For the first time in its history, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed a Democrat for president. In fact, the Tribune Company – once the pride and joy of reactionary right-winger Col. Robert R. McCormick, whose shadow from the grave seemed to extend over the paper, albeit in increasingly dissipated form, until libertarian asset vulture Sam Zell scooped it up and began deploying his own version of megalomaniacal madness – delivered a two-fer today: the Los Angeles Times joined the hometown headquarters in endorsing Barack Obama.
“On Nov. 4 we’re going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose,” says the Tribune in its endorsement editorial, posted on its website at 2:33 p.m. Friday, in advance of a Sunday print run.
“The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.”
To those still uneasy about Obama, the Tribune says, “We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.”
To Obama’s campaign theme of change, the Tribune says Obama’s version is not so much about policy as tone: “His opponents may say this is empty, abstract rhetoric. In fact, it is hard to imagine how we are going to deal with the grave domestic and foreign crises we face without an end to the savagery and a return to civility in politics.”
In fact, the Wisconsin Advertising Project just found that the tone of each campaign as measured by their television ads has “absolutely identical” in their negativity.
It seems clear reading through the rest of the endorsement that the Tribune was open to – and perhaps even cheering for – the campaign of John McCain, whom it endorsed in the Republican primaries. McCain, however, was a let-down.
“We might have counted on John McCain to correct his party’s course,” the paper says, charging the GOP with losing its professed sense of fiscal discipline. “It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days.”
Obama, on the other hand, is a “University of Chicago Democrat” whose centrist message and faith in markets the paper finds appealing.
Finally, the Trib says that “He has risen with his honor, grace and civility intact. He has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions.”
The Los Angeles Times, which also endorsed McCain in the Republican primaries, strikes many of the same themes in its endorsement, including Obama’s steady persona, a comparison of both candidates’ vice presidential selections, and the notion that “the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable.”
Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold told Crain’s that Sam Zell stayed out of the process.
“This was a decision made by consensus of the editorial board with the editor and publisher,” Dold said. “I had no conversations with the CEO.”
And as enthusiastic and sure as the endorsement is, Dold said the debate on the board was “fairly close,” in Crain’s characterization.
In a companion piece to its endorsement, Tribune editorial writer Paul Weingarten reveals more details:
“There was a 90-minute discussion of the editorial board, which included Tribune publisher Tony Hunter and Tribune editor Gerould Kern. There were passionate, but respectful arguments on both sides. Everyone spoke. There was no shouting. What emerged was a clear consensus of the board in favor of Obama. Hunter, Kern and editorial page editor Bruce Dold agreed on that final decision. Dold wrote the endorsement.”
And in so doing, he made history.
NOTE: The Sun-Times will also endorse Obama in its Sunday editions, but hasn’t yet put its endorsement online.