Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decides to cease political endorsements

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, has announced that it will not make political endorsements this year.

The newspaper took a lot of heat for backing Supreme Court Justice David Prosser last year as well as Gov. Scott Walker in his recent recall election, even though the endorsements in both cases read to many people like apologies for the embattled candidates they backed.

In 2008, the newspaper endorsed President Barack Obama.

Editorial page editor David Haynes wrote in a column yesterday that making endorsements puts readers’ perceptions of the newspaper’s independence at risk during the election season.

He said the paper’s reportedly divided editorial board would continue to recommend candidates on occasion, but he called endorsements “a relic of a time when every town had more than one newspaper.” He said readers now have a wide array of commentary available.

Haynes said the newspaper’s editorial board would continue to share opinions on political issues, but they will leave the final voting decisions up to the voters.

As a Republican-leaning paper in a predominantly Democratic city surrounded by some of the nation’s most radical right-wing suburbs, MJS is in a no-win position when it makes endorsements, losing subscribers and advertisers from both sides. This was particularly true following this summer’s sharply divided gubernatorial recall race.

Still, reporters at the paper are said to be critical of the decision, accusing their bosses of wimping out.

“Inside the paper, I’m told, there’s the feeling that ‘we have two tough picks to make and we’re taking a pass,’ and the paper is less relevant because of it,” wrote Michael Patrick Leahy on Breitbart.com. The reference is to the tied race for president and the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Tommy Thompson.

Newspaper endorsements have little impact on voters, according to studies. But many in the media view them as a responsibility to readers.