UPDATE: Bruce Murphy, who has covered Milwaukee media and politics for decades, writes: “Sources tell me the newspaper felt the heat of endorsing Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the bitterly contested recall election and decided it wasn’t worth it. The word is the newspaper will do no more endorsements unless the editors really feel like a candidate has crossed the line and they need to weigh in.”
UPDATE II: Editorial page editor David Haynes explains why the Journal Sentinel won’t be making endorsements.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — Wisconsin’s largest and most influential news organization — won’t be endorsing in the very tight presidential and Senate races this year. (Oct. 17 headline: “Marquette Law School Poll finds presidential and Senate races tied in Wisconsin.”)
I asked editorial page editor David Haynes about this and he replied in an email: “I’m writing a column on our decision for the Sunday paper. We may post that early (Friday). As a point of history: The JS did not endorse in the 2000 presidential election, and I remember [editor] Marty Kaiser writing at the time that it was not the first time that a newspaper in Milwaukee had not endorsed. It wasn’t common, but it had happened before.”
Will the paper be making any endorsements? “Sorry, going to have to put you off until we tell our readers,” Haynes replied.
I’m told that both U.S. Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson were furious when they heard the no-endorsement news; I’ve requested comment from both campaigns.
Inside the paper, I’m told, there’s the feeling that “we have two tough picks to make and we’re taking a pass,” and the paper is less relevant because of it.
Five years ago, a Journal Sentinel staffer told Milwaukee Magazine that “we should endorse for president or get out of the editorial business.” In the same media column, the head of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism department said: “If you’re not going to editorialize on the most important topic of the day, and if you’re not going to take a stand in the most important presidential election of our lives, what’s the point?”
The Journal Sentinel endorsed Barack Obama in 2008.