With the much-anticipated Special Election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District nearly upon us, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has endorsed Republican candidate Rick Saccone over Democrat Connor Lamb, a move so stunning that the Post-Gazette’s servers crashed within two hours of its publication. If I hadn’t read it with my own eyes, I would have surely thought someone was playing a practical joke, but there it was in black and white. And this shameful act by “One of America’s Great Newspapers” should serve as the final nail in the coffin as to why newspaper endorsements of political candidates must end.
My criticism of the endorsement is not rooted in partisanship, so if you are a Rick Saccone supporter, calm down. But even people inside the Saccone campaign acknowledge he is frankly just not a very good candidate. It’s pretty much an open secret at this point- the recent take-down of Saccone on Politico reeks of Congressional Republicans setting up a narrative to blame Saccone and his poor fundraising and campaign efforts for a potential loss on Election Day. In a district that Donald Trump won by twenty points, the most recent polls have Conor Lamb up by three. So even if you like Saccone’s political views, it is undeniable that he has run a poor campaign. As recently as a few months ago, this wasn’t even supposed to be a real race.
But back to the Post-Gazette and their endorsement of Saccone, because it is a big deal that goes far beyond the two candidates. First, it is essential to understand how the endorsement process at the Post-Gazette works; I know because I went through it about eight times as a primary and general election candidate for State Representative. The candidates are brought into a conference room together with members of the Editorial Board. After brief introductory remarks, the questions begin. To their credit, the PG editorial board does their homework, asking relevant questions and pushing for real responses.
But here’s the thing; the view of the editorial board has traditionally been pretty liberal, and their questions reflected that ideology. Go back and read about how they pushed back on the issue of gun control, criticizing candidates backed by the NRA- and that was like 200 school shootings ago. Or how they slammed candidates for not voting to fund public education or infrastructure. The one Republican issue they consistently love is eliminating the state-run liquor system, but that’s about it.
Knowing this, how did the Post-Gazette Editorial Board endorse Rick Saccone over Conor Lamb? The answer may surprise you- they probably didn’t. Let me explain.
Post-Gazette publisher/editor-in-chief/racist John Robinson Block took serious (but well-deserved) heat in 2016 when he posted a photo of himself and Donald Trump after meeting on Trump’s private plane. There were legitimate rumblings that the PG was considering endorsing Trump; in the end, the paper failed to make an endorsement in the presidential race, a cop-out which translated into a backward endorsement of Trump. The non-endorsement endorsement didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but in the aftermath of Trump squeaking out a narrow victory in Pennsylvania based largely on performance in the southwest corner of the state, can anyone say for sure?
And just two months ago, all hell broke loose when Block ran an op/ed in the Post-Gazette (on Martin Luther King Day of all days) defending Donald Trump’s racist approach towards immigration titled “Racism as Reason.” In response, seventeen members of the Block family penned a scathing rebuke declaring, “We cannot remain silent and by implication approve of the use of the Post-Gazette to provide cover for racism.” The editorial also pretty much caused a full-scale riot in the newsroom, and rightfully so.
Now the same newspaper, run by the same racist jagoff, is trying to tell us the Lamb-Saccone Special Election is not a referendum on Donald Trump. Stop insulting our intelligence. The election is unquestionably a referendum on Donald Trump. Do you know how I know? Trump has been to the area twice to stump for Saccone- and let’s remember this isn’t a President known for maintaining a backbreaking work schedule.
Trump came to southwestern Pennsylvania because he needs to protect himself from the potential toxic political fallout. If Lamb wins, Republican candidates everywhere will run and hide under the bed when Trump calls. The Special Election in the 18th has become a genuine bellwether, with more national and international press coverage than anyone could have dreamed six months ago.
The Post-Gazette goes even further, dropping this load of malarkey (H/T Uncle Joe Biden):
There is another consideration. If Mr. Lamb, 33, wins, it could well be the start of a Democratic wave. The prospect of a Democratic House may please partisans, but it might be bad for the country.
The Democrats in the House have only one agenda item at the moment, and it isn’t health care or jobs. It is impeachment. Regardless of whether one likes this president or his policies, one must ask what the consequence for the country will be if we dive into so great a distraction.
-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (3/11/18)
Huh? You just said the race wasn’t about Trump, and then the reason you give for not endorsing Conor Lamb is that he won’t blindly protect Trump from impeachment no matter what Robert Muller ultimately recommends. That actually makes negative sense.
So what is this really about? You guessed it- money. Consider the following:
A privately-owned newspaper like the Post-Gazette is owned by a group of individuals who are likely wealthy people. So unlike the editorial board staff, the publisher has a legitimate financial stake in who gets elected. Quick quiz: if you are a millionaire business owner, which candidate would you rather see win for your own self-interest? If you guessed Rick Saccone, then congratulations and thank you for paying attention. Follow the money.
Print newspapers are widely acknowledged to be approaching extinction; some have gone totally online, others have cut down to only printing two or three times per week, and nearly all of them have gutted their budgets for local reporting. And how does a newspaper make its money? Advertising. Do you honestly believe that advertisers haven’t threatened to pull their ads from a newspaper to influence news and editorial content? Of course they do. I know because I witnessed it first-hand, and it was later confirmed by a member of the editorial board. The paper I am referring to in this instance is not the Post-Gazette, but you get the point. It has happened before and will continue to occur. Again, follow the money.
Maybe none of this would feel so sleazy if these very newspapers didn’t run wind-sprints to break any story bashing a politician everytime he or she gets a hangnail, or if they didn’t regularly run snarky editorials pushing the narrative that all politicians are corrupt, so it doesn’t matter who you vote for. And then they have the audacity to blame voters for not going to the polls on Election Day despite spending the preceding 364 days telling everyone that voting doesn’t matter. There are good public servants, just like there are good reporters, but it’s impossible to know who’s who anymore because of corrupt interference at the highest levels of media and government.
It used to be that the Fourth Estate was an independent American institution; now much of the media is just another cog in a broken, wheezing machine. When there is no one left to watch the watchers, who will be left to keep the system honest? (This is a trick question- the answer is nobody. We are all totally screwed.)
So do us all a favor, newspapers: if you aren’t going to endorse candidates fairly and by criteria serving the public interest over your own political and financial motivations, stay the hell out of the election. There is a reason you aren’t supposed to pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel; the reach and influence of a major daily newspaper cannot be ignored. Should they chose to do so, a newspaper can poison the well of public opinion by merely dumping buckets of printer’s ink down the well until the damage is irreversible.
But then again, it doesn’t matter who we elect to Congress, right? After all, they’re all crooks who are interchangeable parts despite legitimately differing positions on significant policy issues impacting the lives of real Americans. They’re all bums, and we should throw ‘em out on Election Day. How do I know all of this to be true?
Simple. It was in the newspaper, so it has to be true… right?