As a working journalist and a resident of the North Bay, I am overjoyed that Halifax Media Holdings, the new corporate parent of the Press Democrat/Argus Courier, has killed editorial political endorsements. It is a journalistic conflict of interest for publishers to endorse political candidates that their reporters must cover with impartiality. Advertising-driven fish wrappers of this type wield the promise of campaign endorsements as a cudgel to bludgeon candidates who do not explicitly cater to their political agendas. Sadly, readers are often swayed by these agendized campaign advertorials.
The Press Democrat/Argus Courier “newspapers” always endorse the candidates picked by the chamber of commerce. Take Petaluma: city council member Mike Healy is the political point man for the sprawling Regency Center, with its internet-outmoded, big-box store model, and the Deer Creek shopping center, which promises to solidify traffic jams for decades to come. He was a prime mover behind letting Basin Street Property off the hook for $10 million in unapproved cost overruns in building the Theater District.
On Oct. 1 the Argus ran a “news” story about the county Democratic Party not endorsing Healy and his young mentee, Gabe Kearney, both of whom are running for the Petaluma City Council on what amounts to a “Pave Petaluma Now” platform. The remarkably unprofessional article was a political hit piece directed at the non-chamber-approved candidates that the party supported instead of Healy and Kearny, whom the chamber and its newspapers adore. Incredibly, with one exception, the half-dozen sources critical of this action that were quoted at length by the PD were all granted anonymity. The public cannot hold anyone accountable for these remarks. Given the political ferocity of the article, there is no guarantee that these quotes were not fictionalized.
Pulling the editorial endorsement rug out from under the local political establishment in Sonoma County is wonderful news for democracy. It just might level the playing field—except for the wheelbarrows full of glossy lies and misrepresentations that the monied interests will now pour into our mailboxes to try and make up for the loss of their previously free endorsement card.
Peter Byrne is a contributor to this paper. He lives in Petaluma.Open Mic is a weekly feature. We welcome your contribution. To have your 350-word topical essay considered for publication, send it to [email protected].