The Message

Choice Cut

The Rocky Mountain News's October 16 endorsement of George W. Bush was hardly a shock, since the paper's editorials tend to tilt rightward. Not so the Denver Post, whose editorial page generally slants to the left of center -- except on October 24, when the broadsheet formally backed Bush via an essay that went down as smoothly as a blender full of bugs on Fear Factor. The piece complimented W for his "decisiveness" in fighting terror, but denigrated pretty much everything else he's done for nearly four years. It also offered numerous bouquets to Bush's competitor, Senator John Kerry, who was feted in an adjacent column written by Bob Ewegen and Julia Martinez, two members of the Post's editorial board. Mr. Spock and Data could spend the next century analyzing this logic and still not make heads or tails of it.

Because presidential endorsements are inherently high-profile, the Post's decision to issue one that basically contradicts much of what it's stood for during the past year-plus couldn't help but garner plenty of attention, both nationally and locally. Editor & Publisher, a journalism trade journal, noted that the Post was one of only three major newspapers that flip-flopped to Republican Bush after touting Democrat Al Gore in 2000; the others were Ohio's Columbus Dispatch and the Houston Chronicle. In contrast, 24 papers that went with Bush in 2000 are championing Kerry four years later. Closer to home, a sizable percentage of the Post's staffers reacted to the endorsement with confusion and outrage, as did even more subscribers. A squib by editorial-page editor Jon Wolman that appeared on the October 26 letters section pointed out that the Post received over 700 communiqués from readers in the wake of its endorsement, and every one was negative. That's more unanimous than pre-invasion elections in Iraq.

Wolman spoke with many of these aggrieved parties, and he says, "I've asked them to think of the newspaper as reflecting the range of opinions that are there in the community and then make up their own minds."

Dean Singleton, seen in a 2001 photo, pushes for 
John Johnston
Dean Singleton, seen in a 2001 photo, pushes for Bush.

As for who made up the Post's collective mind when it comes to Bush, the most likely candidate is Dean Singleton, the paper's owner, and a personal friend of 43's. Singleton will neither confirm nor deny the theory that he overruled a pro-Kerry majority on the Post's editorial board to win the day for Bush: "I'm not ever going to talk about how the editorial board makes any editorial decisions," he declares. However, he acknowledges a division among boardmembers. "The editorial board being split is not very different from the country being split," he allows.

Similar rifts have occurred at other major newspapers this year. For instance, Editor & Publisher reports that the editorial board at the Cleveland Plain Dealer favored Kerry, while the paper's publisher, Alex Machaskee, was a Bush man -- and when neither side would bend, all concerned agreed to make no endorsement at all. The Post, for its part, published the Ewegen-Martinez offering in what Wolman characterized in print as an extraordinary step "to ensure that the full range of views was represented in our pages." Martinez wouldn't comment on the column, while Ewegen says the piece speaks for itself.

Kerry did likewise during the October 17 match-up between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders, personally making a conference call to four members of the Post editorial board, Martinez and Ewegen among them. Singleton didn't participate because, he says, he was on the sidelines of the contest in Oakland at the time and wanted to see the game. It was a real thriller: The Broncos won 31-3.

Singleton doesn't express disdain for Kerry, but neither does he hide his affection for Bush, to whose campaign he donated $2,000 in 2003. Furthermore, he makes it clear that dictating the Post's presidential nod would be within his authority. He says he plays "no role whatsoever" in endorsement decisions made by the overwhelming majority of papers owned by MediaNews Group, which he heads, because company policy puts that power in the hands of the publisher. The exceptions are the Post and the Salt Lake Tribune, because he's officially listed as the papers' publisher and sits on their editorial boards. That would make the final decision at the Post and the Tribune his.

In its current edition, the Salt Lake City Weekly argues that Singleton has taken advantage of this privilege twice of late at the Tribune. Anonymous sources cited by the Weekly credit Singleton with pulling the trigger on an endorsement of Ellis Ivory, a mayoral candidate who's on the board of the Deseret Morning News. (The News shares a joint operating agreement with the Tribune and was instrumental in helping Singleton take control of the latter.) Singleton won't talk about the particulars of this matter other than to note that he was "consulted" on the endorsement. He's met Ivory, and although he doesn't know him well, he says, "I have enormous respect for him."

Oh, yeah: The Tribune endorsed Bush in a somewhat backhanded fashion, too, and ran its piece in the same issue as a Kerry salute from a dissenting member of the editorial board, George Pyle. On the question of whether Singleton ordained the Bush recommendation, Pyle told the Weekly, "The editorial page belongs to the publisher, and how he finally comes down is up to him."

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