I’ve always been interested in newspapers. Maybe it started when, as a little kid, I noticed that every morning we got this roll of gray paper that could make my dad laugh until tears came out of his eyes or it could make him angrily stub his cigarette out and inhale one last slurp of coffee before clunking his mug into the sink and storming off to work.
The Salt Lake Tribune had the power to set the day’s tone in our house. As a preschooler, I’d lie on the floor with the paper, sounding out the letters.
Lately I’ve had the astonishing privilege of contributing columns to The Tribune, and I often run into people who think I work there. I get called on to answer for all kinds of decisions the paper makes. I always try to explain my role as a clueless outsider. People ask me what Holly Mullen’s like or why the paper did this or that. Let me just announce that I don’t know. (Actually, Mullen’s nice - I met her once.)
This week, everyone’s upset about the Trib’s endorsement of George Bush and I’ve been unwittingly forced into the argy-bargy, the fracas, the brouhaha, the melee. People aren’t in the mood to sit still for a polite description of my nearly non-status with the Trib. This week, they’re purple when they start talking and they won’t wait for anything. “Why in the hell . . .” “What on earth . . .” “Who in their right mind . . .” “How can a newspaper . . .” “Why would you work for people who . . .”
Mostly, people say that the Bush endorsement came out of left field. A lot of people feel that the Trib’s Opinion section has a fair (some would say miraculous) amount of moderate and even left-leaning content. Readers were thus agog to see the Bush blessing. Because some of us grew up during the generation and a half when the Trib did not endorse candidates, many readers are simply unaware of city newspapers’ long history of political endorsements; indeed, our country’s newspapers were first conceived as partisan political tools, only later were they discovered to have moneymaking and (lastly) community education potential.
When I read the Trib’s Bush endorsement I noticed, after throwing up, that it was pretty half-hearted. It reminded me of debate classes where the teacher says, “Today’'s topic is freedom of speech. This side of the class is for it, this side is against it. Prepare your arguments.”
Are editorial writers grown up debaters who have to write things they don’t agree with? Readers are naturally curious. Three different National Public Radio programs focused on endorsements this week. The guests were U.S. editorial page editors and other editorial board members. Invariably, they would be asked if the publisher (the owner of the newspaper) gets an overriding vote on endorsements - could she or he make the final call even if everyone else on the editorial board were to vote the other way?
Bruce Dold, editorial page editor at The Chicago Tribune, said on “Fresh Air,” “At The Chicago Tribune, as at most papers, the publisher does have the authority, if he or she wishes to exercise it, to overrule the editorial board.” Editorial page editors don’t seem to ever get quoted saying that it has happened at their paper, however, so who knows.
I’ve been reading letters from my fellow Trib readers saying they’re canceling their subscriptions and I understand. I’m sick about the endorsement of George Bush. But I think it’s our spinach. Gag down the Bush endorsement (and the others) and we can get back to reading the paper. Newspapers - the good ones - make an attempt to be as broad as the communities they serve. That’s a fractured assignment here, and we readers always pay more notice to the things that irk us than to the things we appreciate, but the Trib’s mix seems fine to me.
I don’t want to be anyone’s poodle, least of all the poodle of a George Bush endorser, but I’ll be keeping my Trib subscription. I want to keep reading Paul Rolly, Robert Kirby, Holly Mullen, John Yewell, Lou Borgenicht, Brian Moench and George Pyle. I want to keep reading Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Clarence Page, Molly Ivins and Leonard Pitts Jr. I need my Bagley cartoons.
I’ve always been interested in newspapers. I’ll remain loyal to the Trib in part because I’m good at forgiveness and in part because I want to keep up on the news of the day in a way that the city’s other daily paper cannot begin to help me with.
But, seriously, I threw up.
Barb Guy is a frequent contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Opinion section.