It raised some eyebrows when the Des Moines Register announced its endorsement for president this weekend and for the first time in 40 years picked a Republican.
What got less attention, however, is an accompanying story in the paper, which I found especially interesting and useful. In a remarkable act of transparency, the paper’s editors actually explained the endorsement process:
The Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Laura Hollingsworth, Editor Rick Green, Opinions Editor Randy Evans and editorial writers Rox Laird and Andie Dominick. After watching the two candidates over the past six years, interviewing them both at least twice, researching their positions and the issues and having conversations with Iowans, the five of us spent more than two hours before reaching a consensus. It was a vigorous and useful debate.
Of course, an editorial board is not a democracy. As publisher, Hollingsworth in principle has the authority to dictate the newspaper’s positions on every issue on our opinion pages. In practice, however, she and previous publishers have supported a collaborative process that includes debates, disagreements and concessions.
While not every member of the board may agree with every choice, our endorsements reflect thoughts from everyone at the table. That is why, just like every other editorial, they are not signed by individual writers.
No one from the news staff or our columnists is part of the endorsement decision process, and they find out who it is by reading the newspaper just like you. Opinions expressed by this board in no way affect news coverage, except to the extent than an endorsement itself becomes news.
Some newspapers do not make endorsements. But editorial pages are in the opinion business, and we publish editorials on all manner of topics seven days a week, 365 days a year. We would be shirking our responsibilities if we took a pass on elections.
Worse, we would be abandoning our traditions. As you can see from the list below, we have been endorsing candidates for president for at least a century. Those choices were almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, winners and losers. Even we were surprised by who wasn’t endorsed by previous editorial boards (Franklin Roosevelt not once, for example).
That is how things work in the opinion business. You bring together a staff with all its knowledge, opinions and idiosyncrasies. You look at history and try to envision a better future. You craft positions based on our best thinking within the framework of the Register’s traditions. Today we maintain that tradition.
Meanwhile, in the dog-bites-man news of the day: the New York Times endorsed President Obama. The last time it endorsed a Republican? Dwight Eisenhower, in 1956.
If you want to know how the New York Times goes about its endorsement process, good luck. The closest you’ll get is this piece from the New York Observer last year, which describes the process for local political candidates. But no one on the Times staff would consent to an interview to confirm or deny how it’s done.