An article in this week's New York Observer, by John Koblin, discusses the New York Times policy of forbidding its regular editorial columnists from endorsing candidates in the presidential election. With quotes from Frank Rich, Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, the article details how partisan discussion is approved and encouraged, but declaring outright a preference for a candidate is a no-no.
Former editorial page editor Collins said her predecessor Howell Raines explained the rule to her. Koblin quotes Collins as saying, "His thought, as I understood it, was that it would confuse people. Columnists could hint, and could make it clear, but we couldn't explicitly say it."
What supercilious poppycock! The Times expects its readers to be able to cleanly delineate the editorial board's endorsements (and who has any idea who's even on the Times editorial board?) from its election news coverage, but we're so addle-headed that we can't possibly distinguish the board's endorsements from those of the regular editorial columnists. And so as a remedy for this, the columnists are not forbidden from having a preference or even from arguing forcefully in favor of that preference, they just are forbidden from stating that preference.
This is why readers and viewers get incensed at the press, and why in a Rasmussen Poll this week a mere 22 percent of respondents felt that last week's Times article on John McCain was simply reporting the news. This we-know-better-than-you and we-will-take-you-by-the-hand-and-lead-you-to-the-correct-opinion attitude is what consistently gets readers riled at what is still clearly the best news publication in the country if not the world. And, by the way, which also led to the glee with which the public followed the Jayson Blair story.
If the opinion is that we, their readers, cannot take the information provided in its pages, digest it, weigh it and decide for ourselves who the preferable candidate is, and so require the editorial board to tell us, then why not let everyone whom the Times finds qualified to write opinions in its pages have their say? If, on the other hand, we're too apt to be befuddled by all this -- who really speaks for the Times (and who really cares?) -- then get rid of endorsements altogether. The general public is not really sure why newspapers feel required to pick candidates anyway, and many newspapers have considered doing away with them.
The point is that readers are not children: they can discern the difference between a news reporter's take on an election and the editorial board's. They can also discriminate between those big unsigned columns on the left page and Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman on the right page. The notion that the columnists have to be muzzled so as not to confuse the kiddies is insulting, paternalistic and ridiculous.
Grow up, Times. We have.