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Public editor: The reasons for and against endorsing a politician

‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Should media coverage be like Dragnet?

Canadian Press

On Friday, I wrote about the importance of the media in holding power to account and used the example of The Globe and Mail's editorial board, which endorsed Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the last election campaign, but now has published an unprecedented series arguing very strongly that the Fair Elections Act should be killed.

I heard from many readers who argued that newspapers shouldn't endorse anyone. One from Saskatchewan said this: "Like the former Globe customer [in the column] I too just about cancelled. What you say is all well and good concerning questioning politicians but why the need to endorse at all? A bit like the old Dragnet TV show 'just the fact, ma'am.' Sure [publish] context via journalistic opinion and analysis. But that is simply a lens. Out and out endorsement serves no purpose."

A Halifax reader said this: "Not only must impartiality be done, it must be seen to be done. By explicitly supporting one candidate over another, The Globe relinquishes any appearance of fair, neutral, and objective reporting. By all means, your editors and columnists should express their views on the attributes of our politicians, but any semblance of objectivity flies out the window when you choose to endorse one over the other."

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John Stackhouse wrote an editor's letter last year explaining why endorsements are written even though they can offend many readers. If you can't read this subscriber link, let me quote from it: "We do it because newspapers remain opinion leaders and many people want to know where we stand. And because our reasoned positions should help readers come to their own conclusions."

On the general issue of holding power to account through journalism, one Toronto reader said: "The media's role involves much more than challenging or holding power to account. Its more important role is to determine all aspects of important issues both for and against and communicate them to the public," he said, calling for an in-depth investigation into all aspects of global warming. "The newspaper that invests the time, talent, and money on this issue would be doing all of us a great service. Think about it."

An Ottawa reader questioned the bias of the media in general: "The fact is, plain and simple, we've entered an era of egregious media bias. Yes I understand the difference between editorialists and news reporters; do people at The Globe? They sure don't over at [other media]. You partially addressed 'the media's role … to question authority.' I am with you on that. Too bad though, in aggregate, Canada's media is just so biased and prejudiced."

Finally, an Ontario reader notes that the world of journalism has and is changing, with more space given to opinions: "I do think journalism has evolved beyond its original intent, a journalism class taken years ago stressed reporting news rather than trying to create news. Who decides what news is or isn't? By embellishing a story using emotionally charged language is unfair. You would think the same story/topic on major TV networks or in print media content would be quite similar. Not so, especially if content is political. Yet the basis for forming an opinion is knowledge, but whose knowledge?"

I'm always happy to hear your views on this or any other issue of Globe and Mail coverage. Please e-mail me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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