There's good opinion/editorial writing, and there's poor opinion/editorial writing. Our (sadly) one and only local daily newspaper, Gannett's Salem Statesman Journal, falls into the "poor" category.
The paper's endorsement of Mitt Romney yesterday offered a prime example of why the editorial section should be held up before journalism students as an example of how not to write an opinion piece.
Understand: I enjoy reading well-reasoned, thoughtful, factual opinions by conservative columnists whom I usually disagree with politically. David Brooks is one. I can follow his train of thought and appreciate how he came to his point of view even if it strikes me as ill-advised.
However the Statesman Journal, under the leadership of editorial page editor Dick Hughes, notoriously starts and ends its opinion pieces with unfounded assertions -- facts, logic, and reason nowhere to be seen in the middle.
Back in 2007 some fellow land use advocates and I met with Hughes after the Statesman Journal had published an editorial opposing the passage of Measure 49, which restored vital protections to Oregon's farm and forest land.
We wanted to point out serious factual misstatements in the editorial. Our goal was to show Hughes that the conclusion he reached -- Measure 49 was a bad idea -- wasn't supported by his mistaken assumptions in the editorial.
Shockingly, Hughes angrily jumped up and started to leave the coffee shop where we were conversing. He was angry, apparently offended that someone was pointing out facts and assertions that he'd gotten wrong. "This is just opinion!" he said.
I'd always thought newspaper endorsements were supposed to reflect more than just one person's subjective feelings. Figuring that this thought was more right than wrong, I proved myself correct by checking out ethical codes of conduct for editorial writers.
Turns out that the Statesman Journal Measure 49 editorial was decidedly ethically dubious, in my carefully reasoned, fact-based opinion.
The Romney endorsement strikes me as coming from the same mold: virtually free of important substantive facts; personal opinions unsupported by fair conclusions concerning how those absent facts relate to the public good.
Wouldn't you think that a newspaper's endorsement of a presidential candidate would refer to the candidate's positions on crucial issues, and why those positions are better than what his/her opponent wants to do?
I sure did.
So it was disturbing to see that the Statesman Journal told us nothing, zilch, nada, about where Romney wants to lead the country. The only substantive policy noted in the editorial was Obamacare, which the editorial board admits it likes "in concept" (whatever that means). And which Romney has vowed to repeal.
Thus we didn't get any mention of how these Romney goals relate to the public good of Oregonians:
--Doing away with the Affordable Care Act and near-universal health insurance coverage, given Oregon's strong state commitment to related health care reform.
-- Abolishing efforts to reduce carbon emissions and other air pollutants causing both global warming and thousands of premature deaths.
-- Reducing tax rates across the board, including a continuation of Bush's tax breaks for the very wealthy, a $6 trillion or so cost, plus increasing military spending by $2 trillion, producing a $8 trillion hole in the federal budget prior to any efforts to decrease the already high current deficit.
-- Changing Medicare to a voucher program and repealing "Obamacare" benefits that almost certainly will increase out-of-pocket costs to senior citizens.
-- Markedly slashing federal social programs, and indeeed virtually every program other than the Defense Department (which hasn't asked for the $2 trillion Romney wants to lavish on it).
-- Overturning Roe v. Wade, thereby making abortion illegal in many or most states, along with allowing employers to decide whether they want to include contraception coverage in their health plans.
-- Permitting much increased oil and gas drilling on public lands, along with off-shore areas; gutting, if not eliminating, the Environmental Protection Agency.
I could go on. But I won't.
You get the idea of how cowardly the Statesman Journal editorial board was in not addressing any of Romney's specific policy proposals. I say "cowardly" because it's easy to take a political stand without proclaiming what, exactly, you are committed to.
The Statesman Journal said it admires Romney's flip-flopping. Sure, birds of a feather flock together. Gutless panderers without firm ethical convictions like each other.
Amazingly, in a related editorial the Statesman Journal editorial board said that its Romney endorsement shouldn't be used to justify "impressions of our editorial stance throughout the year." Huh? Of course it does.
Just look at the list of policies I listed above that the Statesman Journal has endorsed, given its thumbs-up to a candidate who supports those policies. Yes, the editorial contained some blather about how we don't agree with all of Romney's positions.
Well, the editorial board must agree with most of them, or they wouldn't have endorsed Romney.
So we have to assume that among more tax cuts for the wealthy, slashing social programs, making Medicare into a voucher program, doing away with environmental protections, turning over much more private land to the oil and gas industry, undoing increased mileage requirements for American cars, regulating Wall Street more strictly, and overturning Roe v. Wade, the Salem Statesman Journal editorial board is in favor of most of these.
Except it won't say so, because it is a gutless editorial board which wanted to endorse Romney without endorsing any of Romney's far-right positions.