From an outsider’s perspective, the bruising Virginia gubernatorial campaign between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate features two wholly unattractive candidates for the executive mansion.
McAuliffe has faced attacks on his abortion record and his business dealings. A recent attack ad claimed McAuliffe made millions of dollars while Global Crossing, a telecom company he had ties to, went bankrupt and laid off 10,000 workers. However, two of the three laid off workers said they were never told their words would be used in a political attack ad.
Cuccinelli’s campaign also sponsored ads blasting McAuliffe’s ties to Rhode Island real estate planner Joseph Caramadre, who is being charged in a federal fraud case involving accusations that he stole the identities of terminally ill patients and pocketed their death benefits. The ads came despite The Associated Press retracting a report that stated that McAuliffe lied to federal investigators about his relationship with Caramadre. The wire service fired veteran political reporter Bob Lewis and Richmond-based news editor Dena Potter as a result of the erroneous report.
For his part, Cuccinelli is coming under constant battering by McAuliffe on social issues, particularly his stance on abortion and gay rights. One ad blasted Cuccinelli’s apparent ties to a father’s rights movement that opposes women being granted custody of children in a divorce and Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to apologize for his ties with father’s rights groups.
Cuccinelli’s running mate, E.W. Jackson has expressed extremely anti-gay views, calling gays “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and claimed that gays were bigoted against African-Americans and that “their minds are perverted” and asserted that gays “lie” because “they need legitimacy because they don’t have it.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch agreed with my outsider’s perspective and decided to endorse “none of the above” for governor. In a blistering editorial that spared few punches, the paper representing the state capital wrote, “the major-party candidates have earned the citizenry’s derision. The third-party alternative has run a more exemplary race yet does not qualify as a suitable option. We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor.”
The paper blasted the Republicans move to a convention instead of a primary, saying Cuccinelli “rigged the process for the Republican nomination when his minions changed the system from a primary to a convention, which they considered more likely to produce their desired outcome … The expression of raw power would have delighted sachems of Tammany Hall.”
The Times-Dispatch also bemoaned McAuliffe as a particularly weak Democratic candidate, saying that the previous Democratic candidate, L. Ceigh Deeds, only beat McAuliffe and fellow Democratic candidate Brian Moran because he stayed above the battles between McAuliffe and Moran.
“McAuliffe may be a deal-maker, but he is not the conciliator necessary in times as nasty as these,” the editorial said.
As for libertarian third-party candidate Robert Sarvis, the paper found his campaign to be the best one, but said he lacked essential experience to govern effectively.
“We fear Sarvis would be in over his head,” the editorial said. However, he said a vote for Sarvis would “serve notice to Republicans and Democrats that the electorate rejects their surly antics. Citizens whose votes reflect their ideals do not throw away their ballots.”
I’m thrilled that the Times-Dispatch didn’t provide an endorsement to a candidate it felt was unworthy of it. However, I think it and other media outlets should go further and refuse to endorse candidates at all. When I was managing editor of The Prince George’s Sentinel, the publisher’s policy was against endorsing candidates. He felt it was the paper’s job to inform readers and the readers were smart enough to make their own decisions.
I agreed with that at the time and I agree with it now. I also believe that newspapers or other media endorsing candidates is an arrogant presumption that they have the right to tell the public whom to vote for or what to believe about each particular candidate. I also believe that endorsements compromise the very sense of objectivity that journalists are supposed to champion by reporting the news.
During my college days at the University of Maryland, there was an election for student government association president where the editorial staff of The Diamondback, the university’s student newspaper, considered both main candidates weak. I jokingly suggested that the paper not endorse anybody, not expecting the joke to be anything more than a joke.
The joke took on another life, however, and led the editor in chief to call an editorial meeting in which she announced the paper would endorse one of the candidates and we’d have to get over it. A few years later, the paper opted not to endorse a candidate in that year’s SGA election for many of the same reasons as the editorial staff I was on turned my joke into a serious request.
It’s a good thing when a media outlet recognizes how horrible both candidates are in what amounts to a two-horse race and refuses to endorse either. It would be much better for political discourse as a whole for the media to abstain from the practice altogether.
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