E-mail survey also indicates that many AAN papers maintain.
Although most of the “experts” are predicting a George W. Bush victory in next Tuesday’s presidential election, the Texas Governor doesn’t even register in a recent e-mail survey of AAN editors and publishers. According to that informal poll, alternative newsweekly presidential endorsements are evenly split between Vice President Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
The AAN poll stands in stark contrast to survey results released yesterday by Editor and Publisher, which indicate that daily newspapers endorsed Bush over Gore by a 2-to-1 margin.
Of course, AAN editors are a notoriously fractious bunch, and there’s a significant constituency for the view that alternative papers should not be making presidential endorsements in the first place. Of the 50 AAN papers that responded to the survey, 42 percent indicated either that they avoid endorsements altogether or that they only endorse candidates for local office.
Even among those alternative newspapers that endorsed him, the support for Gore is tepid, with several apologetically stating that he is merely the lesser of two evils. Rhonda Reeves, editor of Kentucky’s Ace Weekly, said she received a “critical drubbing” for her decision to support Gore, but didn’t want to risk giving votes to Bush.
“Given our commitment to a progressive agenda, which includes issues like the environment, poverty, a living wage, a right to choose, and so on, we could not endorse a candidate who would help to put another Bush in the White House,” Reeves said. “Our endorsement was more anti-Bush than it was pro-Gore.”
The Phoenix Media Communications newspaper group ran a single endorsement for Gore in all four of its weeklies, including its flagship paper, the Boston Phoenix. Unlike most other alternative weeklies, the Phoenix group fully supported the vice president, arguing that the differences between Gore and Bush are substantial.
“The sigh versus the smirk. The liar versus the idiot. Tweedledum versus Tweedledee. That’s what campaign 2000 comes down to. At least it is if you believe the press, the daft utterances of the ‘undecided voters,’ or the rhetoric of the Green Party’s opportunistic candidate,” the Nov. 2 column stated. “Yet nothing could be further from the truth.”
Alternative papers that backed Nader did so because of the issues, editors said. A few admitted that if they lived in a state where the election was closely contested, a decision to endorse the popular third-party candidate would have been more difficult.
All five of New England’s Advocate newspapers — owned by the Bush-endorsing Hartford Courant — ran the same endorsement for Nader. Their editorial argues that voting for Nader in liberal states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York will not hand Bush a victory, and that it will send a message to the Democratic Party that Gore was not the right candidate to represent the left. “So, nightmare-sufferers, you’re free to do something supposedly permitted in a democracy: vote for candidates you agree with,” the column stated.
Only the newest member of the Creative Loafing chain, Tampa, Fla.’s Weekly Planet, ventured a recommendation (for Nader) and even that was written as an article and not a unanimous endorsement. Under its previous ownership, Creative Loafing papers were prohibited from making endorsements, said John Grooms, editor of the chain’s Charlotte paper. Grooms said he would voluntarily abstain from throwing a candidate his support even had he been given a choice.
“I don’t think readers give a flying damn who we, nor any other paper, think they should vote for,” Grooms argued. “Our job is to give readers an informed, honest, in-your-face view of our city and region. Over time, our point of view should be pretty obvious to most readers; we make it pretty clear which politicians and policies we support or oppose.”
Grooms’ view appears to have some validity, according to another recent Editor and Publisher poll, which indicated that only 5 percent of likely voters said that they could be influenced by a newspaper endorsement.
Nevertheless, most of the AAN editors who chose to endorse a candidate believe that it was their responsibility to do so. Many also feel that their endorsement provides a counterweight to the mainstream media.
“[W]ith the mainstreams becoming more and more conservative it’s important for alties to weigh in with their view on the issues in order to be used as a voters’ guide as well,” said Doug Hissom, metro editor of Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express Metro and Gore endorser. “Sometimes people don’t know who the progressive candidates are and this is one way we can help.”
Mary Anna Towler, editor of Rochester, NY’s City Newspaper, agreed: “Covering and commenting on politics is one of the most important roles of the alternative press, and our responsibility is growing as the power of national media corporations grows.”