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Newspaper endorsements serve public interest

There has been a debate among those of us in the newspaperindustry over the years about the value of newspapers endorsingpolitical candidates and issues. One school of thought saysendorsements are bad, for they show the newspaper is biased. Theother school of thought is that it is the newspaper’sresponsibility to point out the facts so readers can makedecisions.

The DAILY LEADER has a long history of making endorsements onstate and national elections as we did on this page last Sunday.While with a few exceptions we refrain from endorsing candidates inlocal races, we have been on the front lines of making our thoughtsclear on economic issues affecting our local area – support ofschool bond issues, the School of the Arts, industrial developmentand annexation are a few of the areas that quickly come tomind.

Why do we make such endorsements? Because we are of the opinionthat it is our responsibility as a community leader to take astand. Do we think everyone should agree with our opinion? No, butwe feel that expressing our thoughts may help others formulatetheir own or at least create discussion which helps sort out theissues.

Following Tuesday’s election I received several comments andquestions about media bias and endorsements. With all the fury ofthe CBS and Dan Rather debacle over their coverage of the campaignin the past few months there is reason for question.

One individual asked me point blank, “does not an endorsement ofa political candidate mean you are biased against the othercandidate and one can assume every story you publish about theother candidate is questionable?”

Good question, but the answer is no. Any news organization, beit print or broadcast, which is worth its salt has the ability toseparate opinion from fact. Generally, newspapers tend to do itbetter than TV.

On page four of every edition of The DAILY LEADER is our opinionpage. It is labeled opinion and contains our – as well as other’s -opinion. We welcome readers to use that page to express theirthoughts, regardless of whether we are in agreement. Some of youwrite us; we wish more of you would.

Back to the bias question, several weeks ago we broke a storythat received statewide coverage about an incident at Camp Shelbyinvolving members of the 155th. One would have to agree that storygave credibility to comments by Sen. John Kerry in his attacks onPresident Bush. We did not make a lot of friends among Republicans,neither locally nor statewide. But we felt it our responsibility tobring the issue to light. We, of course, later endorsed thepresident as our pick to lead this country for the next fouryears.

Personally, I would have less gray hair and fewer sleeplessnights if we would abandon our opinion page, eliminate hard newsand become a politically correct newspaper, publishing only goodnews and ignoring the bad – but we will not.

During this election cycle, because of the likes of Dan Rather,CBS News as well as the New York Times, the rest of us in themedia, even us little guys in the hinterland, took a credibilityhit. That hit shows in the questions I was asked in the last fewdays.

Our readers have a right to question, and they should. Ourresponse is our pledge or fairness and accuracy in our newscoverage with our personal views reserved for where it belongs, onthis page, the one labeled “opinion.”

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.