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.