Sunday night The New York Times announced its endorsement for the Democratic presidential primary. The announcement was highly anticipated and the Times packaged it into an hour-long episode of its “The Weekly” TV show. For the first 59 minutes, viewers watched the Times’ 14-member editorial board interview each candidate and then discuss amongst themselves. After a fairly tedious hour, the special ended with NYT deputy opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury narrating the process of writing the endorsement, and eventually revealing that the Times did something unprecedented: It endorsed two candidates, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
This appears nonsensical on the surface. But I think it’s progressive, in a way. I’ll get to that part in a minute.
Of course, nobody can walk into their polling center and vote for two candidates. The editorial explained, in far more words, that Democratic voters will be choosing between basically two sides. They will need to decide between the further-left ideology of Warren, who promises significant, even drastic policy change right away, and the more centered Klobuchar, who boasts of winning counties that Trump carried in 2016 and successfully getting legislation through the Senate.
The Times declined to make that choice for the voters, saying that voters should decide for themselves.
I agree with that notion. But it begs the question: Why should newspapers like the Times have endorsements at all? Where does the practice fit in with the purpose of such a publication? Any newspaper, whether it’s the Times or a weekly paper serving a small town, serves to keep people informed, and keep public officials accountable. By delivering the facts, newspapers give readers what they need to make their own choice.
I think it’s preposterous to say that there is one candidate (or two!) who is objectively the best choice for everyone in the United States. There will be many different opinions, based on people’s varied experiences and needs. For an editorial board to select one candidate for endorsement, they presume that their opinion is not influenced by personal taste, feelings and circumstances, but just by the facts that their newsroom reports. This is not possible.
Journalists should deliver people the facts they need to choose a candidate. There’s no reason those 14 people shown on Sunday night’s TV special are more intellectually capable of digesting the candidates (through multiple sources of objective journalism) and making a choice than the average American.
Short of getting rid of endorsements altogether, which I know isn’t likely, I don’t mind the Times’ dual endorsement as an alternative. They decided against choosing an ideology on the behalf of the Democratic electorate, but they did pick a standard-bearer for each one. I think it’s a step toward newspapers backing away from endorsements as they become more and more conscious of public perception of objectivity.