I have no sense of loss because not one of Utah's six daily newspapers is editorially endorsing any candidate for public office this year. There are better ways to enlighten the electorate.
Refusing to endorse is in the Utah tradition. Only the Provo Daily Herald has regularly editorially favored candidates in recent years. This year the editors say they aren't very excited about any candidate. The Deseret News hasn't endorsed a presidential candidate since 1936, the Ogden Standard-Examiner and the Tribune not since they urged us to elect Richard Nixon.While ours may be the only state in which all the papers remain editorially neutral, the trend nationwide is away from endorsements. The American Newspaper Publisher Association's journal, Presstime, estimated this month that a majority of papers are or will be backing a presidential candidate. But a more thorough survey by the trade magazine Editor and Publisher indicated that only about a third would. Four years ago it was two-thirds. Go back 50 years ago and it was 90 percent.
I was amused by an Editor and Publisher editorial this week that pointed with alarm to this trend, saying endorsements help keep readers from floundering in "a sea of political hype and propaganda which presidential campaigns have become."
E&P reported that some editors believed that because fewer readers will be voting with their viscera in this "passionless" campaign, endorsements might influence votes more than they have in two decades.
-APPARENTLY MOST EDITORS see more dangers than benefits from marking endorsements. Take for instance Mike Simmons, managing editor of the Logan Herald-Journal. If he desired he could make independent political judgments on his editorial page even though his paper is in group ownership. But he says, "I have felt all along that newspaper endorsements make us appear even more arrogant than we are usually perceived today. When we start telling people how to vote, that reinforces the perception that we are know-it-alls."
Most Utah papers do come down on one side or other of specific ballot propositions. The Tribune, Deseret News, Ogden Standard-Examiner and Provo Herald are opposing the tax initiatives; the Logan Herald-Journal and the St. George Spectrum have taken no editorial stand on them.
-WHILE ENDORSEMENTS confined to the editorial page are legitimate, they don't and never have had a lot of impact. Nor do they clear away the fog thickened by negative ads, doubletalk, evasion, labeling and bogus issues.
What does help, and what we are beginning to see, is more candor and better analysis of the campaign itself and its conflicting campaign claims.
The media are at last talking forthrightly about the whole image-making process. Read the papers, watch the better TV programs, and you learn a lot about how candidates play to the polls and how shrewd campaign "handlers" use the media. The most fascinating story of this election is how the campaign is being manipulated. This campaign is, in truth, far from boring. Can you remember any time when a candidate admitted, as Dan Quayle did, that he was being led by the nose by his minders and vowed to break their control?
-ANOTHER IMPORTANT new wrinkle is that in the major races newspapers and television are at last making an independent effort to check the factual accuracy of candidates' statements.
It hasn't been so long since the press would let even the most outrageous misstatements made in the heat of the campaign go by unchallenged, in the name of objectivity and balance. Misstatements were supposed to be corrected by the opponents, not the press.
After the national debates, the networks, beginning with ABC, unleashed "fact checkers" to evaluate the candidates' utterances and to show where the more fanciful of these failed to square with the record. After the Quayle-Bentsen debate the Associated Press provided an extraordinary piece, the first of its kind I have ever seen, analyzing the candidates' statements issue-by-issue, to see if indeed there had been "distortions." It found plenty. It was a landmark effort.
More of this sort of thing ought to be done on the local level. If it is true, as some candidates are claiming, that the opponent is misrepresenting the record, why can't the media give us a more accurate and objective look at the record or at the issues in dispute?
-OFF ON A SPIN. One of the most intriguing and disturbing of the new campaign methodologies is the appearance of so-called "spinners." These are spokespeople who descend on the reporters after the debates or speeches and work them to put over how well their man did, to tell what he really meant, and so on.
I first heard "spin" as a political term a couple of years ago from Gregory Nokes, an AP Washington correspondent then in Salt Lake City for a lecture. Nokes told one of my classes that it was getting to the point where some Washington officials wouldn't talk to any reporters except those who gave their policies a favorable spin.
No doubt the press has its guard up against campaign spinners, but why not just tell them to get lost?