One theory as to why the Oregonian won't endorse a candidate in the presidential race.

By Edward Hershey of Portland, Oregon. Hershey has spent 50 years as a communicator with stints in journalism, government, education and labor, most recently as SEIU Local 503's communications director. Previously, he contributed "Oregonians standing up against the national anti-tax movement".

You don't have to be much of a cynic to read far more into the Oregonian’s announced decision to skip a presidential endorsement this time round than the paper-thin philosophical rationale it offered.

The editors’ decision to reveal what was probably the most newsworthy item in the ninth paragraph of an 11-paragraph editorial — this is known in journalism as “burying the lead” — betrays their own recognition at what silly logic they offered. By the standard the editors set forth— “our CNN-level view of the presidential race is similar to everyone else's” — future editorials should hardly ever look beyond Oregon’s borders.

This is about pragmatism, not philosophy. What is most likely at play here is that the two men now driving editorial policy at the O — publisher Chris Anderson and editorial page editor Erik Lukens — understand it would be bad business to endorse Romney. But both would just about die rather die than endorse Obama.

Ergo, the cop-out.

Now the background: Anderson is a company guy sent in three years ago to run the Oregonian by corporate parent Advance Publications. It was something of a homecoming for a product of eastern Oregon who edited the student paper at Oregon State, but also a trip into alien territory for an executive who felt at home publishing dailies in Orange County (Calif.) and Colorado Springs, two of the nation’s most conservative bastions.

There was one early dust-up over Anderson’s refusal to accept an ad in favor of Measures 66 and 67 unless the sponsor deleted copy critical of his own position, but otherwise the new publisher seemed to bide his time in terms of exercising editorial control, possibly because he and long-time editorial page editor Bob Caldwell shared eastern Oregon roots.

Caldwell had generally navigated a middle ground editorially, tempering his own conservative sensibilities in recognition of the paper’s liberal readership. But his death in March gave Anderson the opening to bring in someone ready to steer to the right. He did so and them some, with the importation of Erik Lukens from the Bend Bulletin.

Lukens is an Ivy League-educated ideologue whose very conservative views were well catalogued in a series of blogs on the unapologetically liberal Our Oregon web site. And his influence on Oregonian editorials can hardly be disappointing his boss, the publisher. These days the paper’s editorials seem to be right there with the Wall Street Journal if not the Weekly Standard on most issues.

Alas, given the Oregonian’s economic slide, which has accelerated under Anderson, the paper can hardly afford to alienate even a few readers. Thus the decision not to endorse framed in a preposterous ostensibility: we’re just not sophisticated enough in backwater Portland to advance an opinion on who should run the country so we'll leave that to the big guys and stick to such local subjects as gill-netting and capital punishment.

I’ve seen this play out once before, back in 1972 after the Times-Mirror Corporation purchased Newsday, where I was a reporter. Times-Mirror was tight with Nixon, an anathema at Newsday even before the Watergate scandal broke. But there was no way a Times-Mirror paper could endorse McGovern. So our publisher announced — purely on philosophical grounds you understand — that we would forswear presidential endorsements then and forevermore.

Forevermore turned out to be four years, which is what I suspect will be the timeframe for the Oregonian’s no-endorsement resolve, assuming there still is an Oregonian in four years.

Comments

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    I yearn for the days of Caldwell. Thanks for this informative post.

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    Considering the way the O-rag has treated public employees and particularly teachers,I wouldn't be surprised if all of the public employees of Oregon were to cancel their subscription in mass. If any are so inclined an good time would be a month before the next Oregonian board meeting.

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    The Oregonian is a terrible newspaper. It angers me that the editorial board that is so anti-Portland gets to avail itself of all the great stuff this city has to offer.

    Ever since the editorial board scandal (lying about their colleague's death while being a John + ensuing drama), I give these people 0 respect and consider them without credibility on any matter. Here's to hoping they go bankrupt in the near future.

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        plus Janie Har & Jeff Mapes.

        I have my complaints with the coverage (so many, many complaints) but my biggest one is the paucity of it.

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    I missed the O's editorial due to a vacation and the difficulty following them electronically...

    Ed, thanks for shining a bright light on it and bringing it to blueoregon.com readers' attention.

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    "Company man" is the correct title for Anderson. Gone are the days when the paper sought to be, well, a newspaper. Anderson's job one is to put out a facade of news, but clever culling & placement of copy lend a rightward bent to the "fair and balanced" fishwrap.

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    This year, The Oregonian will not be endorsing a candidate for president. The access and close observation that inform our endorsements for state and local offices and Congress do not apply in a national race; our CNN-level view of the presidential race is similar to everyone else's.

    This is a pretty lame thing to say for a leading newspaper. Endorsements, and for that matter editorials are about taking what is known and rendering a judgement. It doesn't matter how you get the information, or whether you are up close or far away. What matters is that the issue is important enough to warrant a public position.

    Taking the O at their word, they're either saying it doesn't matter who wins or it doesn't matter what the paper thinks. I think they're wrong either way.

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    Thank you to all commenters and especially to Blue Oregon for posting this. In the past year I submitted 35 op ed commentaries to the MyOregon site and each was posted -- http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/edhershey/posts.html . This was to be the 36th, but the Oregonian refused it.

    Paraphrasing an Indiana Congressman's oft-quoted admonition about barrels of ink, someone on the "10,000 Words" web site recently advised, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys their bandwidth by the gigabyte." But I'm not worried because I suspect the O's bark is worse than its gigabytes.

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    I would not be surprised if the O's parent company "Times-Picayuned" the O in the next 2-3 years. Publish only 3-4 times a week and let the oregonlive.com site do the rest. And given the way they obsess on PERS, I'll probably cancel my subscription. I can read the O most weekdays in fewer than 7 minutes. During football season it goes up to about 10.

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    Their claim that they will address national policy is sort of weird since they "have the same CNN level view" of that as of the candidates, presumably.

    If they are going to have views on policies, why not evaluate candidates on that basis?

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    I'm old enough to miss the Oregon Journal, got it delivered on my doorstep until it was bought out by the O's parent in the 70s. It was a real union supporting newspaper. If the O is so antagonistic to its demographic, why not have another newspaper with real news, and real writers and journalists?

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      My mom was a reporter for the Oregon Journal until 1982 when she was moved to the Oregonian. She loved the Journal! I'll never forget sitting in the news room as a kid, listening to the typwriters clicking away, waiting for her to make her deadline.

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        ...should say was moved to the Oregonian because it was bought out. If I recall, she (and her fellow journalists) were not very happy about the situation.

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    I wonder if the other major cities on the west coast, arguably about as far from DC as we are, have the same investigative problem as the O: Proximity. By that logic, the papers in Hawaii should carry no news of anything east of Provo and west of Seoul.

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