Chicago papers defy tradition on endorsements
"Citizen Kane" (1941)
The idea of the Chicago Tribune endorsing a Democrat for president once was as preposterous as the idea of the Chicago Sun-Times not endorsing anyone.
On Sunday, both were the case.
While neither move came as a surprise, it was hard not be struck by these twin signs of a vastly shifting media landscape.
Four years ago, the Tribune broke with more than 160 years of history when it endorsed Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, for president in 2008. The paper that had been founded to champion the Republican Party and the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln backed a Democrat for the White House for the first time.
Sunday’s endorsement of a second term for Obama (though not nearly as idealistic as the 2008 editorial) was one that not long ago would have shaken Tribune Tower to its foundation: “Bolstered by his steadiness in office, cognizant of the vast unfinished business before him, we endorse the re-election of Barack Obama.”
Even harder for some readers to fathom was the Sun-Times’ decision to opt out of political endorsements entirely. Last January, shortly after the paper was acquired by Wrapports LLC, the new owners announced they had “come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.” They also argued that an editorial board’s choice of one candidate over another can lead to perceptions of bias in news coverage.
The move was seen by many as an abdication of the paper’s responsibility to evaluate the qualifications of candidates and help advise voters, most critically in races below the level of president, senator or governor on the ballot. “Endorsements at the local level — especially for judges with Illinois' ridiculous system of elected judges -- not only are worthwhile but fulfill part of the obligation a paper has to its readers,” said Dan Miller, former Sun-Times business editor and policy advisor at the Heartland Institute.
“Since the new ownership group took over the paper, this change has gotten more attention than probably any other change they’ve made,” Crain’s Chicago Business reporter Lynne Marek said last August. “People really kind of hanker for a second opinion in this town . . . [and seem] disappointed not to have the counterpoint from the Sun-Times.”
Even Sun-Times editor-in-chief Jim Kirk acknowledged he’s not on the same page with his owners. When asked about bringing back endorsements at a Publicity Club of Chicago luncheon, Kirk said: “Personally, I would like to. I don’t think my bosses are there yet.”
Maybe they’re waiting for Jenny McCarthy to offer her opinion.