Miami Herald Drops Out of Race
By Sally Deneen
Sally Deneen is a freelance writer in Fort Lauderdale and a former staff writer for the Sun-Sentinel.
The Miami Herald has joined the growing number of newspapers that do not endorse presidential candidates, explaining to readers that "this decision gives us greater flexibility to maintain what we value most: our editorial independence."
The non-endorsement ranks include newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Tribune. But election-year surveys by Editor & Publisher suggest that many more also may abstain this fall. Between the last two campaigns in 1984 and 1988, the number of newspapers that reported they had not selected a candidate because they couldn't decide or had a no-endorsement policy increased by 200, to 416.
In the April editorial announcing its decision, the Herald said "the torrent of public exposure to presidential candidates" offers voters plenty of opportunities to make "informed, independent decisions" without help from the newspaper.
Editorial page editors elsewhere offer similar reasons for withholding their judgments. The Wall Street Journal provided a 1976 editorial that put its decision succinctly: "We don't think our business is telling people how to vote." The Baltimore Sun's Joseph Sterne believes "endorsements tend to put your paper in kind of a pigeonhole" because readers label the paper either conservative or liberal based on its selection.
Thomas Plate says the L.A. Times prefers to reserve its opinions for topics such as bond measures or judicial races, where a strong editorial "could make a difference." Endorsements at the Mormon-owned Deseret News could be seen as a breach of the separation of church and state, says Richard Laney. And USA Today hasn't endorsed anyone since its debut in 1982, says Karen Jurgensen. "We feel that we shouldn't line up with one side or the other."
The Miami Herald's decision dates back to disagreements between editors during the 1980 campaign, says Jim Hampton, the editorial page editor. He says he couldn't stomach Ronald Reagan; his boss, then-Executive Editor John McMullan, didn't like Jimmy Carter. So they endorsed John Anderson, which Hampton says "caused a great deal of gums to flap."
Hampton nearly resigned four years later when he says then-Publisher Dick Capen overrode the editorial board and ordered a Reagan endorsement. "I have not been fond of this whole process," he says.
Apparently there won't be such problems this fall, Hampton adds, although if Ross Perot inches closer to the White House, "that may make us speak up. One would be a fool to rule out any option."
Despite newsroom debates over the decision, only a handful of Herald readers seemed to notice – a lack of concern that researchers say isn't surprising. One extensive study completed after the 1984 election, for example, concluded "that the great majority of respondents were unaware of which candidate the newspaper they read had endorsed." ###