Why No Presidential Endorsement

October 24, 1992

Within this newspaper's red-brick fortress on Calvert Street, many a debate rages on what articles or editorials should be run, where they will be placed, how they will be handled and why a particular subject or position takes precedence over the many ,, competing issues clamoring for attention. That daily miracle, the newspaper, is the product of journalists writing, editing and arguing.

No issue incites more passionate feeling than the current policy, dating back to 1984, not to endorse formally any candidate for the presidency. The Sun and The Evening Sun endorse at all other levels from governor to county council. So why the exception? This is not a question heard only from readers. Ernest Imhoff, the newspapers' ombudsman, or in-house critic, wrote the other day that he favors presidential endorsements. Bradford Jacobs, former editorial page editor of The Evening Sun, agrees [see letters opposite].

There are two main reasons for the no-endorsement policy. One is outside baseball. In 1984, we argued that nailing our flag to a presidential candidate all too often made a mockery of our day-to-day positions, inhibited our commentary, twisted the papers' image through identification with a particular politician or party and harmed the credibility of our news columns. We said that in the presidential race, as in no other political contest, Americans have an avalanche of information on which to make their personal judgments.

Now for some inside baseball. From 1960 to 1975, the late great Price Day was in charge of the editorial pages of the Sunpapers. Of all the politicians on the scene at that time, the one he loathed the most was "the little man from San Clemente," Richard Nixon. Yet in three of the four presidential elections that took place during Mr. Day's tenure, the Sunpapers endorsed Mr. Nixon three times.

And why? Why would these newspapers be generally critical of Mr. Nixon for 1,456 days and then on the 1,457th day of the quadrennial cycle urge his election? The answer was that publishers, in the great tradition of this paper, let their editors be editors day in and day out but intervened, as is their prerogative, on the choice of a president.

The present no-endorsement policy was approved by former publisher Reg Murphy, has been continued by current publisher Mike Davies and could be overturned by future publishers for reasons persuasive to such old editors as Ernie Imhoff and Brad Jacobs. But so long as the no-endorsement policy stays in place -- and it will hold for this election -- it adds to the independence and integrity of Sunpapers editorial positions.

One final word: No endorsement does not mean no preference. We have strong views about George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, and we will continue to express them. Keep reading.

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