I have always been puzzled by some people who have strong, consistent opinions about issues of the day but don’t believe that editorial pages should have the same. Despite explanations to the contrary, some true believers insist that editorial pages should be unbiased. At first, I thought they were being disingenuous or close minded. Now I think it is just that they don’t buy what editorial pages do. In a interesting way, it supports Jay Rosen’s case of the damaging effects of the View from Nowhere. And it gives editorial pages an opportunity for more transparency.
This attitude became a little clearer to me after an exchange on Facebook yesterday with Marcus Kindley, former Guilford County Republican Party chairman. The issue came up at Mark Binker’s FB page and concerned House Speaker Thom Tillis canceling his subscription to the Charlotte Observer because it was too liberal. (I have edited our exchange slightly to eliminate asides. I have not changed any spelling, sentence structure or punctuation.)
Marcus: “what I’ve always found disturbing is that, yes a newspaper in NC might say yes for 140 years the Democrats played dirty tricks time and again, with the lottery, the budget, appointments, campaign contributions etc. but come election time they endorese the Democrats Time and again. so the reporting means squat if they haven’t the integrity to endorse someone else. Just watch this coming year and they’ll all fall in line at the editorial board to endorse the Dems, unless the Republican has no chance of losing or does not have an opponent.”
Me: “Just for the sake of discussion, Marcus, have you ever supported a Democrat? Editorial pages are like individuals. They have fundamental principles on which they base their support of candidates. It isn’t surprisingly that they tend to support one side more consistently than another, just like individuals.”
Marcus: “With the premise you put forward the paper should not present itself as a NEWS organization, but a mouthpiece for their own Political agenda. And they should change their name to: We are the propaganda wing of the NC Democrat Party, just for truth’s sake, but alas that would take courage and honor. As far as supporting a Democrat I haven’t found one worthy of my support in recent history…. Just to be clear John, as I understand you to say, the editorial Board is not unbiased and therefore we all should look at it’s comments with suspicion of the truth being ….. left out if it doesn’t fit their narrative.”
Me: Let me be clear, too. The editorial board is responsible for the editorial pages. That’s it. So, your assumption that it governs the entire paper is not correct. Editorial pages, by definition, are opinion. Let me turn the rest of your comments around. Are you saying that we all should consider your opinion with suspicion of truth being…left out if it doesn’t fit your narrative? I would assume the answer is no. At least I hope so. The same is true of editorial pages.”
Marcus: “John, I don’t hold myself out as the Holy Grail of Truth, but in answer to your question, I don’t hide behind ” Jouralism” in my opinions. I state my beliefs and all know where I stand, in my opinion the editorial board endeavors to give the impression that they are the aribrators of truth an all should bow down to their declarations from on high…Why not try this on the editorial page, with each printing… We represent the Progressive Liberial Opinion of the Democrat Party on this page. At least then the casual observer will know where you are coming from, from the get go.”
Me: “I believe that editorial pages do just what you say at the beginning of your comment. I think they state their beliefs and people know where they stand on whatever issue they are opining on. Unlike you, they don’t represent one political belief system, which is where we differ, I suppose. I have seen editorial boards oppose tax increases and support Republicans. As a reader of the N&R, you have, too.”
When they are at their best, I think editorial boards do what Rosen describes later:
For example, if objectivity means trying to ground truth claims in verifiable facts, I am definitely for that. If it means there’s a “hard” reality out there that exists beyond any of our descriptions of it, sign me up. If objectivity is the requirement to acknowledge what is, regardless of whether we want it to be that way, then I want journalists who can be objective in that sense. Don’t you?
And Kindley has a point, I think. Editorial boards need to fly their political colors higher so that readers know what they value, how their opinions are formed and from where their authority comes. The alternative is that readers will assume Kindley’s position or worse.