October 26, 2000
Terence Smith discusses political endorsements with newspaper editors David Hawpe of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Susan Albright of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nolan Finley, of the Detroit News, and Frank Blethen of the Seattle Times.
Watch the background
report in streaming video.
Watch the discussion in streaming video.
TERENCE SMITH: In recent days, dozens of newspapers have endorsed either Vice President Gore or Governor Bush on their editorial pages.
In what may be the closest presidential election in a generation, many editorial boards were divided before going to press. Sometimes they exhibited their own gender gap. On Sunday, the Seattle Times editorial page editor told readers she and her women colleagues on the editorial board were on the losing side of the endorsement debate. The paper, which had supported Senator Bill Bradley in the primary, sided with Governor Bush in the general election.
In neighboring Oregon, another battleground state, the Portland Oregonian made a similar close call on the grounds that Bush had the "intellect, character, fortitude and talent to be a better president." However, unlike other Bush supporters, the paper defended Gore, saying "he is not dishonorable or a liar, as Republicans have tried to portray him."
Vice President Gore had some wholehearted backers -- among them, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which said he was "prepared to lead in the right direction."
Elsewhere around the country, the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio noted that Governor Bush believes that "government should be the last resort, not the first, when problems must be solved."
But the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says "Gore's basic philosophy of active government is fundamentally more sound."
A publisher's support has its limits. In 1936, Republican candidate Alf Landon won the great majority of editorial endorsements in the nation's newspapers, but was swamped at the polls by Franklin Roosevelt.
|Making the choice|
SMITH: For more on how and why newspaper editors are taking sides, we
turn to four who have chosen a candidate in the last few days. Louisville
Courier-Journal vice president and editorial director David Hawpe;
Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial page editor Susan Albright;
Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley and Seattle
Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen, who is in San Francisco this
evening. Welcome to you all.
FRANK BLETHEN: Well, we think that the decision needs to be made based on somebody's background and their actual behavior. Gore is basically an incumbent and we looked at issues of integrity, civility, honesty, philosophy of government, and in the northwest, trade and also education. And on those issues, it was overwhelmingly not Gore and time for a change and Bush is promising.
TERENCE SMITH: Susan Albright, why Vice President Gore for the Minneapolis Star Tribune?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: This was not a difficult decision at all for us. We feel that Vice President Gore has a long record of achievement. We do not buy the rhetoric that he isn't a man of integrity. We think he has much more depth on the issues than his opponent, and we had no trouble at all coming out for Gore. In fact, I believe our editorials over the past months and years led inexorably to this endorsement.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley your choice at the Detroit News Governor Bush -- why?
NOLAN FINLEY: Well, we think Governor Bush will be a better steward of the economy; we think he is better equipped to manage this surplus. In many ways a surplus is a more difficult challenge for a President than a deficit. There's a temptation to use the surplus to grow the government. We don't think Governor Bush will do that. And, quite frankly, Vice President Gore scares us to death because of his radical environmental agenda. We think that will cost Michigan jobs, particularly in the auto industry.
TERENCE SMITH: David Hawpe, Louisville Courier Journal, what was the overriding argument for Vice President Gore?
DAVID HAWPE: Well, I think experience certainly played the largest part. And we like Vice President Gore's experience. We are a sort of a New Deal Democratic paper. Some say our endorsement was fairly predictable since we have never endorsed a Republican for President of the United States, but we are a New Deal Democratic paper, and I think Al Gore not only is where we are on social issues and domestic policy but, in addition, and in a surprising turn in this election, he, it develops, is much closer to where we are on defense and foreign policy. It was really surprising to me to find that Governor Bush was as thin as he is on defense and especially on foreign policy; and that he is as reluctant as he seems to be to assert American interests abroad and support democracy with American power abroad.
|The editorial process|
| TERENCE SMITH: Frank
Blethen, as we noticed in the setup, there was division on your editorial
board at your paper as to the choice between the two candidates. Tell
us a little bit about the process. I mean, did you debate it within the
board? How do you do it?
FRANK BLETHEN: Well, we debated it extensively in two different sessions. We have purposely created an editorial board that has some pretty strong differences of opinions and views and on critical subjects like this and endorsements we don't think we're doing our job if we don't have some difference of opinion. I think where we're different than a lot of papers is that not only do we encourage that internally, but then we encourage the editorial page editor to write columns and to share that with the readers and give them insights into both sides of the issues as well as our process.
TERENCE SMITH: How democratic, Frank Blethen, is this process, lower case "d" here? In other words, were you, as somebody whose family has controlled the paper for a long time, were you prepared to be outvoted?
FRANK BLETHEN: Well, you know, it's as democratic... depends on how strong I feel about it and how strong the editorial page editor feels about it. A lot of issues we get full consensus in a lot of endorsements. The governor's endorsement, for instance, was unanimous consensus with the Democrat Gary Lott. But if the editorial page editor feels strongly enough about something, she might override a consensus. and I will do the same thing, although it doesn't happen that often.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, I mean, is the CEO's vote a little more equal than the others?
FRANK BLETHEN: It sure is.
TERENCE SMITH: I would assume. Susan Albright at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, how do you do it? What's the process there?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Well, we have a group discussion. We talk about things over time, too. We take a great look at tradition and at our own current thinking. I think on our staff we don't like to see a surprise endorsement. Somebody called it predictable. I think predictability isn't a bad thing in endorsement, because what it means is that you are building your credibility over time as a consistent voice, and so sometimes we have disagreements on endorsements and what we do is work it through to the consensus point where the group can say yes, we've reached a point that's right for this paper at this time in this race. And that's a little different from anyone exerting a certain kind of power or from voting. We don't do either of those.
TERENCE SMITH: And Susan Albright, does the management have a voice in this?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Oh, well, certainly. But our publisher really gives a lot of deference to our long-term stewardship, if you will, of the Star Tribune's editorial traditions and philosophy.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley, what's the process in Detroit? Do you poll your board? What's the publisher's role? How does it work?
NOLAN FINLEY: We all sit down, including the publisher, and talk about the candidates. In this case we invited both Governor Bush and Vice President Gore in for an editorial board. Governor Bush accepted; Vice President Gore declined. We discussed it, but really this was an easy one for us. We've been very much an opponent of Al Gore for a number of years, primarily because of his involvement with the Kyoto Accord and other things that we think would just be bad for Michigan, bad for the economy.
TERENCE SMITH: Any dissension on your board at all?
NOLAN FINLEY: Not on this one. Sometimes that happens but this time we were fairly unanimous.
|Consistency vs. predictability|
| TERENCE SMITH: David
Hawpe, you mentioned that your paper has endorsed Democrats over the years.
Does that, in your opinion, diminish the impact of an endorsement, partly
the point Susan Albright was making, about consistency versus predictability?
DAVID HAWPE: Well, it does until that day comes when we do something different, then that gives it tremendous impact -- and you know, that day may come. As I look back over the endorsements our newspaper could have made back through history, I see at least one great big glaring mistake that we made. You know, we should have endorsed Teddy Roosevelt but... no, I don't think that... I don't know that it diminishes the impact, but it does give us the opportunity to surprise people and have a special impact when we do depart from what people expect from us, and that happens frequently in local elections. We, this time, for example, endorsed Republicans and have been savaged for it by local Democrats and liberals who were very angry about it.
TERENCE SMITH: You endorsed Republicans at a state or local level?
DAVID HAWPE: We have often and we did this time. And we really were given down the road by some of our traditional supporters as a result.
TERENCE SMITH: Frank Blethen, what was the reaction from your readers since you had supported a Democrat, Michael Dukakis, in the past, now a Republican? What was the reaction?
FRANK BLETHEN: Well, the reaction was pretty strong on day one because we had a lot of people who I think had come to think that we were their voice, and the only thing that surprised me is how quickly people will forget the broader context and take one issue they disagree with. But there's really been two areas. Overwhelmingly, the division on our editorial board and what we're getting from the public is the choice issue. And it also, what we see is a huge gender gap -- women that are just simply unwilling to accept the question mark around Bush and choice and men who are willing to, who want a change and are willing to accept some unknowns around that issue. And in our case, since I've been involved heavily in the national effort to repeal the death tax, we got a lot of accusations from people who said that we were just doing this because Bush supports the death tax and what those people are ignoring is in nine Senate and Congressional races in Washington State we're probably going to end up endorsing nine out of ten Democrats, including endorsing against three Republicans who voted for death tax repeal and two Democrats who voted against it.
|The Nader factor|
TERENCE SMITH: Susan Albright, Ralph Nader is said to be a significant factor in your state. Was it in your decision?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: No, it wasn't in our decision although we have been talking about what we might want to do about the fact that 8 percent of Minnesotans apparently are interested in Nader, and we've recently had several people coming from national organizations through the state all of a sudden because of this interest in Nader, Jesse Jackson was in town this week, Representative NARAL [National Abortion Rights Action League] was in town, the Sierra Club was in town, national leaders coming through.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you mean, you've been saying, you've been talking about what you might want to do about it?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Well, if you notice today the New York Times had an editorial in which they were... it was not an endorsement editorial at all, it was simply another editorial, but it was about the Nader run for the presidency and why they think it was a bad idea for him to run in the first place and to stay in this long when it's clear that it's such a close race that he could have an effect on it.
TERENCE SMITH: Right.
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: So our board has been talking about Nader in those ways. We were not tempted to endorse him but, in fact, might be tempted to say something about him in regard to possibly hurting Gore's chances.
TERENCE SMITH: The impact of a vote, in other words?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley, do endorsements matter anymore?
NOLAN FINLEY: We see it as a guide for our readers. In a state like Michigan where the race is deadlocked, good number of people are still undecided it's another tool for them to use. Hopefully we've built up some trust over the years with our readers, they know where we're coming from, but this is a tough one for Michigan. We've got a poll out tomorrow shows the race still deadlocked at 42 points for each candidate. People here are having a tough time making up their minds. We hope that they'll find some of what we say about the candidates useful.
TERENCE SMITH: And possibly in a close race it will make more of a difference. Thank you very much. I want to thank all four of you. And we appreciate it.