The Contradictions of the RTD

Deputy editorial page editor Todd Culbertson penned a column for Sunday describing the Times-Dispatch’s candidate endorsement process. The column describes the hours of face-to-face meetings the newspaper’s editorial board conducted with candidates, and the great effort the board spent in careful deliberation about its choices.

Culbertson explains that the editorial side of the newspaper does not affect the news coverage; editorial board members are blocked from campaigning for or donating to candidates; the editorial staff collects information from “trusted sources,” looking and listening, and reading; and above all from careful evaluation of how candidates present themselves in one-on-one individuals.

It’s almost as if we were supposed to believe that winning an RTD endorsement is equivalent to gaining favor from a Nobel Prize committee or some other high-minded set of dignitaries.

The reality is that the Times-Dispatch editorial page, on balance, is a blatantly partisan advocate of conservatism and the Republican Party. (Can one imagine any circumstances, short of being charged with a felony, in which George Allen would have failed to win the newspaper’s endorsement?)

Culbertson presents some fairly direct evidence of this in his own column, in stating the “principles embraced by Media General, our corporate parent.” These include “individual freedom and responsibility; self-determination; free enterprise; fiscal conservatism; a strong national defense; integrity, innovation and high quality; and a commitment to community.”

Notably missing from that list are other values, such as social equality, democratic participation, reducing poverty and needless human suffering. Any reasonably experienced observer of American politics would read the RTD’s list and come to the straightforward conclusion that the RTD is a conservative newspaper, and that the supposedly “neutral’ application of those stated principles to evaluating candidates will produce endorsements for Republican candidates.

In that sense, all of Culbertson’s insistence on the integrity of the RTD’s internal endorsement process utterly misses the point: by virtue of the values the RTD says it stands for, the final endorsements in any given campaign are (barring quite unusual circumstances) predictable and essentially preordained. Essentially, Culbertson’s column is trying to claim for the newspaper the credibility that comes with being a truly dispassionate observer, when in fact the newspaper (by its own stated principles) is far from neutral.

But it’s worse than that. When Culbertson notes that the editorial staff members are not permitted to be part of campaigns, the implication is that the RTD’s staffers are not mere partisans who condescend to actively campaign for candidates.

But how does that claim square with the publication of columns like Ross Mackenzie’s on Sunday? The column, once again, offers no substantive evaluation of a particular issue and reflects no original research or thinking. The sum total of his argument as to why Allen wins “on the issues and the company he keeps” is that Jim Webb is a Democrat, that other prominent Democrats endorse him, and that Webb takes Democratic positions. No substantial argument is offered as to why the Democratic positions are wrong; it’s just assumed or asserted. As we have said before here, this is tautological reasoning at its finest.

It’s also ad hominem, mean-spirited, and partisan (in the worst sense) to the core. Is there any real difference between Mackenzie’s column and that of a paid GOP pamphlet, other than the occasional presence of some high-falutin’ vocabularly? And can anyone imagine that the RTD would publish a single column, let alone a regular column, which (with little or nothing in the way of substantiaton) referred to Republicans as “arrogant,” ‘incoherent,” and full of “nonsense”?

The contradiction between what the RTD says it is or wants to be and what it actually is will remain clear for all to see so long as the newspaper sees fit to print Mackenzie’s column (and those unsigned editorials which bear his unmistakeable influence).

Published in: on November 5, 2006 at 4:04 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The fact that the Times-Dispatch editorial page is so thoroughly conservative makes its endorsement of a “no” vote on Ballot Question #1 (the so-called “marriage amendment”) all the more remarkable. That’s why the RTD’s readers should take seriously its advice to reject the proposed amendment.

  2. Fair point, Rick, although their reasons for voting “no” are rooted in constitutional caution, not in a concern for tolerance or equality (see discussion here):
    Thanks for the comment. It looks like the vote on this is going to be much closer than anyone could have expected.

  3. Save Richmond has an excellent post up echoing and expanding on some of the themes noted here.

  4. The RTD’s endorsements help me a great deal; knowing that they stand for the polar opposite of everything I believe in, all I need to do is see their recommendations and vote the other way. (Except for the rare occasion like the marriage amendment…I guess I still need to do *some* research after all.)

    I wonder whether the RTD editorial staff takes into account the results of their web polls. Their Allen/Webb poll currently is running more than two to one in favor of Webb.

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