Gerry Lenfest, the new sole owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, has jettisoned his paper's 185 year old tradition of political endorsements for this year's elections. He announced the move in a note to readers, "A Change on Election Editorials," published in Sunday's paper. Lenfest omitted an important fact from his announcement: he donated $250,000 to one of the candidates' campaign, Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
Lenfest, age 84, became the sole owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer after the tragic plane crash of his former partner Lewis Katz. Former Governor Ed Rendell hailed him and his wife Marguerite as the region's biggest philanthropists since former Ambassador Walter Annenberg, who was coincidentally the Inquirer's last sole owner.
The editorial page has been the source of much controversy at the paper. A former owner, George Norcross, also wanted to reduce the amount of the space devoted to opinion, a change that Lenfest then opposed. The paper will not ignore the upcoming election entirely, they will publish a list of where the candidates stand on the issues.
Some have speculated that Lenfest dropped the endorsements to avoid embarrassing his friend, Governor Corbett. His papers would have most likely endorsed Corbett's opponent, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Tom Wolf.
His son, Chase, scoffed at the notion that his father would have done this to help Corbett. "People who think that my father would not have the paper endorse a candidate because he wants a particular candidate to win are losers who only think that way because they are the type of people that would do something like that if they were in his position," said the son. "Good people (winners) would not think that way because it would be inconceivable if they were in that position to do something like that."
Lenfest asked readers to tell him what they think of the move at Gerry@philly.com Some have already responded via twitter.
Lenfest asks what ppl think of his guv endorsement evasion. My thoughts. 1) Cowardly 2) Embarrassing 3) Revealing http://t.co/24Jn7cY6SF
— Patrick Kerkstra (@pkerkstra) October 26, 2014
— Kati Sipp (@KatiSipp) October 26, 2014
There is some debate about the value of political endorsements, but they can make a difference in close races. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is reeling after two Kentucky newspapers endorsed his opponent, Democratic challenger Alison Grimes.
With Wolf leading in the polls by double digits, the change in editorial policy probably will not affect this year's Pennsylvania's gubernatorial election. However, it does portend a disturbing trend of future meddling by the owner.