, but he really is untested. So that's a bit of a gamble.

And with McCain, as we stressed in the editorial, he has been tested. And we don't have the same kinds of concerns that we would have with Barack Obama in terms of experience.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Bob Kittle, some of the others have mentioned the vice presidential choice. How much of a factor was that for you?

ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I think it was a negative factor, quite frankly, not a huge one, not a decisive one, but Sarah Palin...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean negative...

ROBERT KITTLE: Negative in terms of John McCain's judgment, that is. Sarah Palin, frankly, I think most members of our editorial board would question whether she's ready to step into the Oval Office. And so, as I said, it wasn't a decisive factor, but it was a negative factor for John McCain in the minds of our editorial board.

JUDY WOODRUFF: J.R. Labbe, back to you in Fort Worth. Let me ask you the same question. How much of this was pro-Barack Obama and how much of it was a concern or an argument against John McCain?

J.R. LABBE: I would say that the pro-Obama outweighed the negative McCain, but we certainly looked at issues that we are concerned about with Obama's policy.

Texas is a very strong right-to-work state. Free trade is extremely important to us. We are right plump down in the middle of the NAFTA superhighway, so NAFTA is important.

That is a concern of ours when it comes to looking at Obama's stated platforms about free trade.

But we believed in looking at the overall policies and, like Harold said, there is that issue of hope, that ability to energize ethnicities, gender, race, and youth that have never been engaged before in the political process. We don't believe that that can be diminished.

And that young vote is going to be particularly important, because they don't see black and white. They don't see the sort of socialism mantra that keeps being hyped by the Republicans as something to fear in Obama. They don't see it that way. So that young vote is going to make a tremendous difference in this election.

Senator McCain is a war hero. He served his country nobly. But from a north Texas perspective, he has been no friend to our local defense industry in some of the programs he's been against.

And his work on the campaign finance bill sat uneasy with some of our people who believe that free speech is manifested in how one gives their money to support candidates. So there was reason for people in our area not to like McCain.

Paper staff deliberated carefully

Harold Jackson
Philadelphia Inquirer
What we said about John McCain is that there were some troubling aspects about his candidacy. And very clearly, the Sarah Palin selection as the vice presidential candidate was troubling to us

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Rayner, I want to try to get at this question of how much was this for McCain and against Obama. But what about the factor that we just heard J.R. Labbe mention, this whole notion of generational change and hope? Did that factor into your discussion?

BOB RAYNER: Well, we mentioned that in our editorial. I mean, we praised Obama for his temperament. We praised him for the historical nature of the campaign and how much excitement he's generated.

Our editorial was primarily a pro-McCain editorial. We did criticize Obama on some policy points, some specific things that bothered us, the fact that he was very slow, very reluctant to admit that the surge in Iraq worked.

We're distressed by his support of the union check card bill. And we were equally concerned that he simply doesn't have a whole lot of experience in foreign affairs, so we have some concerns about Obama. We didn't question his character.

But the focus of the editorial was on McCain's strengths, both in policy, particularly economic and foreign affairs, but also his judgment. We think he's demonstrated judgment and, frankly, political courage from time to time, not only with supporting the surge long before it was popular, he's frequently gone against his own party when it's not always been in his best interest, so...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me -- I was just going to say, let me step in here, because I want to come back to all four of you on another question.

But, Harold Jackson, let me come to you on this question of how much for Obama. You mentioned -- the two factors you mentioned were leadership and hope. How much of what you discussed were negatives where John McCain is concerned? And how much disagreement was there on your editorial board?

HAROLD JACKSON: Well, we never discuss the internal workings of the editorial board. There was dissent. In fact, we did something very different, unheard of for our paper. We actually ran, in addition to running the endorsement editorial, we ran a short dissent that was written by the members of the board who dissented.

But our editorial, our main editorial was about Barack Obama. It listed his positives on a number of issues, about six or seven issues that we felt were important to Americans.

Now, we did discuss John McCain. And what we said about John McCain is that there were some troubling aspects about his candidacy. And very clearly, the Sarah Palin selection as the vice presidential candidate was troubling to us.

It smacked of pandering to certain elements of the electorate. And, you know, it was troubling. It seemed to be something in which John McCain was again doing a Hail Mary, trying for something, and possibly jeopardizing his campaign in the process.

And you have to wonder if he would be that type of president who would take that type of chance and perhaps jeopardize the nation.

Readers write in with reactions

Robert Kittle
San Diego Union Tribune
But I would say most of the letters that we have received have argued for Obama, because I think readers tend to write when they object to an editorial. You don't get as many letters saying we agreed with the editorial.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me just come back to all four of you very quickly and ask you what reaction you're getting. Bob Kittle, to you first in San Diego, what sort of reaction have you gotten from your readers?

ROBERT KITTLE: Well, the readers are on both sides of the issue. San Diego is a red county.

But I would say most of the letters that we have received have argued for Obama, because I think readers tend to write when they object to an editorial. You don't get as many letters saying we agreed with the editorial.

So we've certainly aired a number of letters from people who say, well, you also endorsed George W. Bush, so your endorsement doesn't mean much to us four years later, and we're going with Obama. So it's actually -- it started a good debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm going to quickly turn to J.R. Labbe. I want to get to all three of you in a minute, reaction from...

J.R. LABBE: Well, yesterday, Judy...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

J.R. LABBE: ... it was quiet, too quiet yesterday. I was surprised at the lack of immediate reaction to the endorsement. Since then we have, like Bob has had in San Diego, you hear from the people who don't agree with your recommendation.

And as of noon today, we had about 170 readers who had canceled their subscriptions, including the Tarrant County Republican Party headquarters, which canceled its paper. They'll be back, but they're sending us a message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And very quickly, Bob Rayner in Richmond reaction from the readers?

BOB RAYNER: We didn't have a quiet day. We heard from a lot of our readers. A lot were thrilled that we endorsed McCain. And there were obviously quite a few upset that we didn't.

We endorsed Bush the last two elections. I think some of our readers on the Republican side were worried that we might endorse Obama, because we'd written some editorials that praised him. So they were greatly relieved that we came down on McCain's side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Harold Jackson in Philadelphia, what did you hear?

HAROLD JACKSON: Well, yes, we heard from readers. We got the most comments from our decision to run the dissenting opinion underneath our endorsement editorial.

Our liberal Democratic readers just could not see why we would do that. It was unprecedented. We did it. And I think that the result is probably something positive in that it started a good discussion about that process among editorial boards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this has been a great discussion. And we thank you all four for joining us. Harold Jackson in Philadelphia, Bob Rayner in Richmond, J.R. Labbe in Fort Worth, and Bob Kittle in San Diego, thank you all.