Philly For Change Calls on Inquirer to Withdraw Its Endorsement of Williams Because of Flawed Process
The paper’s lukewarm endorsement was discredited when it was revealed the editorial board had selected a different candidate but a pro-Williams manager had intervened
PHILADELPHIA – In response to a report by Dave Davies of Newsworks,org, Philly For Change today called on the Philadelphia Inquirer to withdraw its endorsement of mayoral candidate Anthony Williams. Davies reported yesterday that “sources familiar with the process have confirmed to me that after its candidate interviews, the (Inquirer) editorial board reached a consensus to endorse (Jim) Kenney.” According to Davies, either the newspaper’s owner and publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, or his close associate, editor Bill Marimow, overruled the board’s decision and published an endorsement of Williams instead. Philly For Change believes, in doing so, the Inquirer violated basic tenets of journalistic ethics by misrepresenting the selection of its editorial board, failing to disclose Lenfest’s and Marimow’s role in the published endorsement, and failing to disclose that Lenfest was a contributor to a political action committee that supports Williams.
There were several reasons to be surprised by the notion that the board would endorse Senator Williams. The Inquirer has opposed Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law, which Williams voted for and continues to support. It also has opposed private school vouchers, an issue on which he has hung his hat for years.
The Inquirer has published at least five editorials in opposition to Pennsylvania’s expansion of the Castle Doctrine, also known as Stand Your Ground (in Oct., Nov. and Dec. 2010, in April 2011 and in April 2012). Stand Your Ground was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2010, but signed into law in 2011 by Governor Tom Corbett, who was also supported by Lenfest. An April 2012 Inquirer editorial pointed out that George Zimmerman was not being held accountable for the gun murder of Trayvon Martin and expressed the hope that the legislature would repeal Stand Your Ground.
The Inquirer has also expressed opposition to Anthony Williams’ proposal to distribute private school vouchers to families with kids in public schools. In February of 2011, an Inquirer editorial said that Williams’ measure “lacks both academic and financial accountability” and “would siphon millions of dollars away from public schools.” In November 2011, the Inquirer cautioned that voucher programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee had “yielded mixed results,” and opposed vouchers because “they will hurt public schools.”
“Of course we were disappointed to see the Inquirer’s endorsement of Anthony Williams on Saturday,” said PFC co-chair Sam Durso. “But these things happen during campaigns. However, we were shocked to discover the paper’s owner apparently had brazenly undermined and misrepresented his own editorial board on behalf of his chosen candidate. For decades, when you saw an endorsement on the Inquirer’s editorial page, you knew it was the choice of the Inquirer’s editorial board. Now, if the board actually selects a different candidate than the one endorsed in the paper, you have a right to feel you’ve been misled and outraged, especially during a competitive election.”
“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised if Lenfest overruled his board and dictated an endorsement, after he dropped the previous ownership’s ban on interfering with editorial decisions,” Durso continued. “But remember that the 2008 publisher, Brian Tierney, was a partisan consultant who was criticized for endorsing John McCain, under his own name, the same day his editorial board endorsed Barack Obama. The bar wasn’t high, but at least readers knew where the owner’s opinion ended and the board’s began. Lenfest lowers these standards into the mud. A newspaper shouldn’t be a dark money Super PAC. The Inquirer ought to respect its venerable name – not to mention its readers – enough to disclose its owner’s financial interest, especially if he is meddling with the editorial board, and be explicit about changes in its endorsement policy. This whole situation discredits, not only the Inquirer’s endorsement of Williams, but its already battered reputation for journalistic integrity.”
“As Philadelphians, we cannot accept this kind of a breach of ethics on the part of the paper of record,” Durso said. “The Philadelphia Inquirer should be better than this. We call on the editor, Bill Marimow to withdraw the endorsement or step down.”
Philly for Change is a group of reform-minded Democrats. We fight for democracy, social and economic justice, peace, the environment, and the green economy at the city, state, and federal levels. We are the Philadelphia chapter of Democracy For America, started by Howard Dean in 2004.