A number of readers reached out to me during the election campaign, some pleading that The Globe shouldn’t endorse any political party. “I think we are way beyond papers recommending candidates above others,” one said.
The Globe chose not to endorse any of the parties or leaders in its editorial. Editor-in-chief David Walmsley told me it was a simple decision. “We could not find a party worth endorsing. That conclusion allowed us to frame our series of editorials instead around policy choices – and policy vacuums."
As he notes, the editorials included a week-long critical look at the major issues, noting minor differences between the two main parties on immigration, describing a preference for the Liberals’ climate policy and making a call for all parties to do more on Indigenous issues to spread our economic prosperity. The final editorial pointed out the parties’ flaws but offered no concluding recommendation.
I prefer this as the new normal, but allowing for exceptions.
Editorials and endorsements are separate from the news operation. Every day, the editorial board studies the issues behind the news and says what it believes governments or society should do: whether on gun control or #MeToo or foreign policy. The editor-in-chief can direct or sign off on these opinions.
Endorsements are part of newspaper history, but in my view, it’s time to amend that.
While Globe editorials leading up to election day were critical of the platforms, the news pages provided extensive coverage of what was in those platforms on all major issues.
If you weren’t happy with any of the leaders or the negative campaign, you could base your decision on an independent views of experts and a reported look at the four major parties’ key policies.
At its best, journalism engages respectfully with readers; it shows more and tells less. It includes you in the conversation, responds to what interests you and uncovers the news the parties are trying to hide. Most importantly, beyond the noise, spin and attacks, it shows what the parties really stand for. Columns, editorials and analysis are best when they make a strong argument using facts and don’t preach at you. Given the intelligence and political engagement of Globe readers, this is a must.
One of the bad raps endorsements get is that some perceive it as bias in the entire news operation. Despite the fact that the editorials and news are completely separate, and that reporters are very independent minded, the perception remains. While columnists, by the nature of their job, show a preference for one political philosophy, news coverage needs to show fairness and critical reporting on all those in power or seeking power.
It’s not the first time The Globe’s editorials have declined to endorse. The last Ontario election campaign was another example. That editorial was critical of what the Liberals had done, what the NDP were planning to do and the Progressive Conservative Leader, Doug Ford, whom the editorial called unfit to be premier. “We rule Mr. Ford out. But our conundrum is that, after doing so, we see no other platform or leader we can endorse.” In the end, it recommended looking at the local candidates.
The most recent federal and Ontario elections showed how each situation needs a different approach and there will be times when a clear endorsement is necessary.
You saw this in the 2016 U.S. campaign. Of the top 100 newspapers, only two endorsed Donald Trump. Those endorsing Hillary Clinton included a number of newspapers and news magazines that did not traditionally endorse anyone, but felt they needed to speak bluntly.
The Atlantic magazine had only endorsed two men for president in its history. But it broke the mould to endorse Ms. Clinton, warning that Mr. Trump was “the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” For good measure, it calls him “a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing and a liar.”
While I believe an endorsement should be the exception in future campaigns, this will not please all readers.
As in all election coverage, I hear from those who perceive bias. Early on, I received many complaints from those believing the coverage was anti-Justin Trudeau. Then it pivoted to a feeling that the coverage was unfair to Andrew Scheer.
And while some readers were happy to see The Globe skip an endorsement this year, at least one reader was angry there wasn’t one, saying it was patently obvious The Globe had a favourite. “So say that...” she wrote.