The editorial boardrooms of America's newspapers are abuzz with self-importance.
In the excruciatingly tight race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, campaign staffers painstakingly examine minutiae a winning public appearance, a serious verbal gaffe for its potential to sway undecided voters. And this year, with so many constituents clutching defiantly to their ambivalence, endorsements from the nation's newspapers may carry special weight.
Here's the logic: Even if fewer people are including newspapers in their daily routine, an election year spurs an upswing in subscriptions. And readers who are confused or angered by the candidates' swirling rhetoric often find their final decision made by the cool, ostensibly logical prose of their local broadsheet.
The endorsements, which started as a trickle a few weeks ago, are currently hitting the newsstands at a fast and furious pace (see chart). Within those pages lurk hints of local power struggles, independent voices in a sea of conglomerates and even a few startling reversals from years past.
The Seattle Times: The Times, which backed Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries, and Clinton in the 1992 and '96 elections, endorsed Bush, writing, "While Bush must still earn our trust for his own ethical behavior in the White House, Gore has already lost it." Although the Times recently entered into an operating partnership with longtime crosstown rival, Hearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the paper is still independently owned (by the Blethen family) and the papers compete fiercely for readers. And this year's endorsements leave little political middle ground: The Post-Intelligencer endorsed Gore. Washington state, of course, is famously up for grabs.
The Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard: The family-owned Register-Guard is proud of its local flavor. Perhaps not surprisingly, in a city where Ralph Nader's candidacy is discussed with great seriousness, the endorsement for Gore is tempered by a not-so-subliminal plug for the Green party: "Gore offers voters an opportunity to carry the policies of the Clinton administration forward, without the character flaws that nearly brought it to a premature end.... A strong Nader vote would tell the Democratic Party that it needs to be greener and closer to the people."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer: This Newhouse paper's resolutely anti-Gore stance is evident in their Bush endorsement: "George W. Bush should be the next President of the United States. Why, given nearly nine years of unparalleled economic expansion... does this newspaper endorse a candidate whose political experience consists of six years as governor of Texas? Because among his many other skills, Bush possesses a quality his opponent cannot claim: Authenticity." The Plain Dealer endorsed Clinton in '92 and again, somewhat reluctantly, in '96 a fact the Bush campaign is unlikely to forget: As Ohio goes, they say, so goes the nation.