The trouble with endorsements

Updated all over the place!

Well, we’ve all learned so much, haven’t we? After making bad, wishy-washy calls in recent elections, newspapers in this country still thought it would be a good idea to throw their weight behind particular parties. When I say “parties,” I don’t really mean parties, plural. Because the endorsements that dropped just days before the election all name the Conservatives as their favourite.

Which isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. There are plenty of good reasons to vote for the Tories. But, rather, it’s the delivery and manufacture of the endorsements where the problem lies.

So, today, Oct. 17, and yesterday Oct. 16, in the Year of our Godfrey two-thousand and fifteen, Postmedia papers all across the land put out a series of editorials that rang together in a lovely chorus. Which is to say, all of the papers happily endorsed the incumbent Conservatives. Which is weird, right? I mean, the editorial boards of each paper all came to the same conclusion. Hunh. 

One might think the corporate head office in Toronto was dictating to the papers who to endorse. One would be right.

The Montreal GazetteOttawa CitizenWindsor StarLeader-PostCalgary HeraldEdmonton Journal, Saskatoon StarPhoenixVancouver Sun, and Vancouver Province have all said your vote should go to a Conservative. And that’s just from Postmedia’s pre-Sun merger dailies.

UPDATE: It would seem the dailies I listed yesterday that had not endorsed a party were just waiting for Saturday to do it. Which is fun. But, I suggested you extrapolate the reasons why they might not post endorsements, hopefully I didn't give you any sinister thoughts. 

The reasons in the various papers for why you should vote for the Tories can be boiled down to their “economic goodness.” Some of them are sincere in their endorsements, some of them might be considered reliably inclined to endorse the Tories, some of them less so. Fine, sure. Anyhow, back to the endorsements. There’s a line or two in there about Justin Trudeau not having the experience, and maybe a mention of Tom Mulcair being too bearded or something. But it’s mostly just the Tories have been good on the economy and so they should get another-nother shot at governing.

But there are plenty of internal contradictions to these arguments. I’ll quote the Citizen here at length, because they do it so nicely:

“Which brings us to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. There is a lot to be unhappy about, after nine years of Harper rule. He has picked political fights with major pillars of our democratic system — Elections Canada, the judiciary, officers of parliament — for no obvious reason apart from the fact that they appear to stand in his way. Under his watch there were unreasonably high levels of moral and even criminal corruption among some of those closest to him. He has indulged his MPs in their quest to make a mockery of Question Period.
Nevertheless, […]”

Tee hee.

It’s almost as if the entire exercise of endorsements is pointless.

Anyhow, Postmedia obviously learned nothing of why this looks terrible, even if it does jibe with the history of newspaper ownership. We’ve been here before. You may remember back in the hazy days of summer—or was it spring?—when the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald both endorsed the Progressive Conservatives, even though it was clear the electorate was in no way looking to hand Jim Prentice and the Long Times another mandate.

So, the endorsement fell flat, and then CANADALAND posted a story that it wasn’t the paper’s idea anyhow, those crumb bums—I’m paraphrasing—in Toronto had dictated who the paper would endorse. Well, shit. Now the poor folks in Edmonton are having their opinions dictated to them by Toronto.

The history goes back even further, to the pre-Postmedia CanWest days. Back then, the Winnipeg-based newspaper company wanted its individual papers to run national editorials, dictated from the centre. It did not go well. Journalists at the Gazette revolted, going so far as to withhold their bylines for several days from stories printed in the paper and publish an open letter denouncing the plan.

They said at the time:

"More important, each editorial will set the policy for that topic in such a way as to constrain the editorial boards of each newspaper to follow this policy. Essentially, CanWest will be imposing editorial policy on its papers on all issues of national significance. Without question, this decision will undermine the independence and diversity of each newspaper's editorial board and thereby give Canadians a greatly reduced variety of opinion, debate and editorial discussion."

My, how times have changed. Anyhow, CanWest eventually backed down.

But, you might say, there’s plenty of precedent for newspaper endorsements to be at the whims of the owner and publisher. Things have changed since the days of ink and paper and barons with waistcoats and pocket watches. And that baron guy probably lived on the hill overlooking town in the spooky-but-impressive house.

Now, Postmedia is a Toronto-based corporation with dozens of dailies and even more dozens of weekly newspapers all over the country. It owns two major dailies in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa, and owns three dailies in Vancouver and Toronto. It owns papers in communities big and small, and many of them are shamelessly spouting a similar editorial line.

In doing so, Postmedia is openly saying to the communities in which the company owns papers, they don’t give a shit for the people living there. No matter how many times Postmedia says what they are doing is in the best interest of the local paper, how with each cut to staff or service they are improving the product by streamlining it and putting more focus on making local news, they can’t hide the fact it’s all bullshit.

By telling you who to vote for, they’ve also told you what they think of you.

*Editor’s note: Holy shit, this doesn’t even include talk of the Globe and Mail’s clustersmash of an endorsement for Negative Zone Conservatives. I probably don’t need to go over such well-trod social media ground again, but if you’re really interested in my thoughts, go check out this storify of my twittering. Also there’s some Andrew Coyne stuff over at CANADALAND if you really haven’t had your fill of endorsement talk.