OK, I’ll admit it. I’m more than a little puzzled and confused.
I’ve been a member of the Herald-Standard Editorial Board since it was formed in 1982, and I’ve never seen such vitriol and viciousness over an endorsement as our backing this year of Barack Obama for president.
For some reason, this past presidential campaign brought out rather extreme viewpoints about the candidates, especially Obama. In the past there had always been a certain civility in presidential politics. Even if you disagreed with a candidate there was a basic level of respect that was paid to those running for the highest office in the land.
But that was not the case this year. That line of civility was crossed and then some. We received numerous calls questioning our sanity in endorsing Obama with several threatening to actually stop their subscription to the Herald-Standard.
One woman I talked with said she was upset with our endorsement because Obama was “evil, un-American and unChristian.’’ Pressed for details she also called him a “Muslim terrorist.’’ Some people right here in Fayette County took to calling him the Anti-Christ.
So, to these people, I guess, our endorsement was seen as a sign that we were somehow backing Satan.
Realizing that people sometimes get a little fired up for presidential campaigns, we thought things would calm down after the election, but we were wrong as the calls and comments have kept coming.
Apparently upset at the results of Tuesday’s election, they’re now blaming us for Obama’s victory. It’d be nice to be so powerful, but I think they give us far more credit than we deserve. After all, local politicians don’t call our endorsement the kiss of death for nothing. Just look at how Obama lost to John McCain in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties for proof of that theory.
Maybe if we wanted McCain to lose so much, we should have endorsed him.
But that goes against the main reason why we endorse candidates. Our biggest concern is not who wins or loses. Our top reason for endorsing candidates is to get people to think. Period. If you agree with us, fine. But if you disagree, that’s OK too. We’re just hoping that our editorials can spur some critical thinking on the various issues of the day. That’s why we have an editorial page in the first place.
To us, politics is no different. If we’re going to take certain viewpoints then it stands to reason that we should back candidates who are going to support those viewpoints.
Trust me, we don’t have some grand “liberal’’ agenda that we want to impose on our readers. If we did, how could we have endorsed George W. Bush for president back in 2000? In fact our editorial board’s endorsement meetings are often spirited affairs with strong arguments waged on both sides. That certainly was the case this year as the board was almost equally divided between Obama and McCain.
The vote came out in Obama’s favor, but we tried to make it clear in the endorsement editorial that the board was divided, and there was much to like about McCain.
Overall, the vast amount of issues we editorialize about are local ones because they’re the ones we know best. It’s not like we editorialize to a great extent on national or international issues like the New York Times or the Washington Post do.
Our biggest concerns in the past have been making sure that the government’s business is done in the open and those making decisions concerning the public trust are held accountable for them. Are those concerns liberal or conservative? We sincerely hope they’re supported by those on the left, on the right and in the middle too.
We’ve also tried to make the editorial board more representative of the community in general. It now includes four editors, our publisher and controller, a reporter and two members from the community.
That’s all the more reason why I’m so puzzled over all the hoopla about the endorsement editorial. It’s just a very small part of our overall job. Given that, you have to wonder if endorsement editorials are worth all the problems they cause. Certainly at some point if people are so divided and take them so much to heart then maybe we’ll have to stop them. The last thing we want to do is insult or offend our readers in any way.
But if we stop the endorsements, I think we’ll all suffer. Our democracy was built around a free press and giving everyone the right to express their opinion.
If our voice is silenced, then who’s next?
Mark O’Keefe is the executive editor of the Herald-Standard. O’Keefe can be reached by e-mail at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org., regular mail at 8-18 Church St., Uniontown, Pa., 15401 or by phone at 724-439-7569.