Sunday, November 02, 2008
Conversation can't happen without you
- Heading back to the debate in Appalachia
- Redistricting process must be taken from pols
- A shutdown remains a very real possibility
- U.S. Navy Vets case argues for campaign limits
From the RoundTable blog
The longest presidential campaign in my lifetime ends Tuesday. One thing you won't see this year is a presidential endorsement from The Roanoke Times.
A decision was made at the corporate level by our ownership to forgo presidential endorsements. The rationale is that, while we bring unique perspective to state and local endorsements where we have an opportunity to interview candidates and often know them well, we have no such advantage at the presidential level.
We have not ignored the campaign, however. We've addressed issues and criticized the conduct of the campaign, hitting Barack Obama for going back on his pledge to accept the limits of public financing and going after John McCain for a campaign based largely on falsehoods and distortions.
I am pleased that the decision to forgo a formal endorsement did not keep us from participating in the discussion over one of the most important decisions Americans will make.
I am disappointed, though, that the discussion on these pages has been weighted toward one side.
We caught a fair amount of grief over last Sunday's Horizon package, which featured excerpts from more than a dozen commentaries we had received but knew we wouldn't have space to publish.
Only one of the commentaries was pro-McCain. As one very polite reader put it in an e-mail, "A commentary series that purports to address 'Selecting the next president' should have offered more than a series of pieces that overwhelmingly advocated for only one candidate."
That reader and other critics are right. I wish we could have presented a far more balanced selection of commentary. But we can only run what we receive, and in this campaign, we've gotten far more pro-Obama letters and commentary than pro-McCain pieces.
Commentary editor Luanne Traud checked what we had received and published in October. We published 44 local essays by Monday. Seventeen favored Obama, four favored McCain and 23 were either not about the campaign or were neutral.
We rejected 20 pro-Obama commentaries and 13 McCain commentaries. Four of the McCain commentaries were rejected because they were from out of state. One was rejected because it exceeded our 750-word limit. One was part of a mass e-mail campaign. One was rejected because it was nothing but unsubstantiated rumors. Another was rejected because the author had already had a commentary within the last 30 days. One was simply incoherent. Another was mostly a recitation of Scripture.
I didn't count them, but I would guess that the story with letters is similar -- though my sense is that the ratio of pro-McCain (or anti-Obama) letters was higher than the commentary ratio.
The nature of this campaign made for difficulties. There have been many whispers, innuendoes and smears against Obama. Most of them have been discounted, but that hasn't stopped people from writing about them as if they are fact.
Letter writers and commentary authors are welcome to their opinions, but we do not knowingly publish any allegation that we know is not true.
Letters editor Elizabeth Strother and I have had many discussions about questionable assertions in letters. Generally, we have tried to err on the side of allowing publication when possible, deleting only assertions we know for certain are erroneous and allowing some questionable items through if there was any legitimate way to interpret the record to support a claim.
We want these pages to reflect the lively debate happening in the nation and in this community. But when pro-Obama submissions outnumber pro-McCain submissions by more than 2-to-1, that's difficult to achieve.
These pages are kind of like the lottery: You can't win if you don't play, and you can't participate in the conversation if you don't write to us.
Endorsement or no, those who read our editorials every day know where we stand. But they should also know this: We want our views challenged. We want a conversation filled with competing voices. That's when democracy works the best, and providing a place for that dialogue is our reason for being.
Please join us. Also, please join us Tuesday night on The RT, our editorial page blog, as we live-blog election night. The conversation happens there, too: blogs.roanoke.com/roundtable.
Radmacher is the editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.