The Orlando Sentinel has backed every Republican seeking the White House since Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Not this time.
"This president has utterly failed to fulfill our expectations," the Florida paper said in supporting John F. Kerry, prompting some angry calls and a few dozen cancellations.
"A lot of people thought they could trust that the Sentinel would always go Republican, and when that didn't happen, they felt betrayed," said Jane Healy, the paper's editorial page editor.
The Sentinel is among 36 newspapers that endorsed President Bush four years ago and have flip-flopped, to coin a phrase, into Kerry's corner. These include the Chicago Sun-Times, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Memphis Commercial Appeal, according to industry magazine Editor & Publisher. Bush has won over only six papers that backed Al Gore, including the Denver Post, which received 700 letters -- all of them protesting the move.
Leave off whether newspapers have any sway. Surely 700 protest letters to the Denver Post says something, though. I'm familiar with the Orlando Sentinel, and also with the Detroit News, which has NOT swung to Kerry, but has instead withheld its opinion this year, after recommending Republicans for dozens of years in a row. These are good newspapers as a general rule. Of particular note is how far the Sentinel goes to show it is not being partisan:
Our choice was not dictated by partisanship. Already this election season, the Sentinel has endorsed Republican Mel Martinez for the U.S. Senate and four U.S. House Republicans. In 2002, we backed Republican Gov. Jeb Bush for re-election, repeating our endorsement of four years earlier. Indeed, it has been 40 years since the Sentinel endorsed a Democrat -- Lyndon Johnson -- for president.
But we cannot forget what we wrote in endorsing Mr. Bush in 2000: "The nation needs a leader who can bring people together, who can stand firm on principle but knows the art of compromise." Four years later, Mr. Bush presides over a bitterly divided Congress and nation. The unity following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- the president's finest hour -- is a memory now. Mr. Bush's inflexibility has deepened the divide.
Four years ago, we expressed confidence that Mr. Bush would replace the Clinton-Gore approach of frequent military intervention for one of selective involvement "using strict tests to evaluate U.S. national interests." To the president's credit, the war in Afghanistan met those tests. But today, U.S. forces also are fighting and dying in a war of choice in Iraq -- one that was launched to disarm a dictator who did not have weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea have worsened.
It's also noteworthy that the Sentinel strikes at Bush's lack of ability at uniting and concensus-building. It's a thinking man's endorsement and doesn't dwell on failure of policy, but more on the failure of style that leads to the failure of policies.
Though the News does not endorse Kerry, its withholding of an endorsement for Bush is far more damning in its language than the Sentinel is:
With the nation and the world firmly behind his operation in Afghanistan, he turned his sights too quickly to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, his family's old nemesis.
Acting on intelligence that was faulty and too eagerly interpreted by the administration to match its agenda, Bush moved against Iraq without the support of key allies.
We backed the invasion of Iraq, accepting the Bush assertion that Saddam's weapons programs presented a gathering threat to the United States. While America, the world and the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam gone, we now believe that Iraq was a fight that might have waited, or been avoided altogether.
Regardless, a president who takes the nation to war has an obligation to win that war as quickly, efficiently and painlessly as possible.
Bush has not done that. The management of the conflict in Iraq is abysmal. The United States went into Iraq without enough international support and brought too few of our own troops to complete the job.
In shorting the generals, in allowing political concerns to trump military strategy, in assuming too much cooperation from the Iraqi people, Bush allowed Iraq to become a hotbed of terrorism, the very condition he struck to prevent. The messy result has allowed our enemies to portray the United States as a villain, and use our role as a rallying cry for terrorists elsewhere.
There were too many poor calls, including disbanding the Iraqi army, leaving the borders undefended and trusting shady Iraqi nationals, all of which combined to turn what could have been a stunning liberation into a still uncertain, nation-building morass. Iraq has stretched America's military capabilities, strained friendships and will hamstring future strikes against rogue regimes.
Such bad management cannot be forgiven in a wartime president.
Will anyone pay attention to these papers? I certainly can't say, but if the Orlando Sentinel and the Detroit News have abandoned Bush, he must have preformed as badly as we on ASZ have been saying for months.