Thursday, November 7, 2002

Losing Endorsement

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Michael Getler, autopsies The Post’s list of endorsements, and makes an important point:

...Maryland-based independent pollster Carol Arscott, for one, believes that endorsements "mean less and less every year now, especially with Republican voters, and the further outside the Beltway you get, the less they matter."

As ombudsmen frequently remind readers, there is a “wall” between news reporting and editorials. Getler assures us that:

I can say with confidence that the "wall" between editorial and news seems intact and secure at The Post. But you can't blame readers who are not students of journalism for suspecting otherwise.

He’s probably right. The editorials don’t drive the news reporting, but they do reflect the overall culture of the newspaper. Recent biographies of the two candidates for Governor of Maryland drive home the point.

James DiBenedetto, writing in his weblog, The Eleven Day Empire, reported on the difference in coverage for Republican candidate, Bob Ehrich, and for the Democratic candidate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – who The Post endorsed:

While the Kennedy! piece opens with this sentence:

She always wanted to do what was right.

Ehrlich's bio begins with a description of the exclusive (read: elitist, plutocratic, rich, white) country club where Ehrlich is found hosting a campaign event:

Hounds are baying in the twilight. A chestnut mare gleams in a paddock. In a verdant valley in northern Baltimore County, a gubernatorial contender is being feted at Maryland's oldest fox hunting club, the Green Spring Valley Hounds. The sign at the end of the unpaved lane leading to this rarefied enclave is so discreet it is marked with initials -- "GSV" -- because if you have to ask how to get here, you don't belong.

A paragraph later, we're told that:

Inside a white tent, lanky men with chiseled features and family trust funds line up to pay homage.

And while the first words used to describe Kennedy! were "good" followed by "philosophical" and "careful", Ehrlich is first described thusly:

Ehrlich -- whose luck, pluck and football prowess catapulted him from his parents' modest rowhouse to prep school and Princeton...

Good, philosophical and careful versus luck, pluck and football prowess.
There's a full page more of this on the inside pages of the paper, but you get the idea...

I guess it could be worse, though; they did at least find something vaguely positive to say about Ehrlich.

Still, it clearly pales in comparison to the Kennedy! article, whose basic premise is that Kennedy! is too good for the voters; lumpenproles like the Maryland electorate are unworthy of Saint Kathy, but she'll deign to take office as a matter of noblesse oblige.

“Good”, “careful” and “philosophical” Townsend relied heavily on the politics of divisiveness, as when she declared:

Slavery was based on race. Lynching was based on race. Discrimination was based on race. Jim Crow was based on race. Affirmative action should be based on race.

Ehrlich relied heavily on the politics of inclusion, as when he selected Michael Steele, an African-American, to run for lieutenant governor. Townsend’s supporters responded by distributing Oreo cookies at a political debate to send a message about blacks (like Steele) who don’t follow the Democratic Party line.

A lot has changed in America since 9/11/01. Threatened by an outside enemy, who kills Americans without regard for race, we have grown together as a nation. Ehrlich reassured supporters during his campaign that, "the first time the race card doesn't work will be the last time it is used."

Despite The Post's biased coverage and an endorsement of his rival, the race card didn't work. Let’s hope that Ehrich's right that, at least in Maryland, this is the last time it will be used.

Ombudsman Don Wycliff and religious tolerance
The Chicago Tribune’s ombudsman, Don Wycliff, has stated:

ask any American for a thumbnail sketch of himself and it's a good bet his religion will be among the items he ticks off. And why shouldn't it be? I can't think of too many things that have been more influential in my world view and intellectual formation than my religion…

How then do we handle a clash of cultures when a religious tradition treats women differently than men?

Here’s the setup from a column entitled “Everyday Ethics:”

The courteous and competent real estate agent I'd just hired to rent my house shocked and offended me when, after we signed our contract, he refused to shake my hand, saying that as an Orthodox Jew he did not touch women. As a feminist, I oppose sex discrimination of all sorts. However, I also support freedom of religious expression. How do I balance these conflicting values? Should I tear up our contract?

According to Wycliff, columnist Randy “Cohen's answer, in short, was yes, tear up the contract.” Further information is provided from a Rabbi that:

Orthodox Jews, both men and women, are forbidden by their modesty ethic to touch a member of the opposite sex. It works both ways.

Wycliff observes that:

Orthodox Judaism, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims and God knows how many other religious groups have restrictions and categories and orders premised on sex, sexual orientation or some other characteristic that, by strict secularist lights, is simply and unacceptably discriminatory.

He concludes by stating that:

my head tells me that Randy Cohen has it right, that in the last analysis separate really is inherently unequal and inequitable, that "resolutely secular" is the only viable approach to these matters in a pluralistic society.

Does this mean that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Wycliff will no longer be doing business with Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons and Muslims?

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