On January 22, 2012, then Chicago Sun-Times publisher John Barron and editorial page editor Tom McNamee announced that the paper would no long endorse candidates. “We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.”
I figured this would be a short-lived mistake, akin to the decision during the Rupert Murdoch era to put “ Wingo” on page 5 (and banner it on page 1). But the paper has stubbornly stuck to this policy that seems to me to be driven not by philosophy but by corner and cost cutting.
I understand the argument that endorsements don’t make much of a difference in determining how people vote. In races ranging from President to Congress, I don’t ever remember my decision being moved by a newspaper endorsement. On the other hand, as an editorial writer might put it, I do rely on endorsements further down the ballot; for example, in the utterly perplexing judicial races. On election day, I always rip the Tribune’s endorsement pages from the paper and bring them with me into the polling booth. I used to take the Sun-Times pages as well.
When, earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune and Crain’s and the Daily Herald all endorsed Bruce Rauner for governor, I was irritated all over again. Wouldn’t it be great if we had an endorsement from the city’s other paper whose reporters and columnists have done such a first-rate job of covering this race?
Since the no-endorsement policy was announced, I have periodically emailed the ever-patient Tom McNamee to ask when endorsements will resume. This email to him, for example, in February 2013: “I know I’ve asked you this question before, but it occurred to me again as I thought about the 2nd district special election to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.’s House seat. There are 16 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. It’s a confusing race with a splintered field and racial politics because of the one white candidate, Debbie Halvorson, among the African American contenders. The Tribune endorsed Robin Kelly; other personal endorsements have been all over the place, with Danny Davis and Bobby Rush endorsing Kelly yesterday, but Toni Preckwinkle endorsing Toi Hutchinson and Tom Dart Anthony Beale, etc. I don’t live in the 2nd District…. but I really would be eager to read a Sun-Times endorsement in this race. …. In-district or not, it does matter who’s in the Illinois delegation and in the House of Reps.”
McNamee has always politely responded, “There’s no change in the endorsement policy.”
I’ve also exchanged tweets and emails with media blogger Robert Feder, who seems equally or more irritated than I by the policy of a paper for which he worked for 28 years. A couple of mornings ago, Feder tweeted: “This looks suspiciously like an endorsement to me.”
And there on the Sun-Times editorial page was, “Economy only thing that matters,” which, while not using the conventional candidate endorsement sentence, “Bruce Rauner is endorsed,” and offering both positives and negatives for both Rauner and incumbent Pat Quinn, might as well have declared, “Rauner is endorsed”:
If Pat Quinn is re-elected, Illinois can expect a continued slow ascent. ….The danger — the real and formidable danger — is that recovery at this speed, such as it is, won’t come soon enough to save our state from ultimate and permanent economic decline. …..Rauner, a private equity investor by nature and politician by choice, does seem to understand down to his toes that time is up — big things have to happen fast or Illinois will become a backwater state, so economically far behind it can never recover. Illinois is desperate for big change, not cautious steps.
I again emailed McNamee: “Is this an endorsement of Rauner disguised as an editorial?….Is it indicative of a change in policy or of frustration among [the paper’s] editorial writers that company policy prevents them from making a conventional endorsement?”
McNamee referred me to the paper’s Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk, who answered, “This was not a backdoor endorsement. If it were an endorsement we would be upfront about it.” (In August 2012, Crain’s Lynne Marek reported that Kirk wanted to bring back endorsements. Marek quoted Kirk as saying, “Personally, I would like to…I don’t think my bosses are there yet.”)
At the time that Barron and McNamee made their announcement, Rob Feder, then blogging for Time Out Chicago, offered his take on the decision. “No matter whose words they were, there can be little doubt the orders came from the new owners of the Sun-Times parent company [Wrapports], who took over just after Christmas. In January of this year, Feder, who describes his blog as “an independent media blog that’s licensed by Chicago Tribune Media Group,” went further, writing that earlier reports that the paper would start to endorse again were wrong but that, “some Sun-Times insiders expressed relief that they’d be skipping the [gubernatorial] primary because they feared chairman Michael Ferro Jr. might exercise his prerogative to force the endorsement of Bruce Rauner, who sold his 10 percent stake in Wrapports before he became a Republican candidate for governor.”
At my and my editor’s request, Chicago magazine intern Harrison Smith researched to see if any of the paper’s owners/investors had given campaign contributions to Rauner. Smith came up with a few contributions from “known Wrapports investors” filed through the state board of elections. Joe Mansueto donated $205,300 to Citizens for Rauner between March 2013 and May 2014. William Wrigley, Jr. donated $35,300 and Linda Wolf donated $10,000 to the same group. (Smith only looked at direct donors to Rauner; investors could have given to third-party groups that have advertised on behalf of Rauner.)
Once the governor is chosen on November 4, the mayoral and aldermanic elections on February 24 will close in fast, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s keeping municipal elections in the background. With Karen Lewis out of the race, voters will probably easily enough make up their minds on whether to give Rahm Emanuel a second term, but there are also 50 aldermen candidates/incumbents to vote in or vote out. And voters will need help with those races. Even though we can only hope that the individual voter votes just once and in one ward, endorsements in the other 49 wards are worth reading. They will educate the citizenry on whether Rahm is getting the City Council he wants or whether Chicago’s taxpayers are getting the City Council that might best serve their needs.
Update: Five hours after Chicago posted this story, the Sun-Times announced it would again endorse candidates.