Of Elections and Endorsements
In the next few weeks the Spokesman will print endorsements. If the past is a guide, the Editorial Board of the Spokesman will offer it's endorsement in each primary race that has more than two candidates.
Despite its position as the paper with the third highest readership in the State of Washington, The Spokesman, like other print media is challenged to remain solvent in this era of social media and cable news. The ranks of the senior staff are thinning with retirements of people not replaced. The Editorial Board of the Spokesman, as announced in the masthead, numbered six in 2006: Stacey Cowles, Steven A. Smith, Doug Floyd, Gary Crooks, Rebecca Nappi, and D.F. Oliveria. Of these, only Stacey Cowles remains. The masthead no longer identifies the Editorial Board.
Today's "Editorial Endorsement," the opinion of the newspaper, is really the opinion of one man, William Stacey Cowles. As the publisher, Stacey Cowles has always had the last say, but, over the last decade the influences leading up to issuance of an endorsement have polarized, like our national politics. We would do well to pay attention. For example, Gary Crooks, one of the six members of the Editorial Board listed above, must have served as a balancing voice before his retirement. Shortly after his retirement, Mr. Crooks spent time working on the Lisa Brown campaign. Gone are the voices that served to soften Mr. Cowles' profoundly conservative familial influences. Stacey's wife, Anne Cowles, has long served on the board of the Washington Policy Center, the Koch donor group funded promoter of conservative libertarian, free enterprise themes in Washington State. The Cowles family owns extensive interests in Spokane besides the Spokesman Review, including Inland Paper, River Park Square, and the M apartments. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but such ownership must color the family's political self-interest.
Even more important than the composition of the Board, the process leading up to a Spokesman endorsement no longer includes an interview in many cases. In 2018 no interview was offered Lisa Brown, Ted Cummings, Jessa Lewis, Michael Kirk, David Greene, and even a few Republican candidates, including Dave Lucas and Jenny Graham. How does Mr. Cowles form a reasoned opinion without even meeting a candidate, an opinion resulting in an endorsement that retains considerable influence in swaying an election?
For me (as for Daniel Walters, writer for The Inlander, from whose article I gathered much of what is written here) the most glaringly biased example of the Cowles' endorsement process was in the Ted Cummings v. Matt Shea race in Legislative District 4 in 2018 (Spokane Valley to the Idaho border and north to Mt. Spokane). To his credit, Mr. Cowles could not bring himself to endorse Matt Shea, a conspiracy theorist at the flapping white supremacist fringe of the Republican Party, but Mr. Cowles' Republican bias was so strong he could not bear to endorse Mr. Cummings, a decent, thoughtful, principled man whose sins, seen by Mr. Cowles, were Mr. Cummings' union ties and that "he generally aligns himself with causes more liberal than his deeply red district." Mr. Cowles' inability to swallow hard and endorse the decent, moral candidate in this race made me a bit ill. His reason, a presumption of the leanings of those who bother to come out and vote is LD4, was a thin disguise of his support for Republican power regardless of decency.
Bear all this in mind as you read the Spokesman endorsements for voting suggestions in the municipal Primary Elections this August. I am a little ashamed to admit that for years I allowed this newspaper undue influence in my voting decisions in local elections, instead of doing my homework...and that was before the endorsements came to be the opinion of just one man.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. A major stimulus for writing this post came from a Guest Opinion in the Spokesman published on June 27 entitled "Outside Voices: Participation in 2020 Census is important." The striking thing was not the content but the listed author, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. At the end of the opinion was this notification: "The Union-Bulletin’s Editorial Board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart." If a newspaper in a city of 31,000 inhabitants can field an editorial board of four, thought I, there must be something amiss in the balance of the Spokesman with an editorial board of one.
That thought set me at looking at other editorial boards. The Seattle Times Editorial Board has seven members. There are fifteen members with widely ranging expertise, experience, and background who make up the Editorial Board of the New York Times, eight men and seven women, The Washington Post's Editorials "represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the editorial board." The Post's Editorial Board lists twenty members. I submit that the Spokesman's single member editorial board endorsements are hopelessly small town, little more than an expression of the deep conservatism of the Cowles family.