Critical Thinking: Should Newspapers Make Political Endorsements?

Critical Thinking: Should Newspapers Make Political Endorsements?
ep_logoThis column originally appeared in print in Editor and Publisher magazine on Aug. 16, 2012.

The second Saturday of my internship with El Nuevo Herald, I was sent to a restaurant in Little Havana for a story. There, a Cuban man, angry with the Herald for not covering his event that morning, called me to his table to begin what was more of a lecture than an interview. Taking shots at President Obama and Fidel Castro, he looked for my accord, face red, hoping I was as livid as he was about “el presidente liberal” and “los comunistas.” I could only muster the understanding nod I had learned from Oprah Winfrey and Morley Safer.

I’m not afraid of political opinions or apathetic about government, elections, or even Cuba. I vote, and sans press badge, I debate. But opening my mouth in that restaurant, freeing any sound of affirmation or disapproval, would have forever changed the way the man read my stories and the newspaper as a whole. So I stayed quiet.

Why shouldn’t newspapers do the same regarding political endorsements? They already have power to shape the political process, bringing scandals to light and sending reporters to the state house, the White House, and the courthouse. Newspapers vet candidates and report their stances on the issues, however temporary.

The American newspaper is a one-of-a-kind forum for fact and opinion. In Spain, readers expect ABC to champion Rajoy. Le Monde’s French readers want stories to lean slightly center-left. But in the United States, we crave papers stripped to the facts, giving space, when appropriate, to all on the editorial page. That objectivity was born of a sell-as-many-papers-as-possible mindset, but we’ve held onto it for much nobler reasons.

Editors don’t want my stories to have a political leaning. And if they think endorsing a politician on the opinion page won’t taint my stories just the same, they’re wrong.

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August 16, 2012

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