Tag Archives: newspaper endorsements

Death to unsigned editorials

A lot has been said about newspaper endorsements just prior to Monday’s federal election.

As we now know, the Globe and Mail bizarrely endorsed the Conservative Party of Canada but not its leader, leading to mockery online. And Postmedia, my employer, ordered its newspapers to write editorials endorsing the Conservatives. That decision led to spiking an Andrew Coyne column that would have argued differently, and Coyne resigning as comment page editor for the National Post.

Despite what the editorials in question say, there are some serious questions that can be asked about why so many mainstream media outlets are openly calling for the re-election of a government that has been so hostile and unhelpful toward the media during its last mandate.

But even then, it doesn’t bother me so much that newspapers endorsed the Conservatives. (They’ve been doing that for a few election cycles now.) What bothers me is that the endorsements happened under the cover of anonymity.

It wasn’t until the Globe and Mail got Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey to confirm it that it was clear the order came from up top, that the editorials represented the positions not of the individual papers’ editors-in-chief, or publishers, or editorial boards, or collective of journalists, but of executive management of the parent corporation. The fact that each newspaper wrote their own editorial (except the Sun Media papers, which ran a common one) seemed, frankly, deceiving.

Even I didn’t know who made the call on this. And I work there.

And it’s not just Postmedia. Last year, the Globe and Mail overruled its own editorial board, switching an endorsement from the Ontario Liberals to one of the Progressive Conservatives.

If the editorials had carried the boss’s byline, or a line that said the endorsements were the position of executive management, at least it would have been clear. Everyone would have had all the information needed to evaluate the endorsements’ value. And they would be evaluated based on their content and source, not the process used to get them published.

Without that information, we’re left with opinions whose sources are unclear. We are in effect granting anonymity to the source of an opinion piece, one with the power of the newspapers’ reputations behind it.

I’m not outraged, but I am disappointed. Despite all the challenges, despite all the changes that have caused quality to suffer, despite all the decisions made that I’ve disagreed with, I remain proud of the work I and my colleagues do at the Montreal Gazette, and will continue to defend it against those who say it’s worthless. And the Globe and Mail’s reputation remains excellent, as do many other papers caught up in this.

Because I know this isn’t about “evil corporate media”. It’s a lot more complicated than that. While there was outrage over front-page advertisements that banked on newspapers’ reputations to try to sway the election (The Gazette wasn’t one of those papers, it had a Linen Chest wrap that day), Postmedia has taken steps to make it clearer to readers how advertisers are influencing their content. Advertorial content is clearly disclosed, and generally uses a different layout style and fonts than editorial content. Where there’s a possibility of confusion, there’s a note saying the story was written by the advertising department instead of the newsroom.

Newspaper election endorsements are such a silly issue to me. When was the last time your mind was changed on something because of an unsigned newspaper editorial? And yet it seems to be the only time when upper management at Postmedia, the Globe and other papers seem to care enough to impose their will on editorial boards.

So I say death to unsigned editorials in newspapers. If the CEO or publisher or whomever wants to veto an editorial board’s decision and issue an election endorsement, let that person have the courage to put his or her own name on it.

And that goes for all other editorials, too. If it’s a collective decision of the editorial board, list their names. If it’s the publisher, put the publisher’s photo next to it and email address underneath. That would also have the effect of better shielding journalists from the public’s blame for those editorials.

“As far as we’re concerned, if you’re the editor, you support the editorial position of the newspaper,” Godfrey is quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail article.

I’m with Coyne on this. It’s not wrong for colleagues to disagree on things. It’s not wrong for the media to publish opinions they disagree with. In fact, these things should be encouraged. Because employer-enforced groupthink isn’t how society progresses.

But this isn’t the hill I’m going to die on. Because I can work for people I disagree with.

Montreal media endorsement tally

Sure, you could go to the party websites, read their platforms, call up your local candidates and decide for yourself who you’re going to vote for. But why do that when the media is ready to just tell you how to mark your X?

Even in this election campaign, where none of the candidates for mayor has prompted Barack-Obama-like enthusiasm, most seem content with endorsing a candidate anyway, and each of the big three is getting a piece of the pie.

In fact, not even do major media outlets not agree on whom to vote for, they can’t even form consensuses within their own newsrooms. Both La Presse and The Gazette have columnists making endorsements for mayor that differ from the main editorial line.

With the candidates neck and neck and neck a day before the election, and no clue how even strategic voting would work, I’m afraid you’re all on your own here.

Still, here’s how the endorsements break down:

For mayor

Gérald Tremblay

Gérald Tremblay, Union Montreal

  • The Gazette: “The least distressing candidate in an unprepossessing field. … Richard Bergeron is clearly not ready to govern. … Harel’s claim to be a unifier is preposterous.”
  • CTV (Executive Producer Barry Wilson): “At this point, it seems not be a case of who is the best, but who is not the worst choice.”
  • The Suburban: “Montreal’s greater good will be served by a mayor who can communicate in English, the lingua franca, to the outside world … by a mayor who does not make war on cars and does not want to make a pedestrian promenade of our busiest commercial artery.”

Louise Harel

Louise Harel, Vision Montreal

  • Le Devoir (Bernard Descôteaux): “Guérir Montréal du cancer de la corruption est un préalable à toute chose. …  L’expérience est ici l’élément déterminant, et entre Louise Harel et Richard Bergeron, il faut donc choisir la première. … Elle possède le sens politique qui lui permettra de créer les nécessaires consensus au sein du prochain conseil municipal.”
  • L’Aut’journal: “L’administration Tremblay a complètement perdu la maîtrise de ses projets au profit de l’entreprise privée. Le candidat Richard Bergeron présente un excellent programme municipal … Cependant, il faut reconnaître qu’il n’a pas réussi au cours des quatre dernières années à s’entourer d’une équipe aguerrie. … Il est nécessaire de restructurer la fonction publique municipale et revoir la répartition des pouvoirs entre la ville-centre et les arrondissements. Pour y arriver, il faudra une grande dextérité politique et seule Louise Harel a l’expérience, le savoir-faire et les années de service pour y arriver.”
  • Lysiane Gagnon, La Presse: “Je crois que Mme Harel fera tout pour réussir la fin d’une carrière gâchée par une fusion mal faite qui s’est terminée par le fiasco des défusions. Et elle est capable de beaucoup. … La souveraineté? De toute façon, le dossier est presque clos. Son anglais boiteux? Elle apprendra. Ses tentations bureaucratiques de péquiste de gauche? La réalité économique de Montréal, qui repose sur l’entreprise privée, la rattrapera vite.”

Richard Bergeron

Richard Bergeron, Projet Montréal

  • Henry Aubin, The Gazette: “There are two approaches for reaching that judgment. One approach – the more common one – is to look at each candidate’s personal record and qualities. It’s this approach that has led to widespread despair. … The other approach for assessing candidates is through the issues. … Bergeron, then, clearly comes out ahead on all matters except sovereignty.”
  • Pierre Foglia, La Presse (I think): “Je souhaite la très improbable victoire de M. Bergeron, même si on me dit que c’est un tata fini et l’homme d’une idée fixe avec lequel cela risquerait d’aller encore plus mal qu’aujourd’hui à la mairie.”
  • Non-media endorsements: John Gomery, Charles Taylor, Québec solidaire, Chris Karidogiannis and Jimmy Zoubris

None of the above

  • La Presse (chief editorialist André Pratte): “Aucun parti, aucun chef n’a donné l’impression de pouvoir fournir à Montréal le leadership dont elle a désespérément besoin. … Lors des élections municipales de 2001 et de 2005, La Presse a accordé son appui à Gérald Tremblay. Depuis, le maire s’est dévoué à sa ville. … Louise Harel n’a pas su offrir une vision claire pour l’avenir de la métropole. … L’aptitude de Mme Harel à manier le balai est devenue beaucoup plus incertaine à la suite des révélations faites au sujet du comportement de Benoit Labonté, son bras droit jusqu’à il y a quelques jours. … Est-il nécessaire que le maire de Montréal parle anglais? Non… mais presque. … À nos yeux, Louise Harel ne satisfait pas aux exigences du poste. … Certains volets de la personnalité de M. Bergeron sont trop inquiétants pour qu’on lui confie la mairie.”

For council

The Gazette did not endorse any specific candidates for city council, but did suggest looking at individual candidates instead of party names, and encouraged people to look at independent candidates and “borough parties”

La Presse’s André Pratte listed several names from each party in his editorial, which makes up most of the list below.

Union Montreal

  • Alan DeSousa (La Presse)
  • Michel Labrecque (La Presse)
  • André Lavallée (La Presse)

Vision Montreal

  • Élaine Ayotte (La Presse)
  • Harry Delva (La Presse)
  • Pierre Lampron (La Presse)
  • Réal Ménard (La Presse)
  • David Hanna (Jeremy Searle, West End Times)

Projet Montréal

  • Étienne Coutu (La Presse)
  • Carole Dupuis (La Presse)
  • Josée Duplessis (La Presse)
  • Alex Norris (Mike Boone, The Gazette)


Alex Norris (a former journalist) also got the endorsement of Thomas Mulcair.

Did I miss any? Be sure to let me know before tomorrow.

Fagstein’s endorsement

Of course, you’re all wondering who I’m endorsing in this election. As if the answer isn’t obvious already, I’ll give the official word in this video:


Don’t forget to vote.

Tories win again in newspaper endorsements

In 2006, with the central issue of the vote being the sponsorship scandal (or at least that was what the media was telling us was the central issue), many newspapers who had previously (but begrudgingly) endorsed the Liberal Party switched sides and said the Conservatives deserve a chance to govern.

Most newspapers in the Canwest, Sun and Gesca chains backed the Tories, as did the Globe and Mail. The two main dissenters were the Toronto Star, which continued to support the Liberals, and Le Devoir, which steadfastly stood behind the Bloc Québécois.

This year, not much has changed, except for the reasons behind the endorsements. Talk of Gomery, Gagliano and Guité has been replaced by acknowledgments of apologies and discussions of steady hands that can guide us through economic difficulties.

Here’s how it breaks down this time:

Endorsing the Conservatives

The National Post, unsurprisingly, hits on just about all of the conservative talking points in endorsing a Conservative Party majority. Taxes, national defence, Canada-U.S. relations, and the avoidance of “large-scale Trudeauvian social-engineering schemes” (i.e. health care, education and other spending) and having no plan for the environment that might adversely affect the economy. It talks about Harper’s management of “the Quebec file,” which as a Quebecer I find somewhat patronizing.

The Globe and Mail takes a softer approach, endorsing Harper but also giving a list of demands for the next term. Though it doesn’t specifically say Harper should lead a minority government, it suggests that this is inevitable, and seems to be comfortable with that. Again, lots of talk about steadyhandedness and how Dion is “not a leader,” a phrase right out of the Tory handbook. The Globe also, laudably, defended its endorsement to readers in a live Q&A session. Both pages also include links to previous endorsements, which other newspaper websites either forgot or were too lazy to do.

The Winnipeg Free Press spreads the blame around, and in fact talks about Harper’s failings at length before turning around and endorsing the Conservatives. The reasons for this aren’t particularly clear, but seem to have to do with Harper’s steady hand on the economy. It also suggests that a Harper win would cause some major shift in Canada’s political system, with Dion getting kicked out as leader, the left deciding to unite and maybe the Conservatives splitting into two parties. I’m not sure what they’ve been smoking, but that’s a pretty bold prediction.

The Ottawa Citizen‘s endorsement is mainly about respecting Harper for formal apologies in the House and his decision not to go to Bejing. Interestingly, it also endorses the Liberal Green Shift plan, and suggests that Harper essentially steal it and use it to fill the giant green gap in the Conservative Party platform. I think this part might touch a lot of Canadians who don’t think Dion should be prime minister but who don’t want the Green Shift idea (taxing carbon and offsetting it with other tax cuts) to die with Dion’s political career.

The Toronto Sun and the Calgary Sun and the Winnipeg Sun run identical national editorials prepared by Sun Media, ridding everyone of any suggestion that these newspapers have some sort of editorial autonomy. The piece itself describes Harper as a strong leader, and describes Dion’s Green Shift as “inexplicable” (really? I figured it out pretty quickly), but also makes mention of the fact that Harper has no environmental plan to speak of.

The Ottawa Sun at least writes its own editorial endorsing Harper, for much of the same reasons, and includes the same criticisms. It declares this to be the most important election in recent times, which I think is a bit of a stretch.

The Edmonton Sun also writes its own editorial, this one from an Alberta perspective. It endorses Harper, while blasting the Conservatives for ignoring a province whose seats are all in the bag for them already. It also makes it clear that they ain’t gonna let no carbon tax prevent them from pollutin’ whatever they want.

The Edmonton Journal says Harper is better on the economy and Afghanistan, but also suggests that if Alberta ridings were more competitive, the Conservatives might not ignore them as much as they are currently.

The Calgary Herald focuses mostly on foreign policy and the economy, with mention of Harper’s record on China, Gaza, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

The Vancouver Sun (which, unlike the other Suns, is owned by Canwest) focuses on the economy (see a trend here?), and specifically endorses a majority Conservative government.

The Vancouver Province (also owned by Canwest) says the Tories need more B.C. representation, and the answer to an economic crisis is not more taxes, as they say the Liberals and NDP would institute.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Record is all-economy, and comes out strong for Harper. It criticizes Dion’s Green Shift, calling it a “leap of faith” that we can’t afford in tough economic times. (For all the criticisms of the Green Shift, this one actually makes sense – its weak point is that it’s unpredictable how the market will react.) It also says that there hasn’t been any evidence of a Tory hidden agenda. Of course, the Conservatives haven’t had a majority government yet, and there have been Tory threats to arts funding and abortion rights.

My own newspaper, The Gazette (which didn’t consult me before making its endorsement), talks a bit about how Conservative policy is best but focuses mainly on telling people to cast ballots strategically to defeat the Bloc. Since the Bloc has no hope of being in power, and sovereignty is not on our doorstep, it seems a strange position to take. The big question is whether the Tories will have a majority or minority government, and lumping the federalist parties together ignores that issue. In fact, if anything I’d think many Quebecers are for the first time considering not voting strategically for this very reason. At the end, it also endorses individual candidates in Montreal-area ridings, basically naming all the star candidates (with Gilles Duceppe being the notable exception): Dion, Michael Fortier (C), Thomas Mulcair (NDP), Irwin Cotler (L), Marc Garneau (L), and Justin Trudeau (L).

Finally, The Economist, which sees the need to meddle in our affairs, endorse the Conservatives, but also Dion’s Green Shift (or some form thereof), saying Harper’s dismissal of a carbon tax shows a lack of leadership. The magazine also, notably, says that a minority Conservative government is probably the best bet for Canada.

Endorsing the Liberals

The Toronto Star just doesn’t know when to quit them. Canada’s liberal voice spends much of its endorsement blasting Harper with the usual left-wing talking points, using scary terms like “neo-conservative.” Its endorsement of Dion’s leadership abilities is weak at best, and it talks about the Liberal team to make up for it. The Green Shift, of course, also gets lauded, as the only Liberal platform point anyone can recite from memory.

Endorsing the Bloc Québécois

Le Devoir‘s endorsement of the Bloc, a foregone conclusion for about a decade now, almost forgets to talk about the party or its leader. It spends most of its time attacking the Liberals and Conservatives on their many mistakes. When it comes down to giving people a reason to vote for the Bloc, it gives the usual vague point about how the Bloc represents the interests of Quebec first, without giving any supporting evidence that they have done so.

No endorsement

La Presse, which signs all its editorials and endorsed the Conservatives last time, has taken the cowardly populist position that no party is good enough to lead this country. It rakes the Liberals and Conservatives, though André Pratte points out that Dion’s campaign wasn’t as awful as had been predicted by everyone but him. Instead of endorsing a national party, the editorial suggests people look at the individual candidates in their riding and choose the one which best represents their interests. It doesn’t name any specific names.

The Victoria Times-Colonist breaks from the Canwest bloc by refusing to endorse a candidate, with the cliché statement that it’s the voters who should decide. It then goes around stating the obvious (Dion can’t speak English very well, Layton’s chances of becoming PM are slim).

Have I missed any? Link to others (big media or small) you find in comments below.

But are they biased?

Newspaper endorsements are worth the paper they’re printed on, and usually only given attention by the candidates they endorse. Certainly Stephen Harper and the Conservatives will make a point of all the endorsements they’ve received in order to reassure voters that they’re not evil or scary.

But the thing with these endorsements is that they’re written by owners and managers of large newspapers, who are usually quite well-off. They’re worried about the economy, but not about whether they’ll be able to put food on their table. They care about the price of a car, but not the price of a bus ticket. They’re not so out of touch that they don’t know what the price of milk is at the grocery store, but there’s clearly a bias here. Opinion polls put the Conservatives in the lead, but still well below 50%, meaning most Canadians don’t support the party.

I don’t know if there’s an easy solution to this. Perhaps newspapers should take votes of all their staff, or stop endorsing candidates. Or just leave everything to me.

UPDATE: J-Source points to a piece by the Star’s public editor about the nature of newspaper endorsements.