Jeff Jardine

Just an opinion, but the idea newspapers should be banned from endorsing is news to me

Jeff Jardine
Jeff Jardine

Earlier this week, The Modesto Bee published an editorial explaining why Donald Trump should not be elected president.

This column isn’t about Trump, sexual harassment, support from white hate groups, his verbal incontinence, his track record of stiffing contractors or the fact he’s turned the campaign into a hazmat event. It’s not about Hillary Clinton, her emails, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi or anything else she’s been linked to and ridiculed over.

It’s about the right to express an opinion guaranteed by the First Amendment that – and this might surprise some folks – includes a free press. Since the opinion piece was published, more than 600 comments appeared either on The Bee’s Facebook page or modbee.com. Among them, scores of commenters exercised their right to tell the Editorial Board it has no right to express one.

Perhaps it comes down to the inability for some readers to distinguish between a news story and an opinion piece, even though newspapers and their online sites make that distinction every day.

News stories are expected to be factual and balanced, giving both sides of an issue the opportunity to represented.

Columnists, like moi, are voices in the paper but not the voice of the paper. My opinion is my own, doesn’t stand as the opinion of The Bee and I’m under no obligation to be in lockstep with the Editorial Board and the paper’s editorials. Diverse opinions are welcomed.

Which brings us to editorials like the one detailing why Trump is unfit to be president. There was no attempt to disguise or mislead about the intent of the piece. It represented the editorial voice and opinion of the newspaper’s management. It appeared under an “Opinion” heading in print and online. And it appeared in the same section where the Letters to the Opinion Page appear – yes, the very same place where your opinion goes when you write to The Bee, and in some cases to endorse a political candidate. Imagine that.

The editorial posted Wednesday afternoon on modbee.com under “Opinion.” It appeared in Thursday’s print edition under the heading of “Opinion.” A sampling of the vitriol:

“The editors and the Bee should be ashamed to publish such a blatantly biased article. How about you report the unbiased news and let people come to their own conclusions/opinions,” one commenter commented. “This is disgusting.”

“Another stupid Modesto Bee writer’s opinion!!!” a Facebook post read. “Why don’t you try writing the actual news?? Oh that’s right, it’s because you’re weak and spineless!!”

(No, the weak and spineless would have cowed from writing such an editorial knowing Trump supporters would go ballistic. As is their right.)

“You’re so one sided!” another posted on The Bee’s Facebook page. “You need to be fired for being a bad journalist! Are you writing a thesis or an article? I ask because this seems like your opinion. Hillary’s husband was a terrible president, do you want another Clinton?”

(Actually, Bill Clinton was the best Democrat president Republicans could have hoped for, and truly a gift. They got rich in the stock market during his two terms and then got to impeach him on moral grounds, too.)

And last but by no means least, “Wow. Seriously? Shouldn’t you be reporting news, not your own opinion? I may not be a Hillary supporter, but I would say the same thing if the headline was reversed and about her. Really disappointed in you, ModBee.”

All within their right to an opinion, even if it is contrary the very U.S. Constitution many will tell you they want followed to the letter (including their letters to the editor).

Newspapers have published editorials, meaning opinions, since their inception. In fact, they started out as partisan newsletters that, over time, morphed into watchdogs over government and the role of being the conscience of their communities. Even so, they lean right or left politically, and mostly left. Was The New York Times a shill or unethical for endorsing Abraham Lincoln, the Republican presidential nominee, in 1860?

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, one of the most corrupt politicians ever to hold any office, ran for governor against onetime KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. The Sunday before the election, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper ran a front-page editorial beseeching voters to pick Edwards, the crook, over Duke, the racist. If you elect the KKK guy, the editorial reasoned, Louisiana would see no more Super Bowls, conventions or tourism. The state’s economy would be devastated.

“On this morning next week, we will awaken with a new governor, the result of a ferocious campaign that has touched every corner of Louisiana. Like the hurricanes we dread, it already has destroyed much that we love,” it began.

Edwards won and turned out to be every bit the crook voters knew he was, but at least they didn’t have a KKK thug (and current Trump supporter and candidate for senate) as Louisiana’s governor. The paper voiced its opinion as it believed its obligation to its subscribers required.

The Bee did the same. If you didn’t like or agree with it, no problem. You have the right to your opinion, too.

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