In the mainstream newspaper business, the news department and the editorial page are divorced from each other. Sometimes, they're also divorced from reality.
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Take last Sunday's New York Times, with its ringing endorsement of John Kerry for president (Oct. 17). It's great stuff. It calls George W. Bush's tenure as president "disastrous." It accuses him of having turned the government over to the "radical right," indeed, a wing that embodies "the worst aspects of the American right without any of the advantages." After finding Kerry fit for command, it rumbles toward a dramatic and reflective conclusion: "We look back on the past four years with hearts nearly breaking, both for the lives unnecessarily lost and for the opportunities so casually wasted. Time and again, history invited George W. Bush to play the heroic role, and time and again he chose the wrong course."
Wow, a stinging indictment. But it rings hollow. Why?
Because, if George W. Bush really is as bad as the New York Times editorial page says, you'd never know it from reading the Times. If our American Empire is on the verge of collapse under Nero's reign, the paper of record has been fiddling while Rome burns. They've been chasing nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and cleaning up after the serial fabrications of that madman with a press pass, Jayson Blair. But worse, they've been covering for Bush by offering stories and analysis that present the administration as legitimate, mainstream, just like any other but with a Texas twang.
A critique of that Times stance was in the same Sunday's "Week in Review" section. The Times' public editor, Daniel Okrent, has been musing about whether the paper is politically biased or not. This week, he presented the views of two other critics, one left and one right, who make their cases for the Times' editorial tilt. I found Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin's views to be on target.
The Times' pro-Bush bias isn't the stuff of outright advocacy, like The Washington Times, writes Gitlin, but is found in the paper's overall approach to reporting: "[T]he Times' decorous approach to the news has often helped President Bush in three significant ways: by equating his gross deceptions with Mr. Kerry's minor lapses; by omitting or burying news of administration activities and their consequences; and by missing the deep pattern of Mr. Bush's prejudices and malfeasances."
In other words, it's the lack of the kind of perspective and judgment displayed in the Kerry endorsement that skews the paper's news reporting and makes the endorsement read like something out of the blue—or too little quite possibly too late. The Times has hardly been driving the story line that America has been seized by a right-wing destroyer. If they had, maybe they'd have found something better to call him than "Mr. Bush."
The cognitive dissonance generated by tension between news and editorial pages can also be felt when a paper makes a political endorsement that contradicts the usual logic of its editorial stances. Nearly every campaign season, The Seattle Times gives us a fresh example. The generally mainstream-to-liberal endorsers at the Times have backed right-wing GOP loonies Linda Smith and Jack Metcalf for Congress. And then there was 2000, when, after earlier endorsing liberal Bill Bradley for president because he was so sensitive about race issues, they chose Bush over Al Gore (and race was never mentioned again).
This year's entry: Sunday's endorsement of Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate for governor. The Times chooses to ignore Rossi's out-of-the-mainstream views on abortion, gays, and teaching creationism in public schools. "We take his word," they write with blissful naïveté, that his candidacy isn't about social issues, apparently buying Rossi's claims that it isn't the governor's job to worry about such things (despite the fact that battles over education, gay marriage, and defending a woman's right to choose are being fought every day at the state level, in Washington, and elsewhere). This is the same "moderate" crock that Dubya sold America (and the Times) four years ago. No, the Times finds there aren't any other issues in the gubernatorial campaign worth addressing, save one: changing "the administrative culture of Olympia" by slashing business regulations. They conclude that there's no better custodian of our business climate than a right-wing shill for the building industry, a commercial real estate agent who worked for a crook and launched his own political career by defeating enviros in his own party. Yes, just the man to change the culture in Olympia.
But what's good for Oly isn't good enough for the White House, because Seattle Times has endorsed Kerry, a vote of confidence amplified in a Monday, Oct. 18, editorial praising the senator's ardent environmentalism and matched by an adjacent Kate Riley column giving kudos to Rossi's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Christine Gregoire, for her "monumental" role in getting the feds to clean up Hanford.
So let me see if I have this straight: We need an environmental fighter like Gregoire in the White House (that's Kerry), and a governor pushing Bush's economic policies in Olympia (that's Rossi).
In the context of the Times' usual editorial page values, the Rossi endorsement doesn't pass the smell test. Gregoire is the prototypical pro-business, Gary Locke–style Democrat the Times has been touting for years. Why have they dumped her now? Was it the Klanlike robes she wore at Kappa Delta? Does she subscribe to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer? Is the Times undergoing an ideological makeover?
This inquiring mind wants to know because the ringing in my ears won't stop!
Ok, time to take your shots. This issue features Seattle Weekly's endorsements, or what the P-I's Joel Connelly likes to call "the kiss of death." Read 'em, then go out and prove Joel wrong!