Social media has been abuzz with questions and complaints over mainstream media’s political endorsements in Michigan this week. Last Sunday, the traditional day for many print newspaper gubernatorial endorsements, produced a monoculture of opinions — all supporting Gov. Snyder (spare one), most accompanied by a variety of convoluted explanations and complicated caveats.
A number of Michigan’s major publications that gave Snyder their support are owned by, or affiliated with the holding company Gannett Inc. — including the Battle Creek Inquirer, Lansing State Journal, Port Huron Times Herald, and the Detroit Free Press. And for twenty-five years now, The Detroit News, also affiliated with Gannett, has operated under an agreement with the Free Press, merging operations as a combined company called the Detroit Media Partnership. Their editorial boards were supposed to operate independently, with firewalls, but that no longer seems to be the case.
The Free Press endorsement of the governor is a tortured exercise in cognitive dissonance, with the bulk of the column inches devoted to slamming his every last policy move, while praising Schauer’s values and priorities. It was a particularly curious endorsement in light of previous op-eds that read like directives for the electorate to send the governor packing in 2014.
In December of 2012, the Freep editorial board collectively penned an op-ed titled “A Failure of Leadership”, bemoaning Snyder’s about-face on right-to-work legislation as a gross betrayal of voters. In January of this year, Freep editor Stephen Henderson authored the screed, “Snyder’s broken promises don’t give us a reason to trust him” — describing how the governor would need electoral “forgiveness” or “forgetfulness” to get re-elected.
It’s not just the Gannett-owned papers though.
In a blatant quid pro quo, The Michigan Chronicle gave their nod to Snyder, with this qualifying statement:
Arriving at this decision has not been easy for the Michigan Chronicle. Mark Schauer is an attractive candidate in many respects, and we agree with him that some of the priorities of the Governor and his party were wrong and, at times, patently undemocratic. Like many Michiganders, it is hard for us to forget the rank power plays of our legislature’s last lame duck session, later signed into law by Governor Snyder. No doubt that episode disappointed many and tarnished his appeal.
In the summer of 2013, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr awarded Real Times Media a $4.1 million contract, through a closed process, with no details available to the public. Real Times Media is the parent company of The Michigan Chronicle. As reported in The Michigan Citizen:
The $4.1 million would represent a significant revenue boost for the weekly publication. According to a pension board proposal in 2006, Real Times Media’s total sales was $9.8 million for all of its media properties, including the Michigan Chronicle, Chicago Defender and Pittsburg Courier.
Not all editorial boards are bought and paid for in Michigan — at least one isn’t.
John Lindstrom, Publisher of Gongwer News Service, brought to our attention that the Traverse City Record-Eagle may be the only sizable paper in the state that did not endorse Gov. Snyder. Lindstrom wrote of the Freep endorsement, as compared to Record-Eagle’s refusal to renew their support for the governor:
That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).
Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.
The Record-Eagle, a corporate outlier, is the only Michigan paper owned by Community Newspapers Holdings Incorporated. Formerly owned by Dow Jones, the Northern Michigan paper’s editorial board has a history of independence, and a reputation for boldly playing with fire.
In a multi-year series of articles the paper exclusively reported on, they exposed a scandal involving Meijer Corporation and their manipulation of a local government — an exposé that cost the paper dearly. The former editor of the Record-Eagle, Bill Thomas, described the critical lack of coverage of the story by other papers. As reported in MLive:
Thomas criticized statewide Michigan media outlets, suggesting that other newsrooms tiptoed around the story for fear of reprisal by Meijer, which pulled its Sunday ad circular from the Record-Eagle and gave it to a community feature-driven upstart paper “less interested in the messy business of journalism.” The move cost the Record-Eagle about $250,000 in annual advertising revenue.
He alleges that local politicians tried to “throttle” the coverage by lobbying Dow Jones & Co. executives to have him fired during the paper’s reporting.
With this week’s pan of the Snyder administration, the Record-Eagle has clearly demonstrated its independence anew, apparently being the only paper in the state bold enough to tell the emperor he has no clothes. In their words:
Though he promised voters that right to work legislation wasn’t “on his radar,” he immediately signed right to work bills that had been shamefully rammed through a lame-duck Legislature in a single day with no hearings and zero public input. It was a dark day for democracy in Michigan.
Snyder oversaw a $1 billion tax break for businesses, much of it at the expense of new taxes on retiree pensions. He failed to convince Republican lawmakers to make any meaningful headway in fixing Michigan’s crumbling roads, his No. 1 agenda item.
Publishing in a moderately conservative market-area, the Record-Eagle editorial board can hardly be described as a bunch of lefty idealogues — they gave Snyder their full support four years ago. But, not so this year.
At least one newspaper isn’t under the corporate thumb.
Read the full Record-Eagle op-ed Here.
(Note: This writer’s family was personally involved in the Record-Eagle series on the Meijer scandal. The story in Harper’s magazine is Here.)