PAINTER: Confessions of a liberal journalist

Jan 23, 2012

Those readers have a point. Most journalists working on newspapers are graduates of liberal arts colleges. They tend to be more liberal than conservative.

I graduated from Central Michigan University in 1973 during the anti-Vietnam War era. The university made a point to bring guest speakers to the campus — most of them very liberal.

Anti-war activists actress Jane Fonda; Tom Hayden, founder of Students for a Democratic Society; and John Sinclair, founder of the Rainbow People Party in Ann Arbor, were among the speakers during my time at CMU. All ranted against President Richard Nixon.

My roommate was a draft counselor. He counseled students who were looking to avoid the military draft. He didn’t tell them to flee to Canada; he talked to them about what steps were needed to be a conscientious objector.

Many of my college professors were opposed to the war, and didn’t hide their beliefs from their students.

Following graduation, you could easily label me as an idealistic liberal. But after 37 years in the newspaper business, I now call myself a moderate. Years of living in conservative communities can change some of your beliefs.

I’ve found through the years that while there are plenty of liberal journalists working for newspapers, the editorial decisions are controlled by publishers who tend to be more conservative.

This has been true at the Grand Haven Tribune to some extent.

The Tribune did endorse Democrat Bill Clinton for his first term as president, believing that the country needed a change from the policies of George H.W. Bush. We didn’t endorse him for a second term after his sex escapades.

We also endorsed George W. Bush for his first term of office. We didn’t endorse him or his opponent in his second term. The Editorial Board, of which I was a member, couldn’t make up its mind whether to endorse Bush again or his opponent, John Kerry.

We went for another Democrat in the past presidential election, endorsing Barack Obama over John McCain. That decision drew the most criticism of all our endorsements.

We’ve also endorsed numerous Republican candidates for local, state and national offices.

But now, some newspapers are reconsidering their longtime practice of endorsing political candidates.

We took a poll not too long ago, and many of you said that the Tribune shouldn’t be making political candidate endorsements.

After all these years, I now tend to agree. Small newspapers, such as the Tribune, aren’t able to interview presidential candidates. We rely on the same information that is available to our readers to make endorsements. We are better off providing information about the candidates so that readers can make their own informed decisions.

I managed the editorial page since I was named managing editor in 1997. I tried not to let my political or personal views filter onto the editorial page.

Yes, there have been many letters to the editor and columns that I didn’t agree with, but the editorial page is a place where all views can be expressed. We tried not to censor opposing beliefs.

A friend of mine once complimented me for allowing conservative columnist Cal Thomas to write for the Tribune. He laughed when I told him I didn’t like what Thomas writes. But I told him that we wanted to represent all sides of the political spectrum. We feature both liberal and conservative columns.

You can rest assured that the Tribune will continue to allow all points of view.

Comments

Flamingo Falls

Very thoughtful column, but your recollection is a bit off. President Bill Clinton's "sex escapades" did not come to light 'til early 1998, more than a year after he was re-elected and sworn in for his second term. Unless you and the Tribune editorial board had some confidential information, your decision to not endorse his second term had to based on some other reason than his dalliances with Ms. Lewinsky.

dogbert1918

I applaud and appreciate the fact your willingness to admit being a liberal or moderate in your political beliefs. I have never understood why so many journalist refuse to admit it. Especially after following them for a short amount of time, usually its fairly easy to tell their political beliefs. I would have more or even some respect for them if they did. I'm not sure if I agree your comment about "the editorial decisions are controlled by publishers who tend to be more conservative." I would say by a large margin the majority of major news outlets have a definite liberal slant.

Boater

Something occurred to me after reading this article, the reason why liberal journalists refuse to report President Obama accurately is because they do not want to admit that they were wrong when they endorsed him.
The endorsements by the Editorial Boards over the years have meant nothing to me and was done more because of self-importance demeanor possessed by so many journalists and editors.

Joe Centers

Don't you hate it when somebody catches you when your memory fails? Remember, if you don't have both sides pissed off, you aren't doing your job. Good luck in your new position, Joe Centers, managing editor, Norwalk (Ohio) Reflector.

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