The following is a news media commentary.
It was with great disappointment that I read that USA Today decided to take sides in a presidential race for the first time ever. The newspaper urged Americans not to vote for Donald Trump, whom it called a dangerous demagogue. It also took an editorial position on Hillary Clinton, refusing to endorse her because of her own issues (while still saying anybody would be better than Trump).
I remember when USA Today started in 1982, the year I graduated from college. It was written unlike other newspapers, without the pretentious tone, and in clear language people could easily understand without having to reread and diagram the sentences. Over the years, I also came to view USA Today as refreshingly free of many of the overt political slants we’ve grown accustomed to in other print media and—frankly—in nearly all news media today. I would read the stories and feel like I was getting a straighter, fairer, more coherent take on many issues.
Thursday, USA Today announced its editorial board felt so strongly, it was time to take a historic stance and deviate from its longstanding “no endorsement” policy, urging readers to reject Trump. Accompanying the announcement was an awkwardly-staged video with a USA Today media reporter “interviewing” the editorial page editor in a scripted event that was supposed to appear off the cuff.
For me, it will be difficult to view USA Today from now on as the newspaper it once was. After all, when an editorial board admits this sort of bias, it’s reasonable to suspect they’ll see fit to deviate from other normal editorial policies, slanting their news coverage in subtle if not overt ways.
USA Today now joins a cadre of media and journalists who have sacrificed their once-sacrosanct role of trying to remain at least relatively unbiased for the sake of the audience they serve. Instead, they are actively working to affect a national political campaign because they either feel so strongly personally they can’t help themselves; or they are so influenced by political, corporate or advertising factions that are increasingly twisting the arms of the media to advance their interests. Neither is a good scenario for a news organization, and neither is a good way to maintain the trust of readers looking for a fair news source. You might believe that well-meaning people at the newspaper simply feel so strongly, they had to take an unprecedented stand. Working on the inside for more than 30 years, I have a slightly more cynical suspicion: outside forces were at play in persuading the editorial board to take the action.
Others in the news media will be rooting on USA Today. They, too, have abdicated their independent roles, and are happy to have one holdout join the club.
It’s true that many people seek out news sources that express opinions with which they agree. But I’ve found these same people are often also thirsty for independent sources to turn to for the straight scoop without having to handicap the reporters’ or editorial board’s personal slants.
USA Today used to be one place like that. I don’t think it is anymore. That’s our loss.