In an article in the October 21, 2018 issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Publisher Tom Silvestri explained that after the 2018 elections, Virginia’s newspaper of record will no longer endorse political candidates. Silvestri explained that the paper’s editorial board came to this decision only within that past week. Given that they had already told candidates in the course of the campaign that they would be making an endorsement decision, endorsements will be coming out for this one last election. However, after this cycle, Silvestri acknowledged that times have changed, and it is “unwise” to continue with endorsements simply for the sake of traditions, without any thought to the ways in which the media landscape has changed. I think he’s right.
While admitting that many things weighed on the decision, the most important factor came down to public perception of bias. Certainly media bias is a huge topic of conversation these days, with the president regularly going on the attack against major media companies and cries of “fake news” seen everywhere you turn. Silvestri noted that at the RTD, the editorial department is entirely separate from the news department. Despite explaining this to readers on a regular basis, news reporters are often held to account for editorial stances and accused of bias that is only a reflection of editorial stances and endorsements. Ending endorsements is seen as a way to curtail this, hopefully giving readers less reason to question the bias of the news department.
In a time when we are bombarded with political opinions, including often uninformed and unwarranted diatribes from celebrities, it is a bold move for a major newspaper to cease offering endorsements. Yet, it is just the move that is needed. News media should provide information for people to use in order to come to their own conclusions. Of course there is a always place for editorials to help inform people on differing opinions. However, when it comes to our vote, the most important power that individual citizens wield, we each should be forming our own opinions instead of just checking the box for the candidate that our media or celebrity of choice told us to. Unfortunately, our school systems have stopped teaching us how to think, only what to think, so this exercise in ending endorsements will be lost on many. Or possibly, for some, it will encourage them to begin learning to think critically on their own again.
A Republic, such as the one in which we live, is predicated on an informed electorate exercising their civic duty to vote. Preferably we vote not just for a straight-line ticket, and not just for who we are told to vote for, but who we genuinely believe is the best candidate. The idea of a Republic is that we are not subjects anymore, but free citizens with the power to help shape our country in a participatory government. Whenever we cede our vote to anyone else, even indirectly by allowing someone else to decide for us how we cast our vote, we have allowed ourselves to become a subject once again. That is not the America that our founders envisioned. Media outlets refraining from endorsing candidates is a large step in the right direction.