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The Oregonian has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president. Not a particularly gutsy call in this blue state. It does go against tradition to support a Democrat, but it has endorsed Dem presidential candidates in recent years, though not always (the the 2000 Bush endorsement editorial was one of the worst I have ever read -- until today).

But, true to form, the Big O cuddles up to Gordon Smith and shamelessly lies about his record in an unctuous and openly false editorial endorsement for him.

The Oregonian was founded as a Whig newspaper in 1850, and then promptly jumped to the new Republican Party as the Whigs collapsed.  It is also a prime example of the Booster Press: A small group of businessmen founded the paper for the express purpose of boosting Portland as the main port city in Oregon.

It has kept true to both its Republican and its Booster commitments throughout its history. It still slavishly reflects the thinking of the burghers of Portland, and that is nearly always small thinking. (The Oregonian was the only major newspaper to run an expurgated version of the Nixon Tapes, to its national embarrassment. It kept silent on the Bob Packwood story until the Washington Post broke it.)When its publisher doesn't especially care for the Republican presidential nominee, and when a Republican endorsement is entirely unjustifiable, as in this year, it will endorse a Democrat.  But it virtually always sticks with its Downtown Portland bias in statewide races.  Its list of absurd endorsements is long indeed.

So no one really expected the O to endorse the best Senate candidate the state has offered up since Ron Wyden. Instead, it unblinkingly insults Oregonians by looking into our collective eye and lying about Smith's record in an effort to justify the endorsement. I have to think that the editorial board is boneheaded, or that Fred Stickel has once again intervened and forced the board to embarrass itself in public. The editor of the editorial page is safely in the pocket of whatever retrograde issue or candidate comes along. But left to its own devices, the board can sometimes sway him. I assume it is helpless against the ancient and thickheaded publisher.

The editorials are not up on the O's Web page yet, so I can't link. The Obama endorsement is so inconsequential that I won't bother to quote from it. But here are a couple of howls from the Smith endorsement:

The evidence of his independence shows clearly by a number of  critical stands he has taken. It is further reflected in the annual ideological index . . . published by the nonpartisan National Journal [HAH!]. . . .Over his two terms in the Senate, Smith has shown himself to be able and willing to cooperate with Democrats, especially Ron Wyden on important issues.

The editorial then goes on to cite a couple of issues on which he has signed onto the work of others to keep up the mask of moderation, nothing on which he has actually led. Then there's this laugher:

By far, though, Smith's conscience-driven reversal of his support for the war in Iraq was his most important decision. He made the choice after deep reflection and while under great pressure from the White House and Republicans to stay the course. His defection prompted others and pushed the Administration town finally developing an endgame in Iraq.

Quite simply, no intelligent and honest person could write those sentences with a straight face. The editorial reads brazen political expediency as "conscience-driven." It says nothing of his continued support of the war after the public chest-beating and clothes-rending. Nor does it consider the permission he occasionally receives to wander off the range in search of a campaign issue he can actually stand on. While Gordon Smith may be capable of deep reflection, I don't ever recall seeing an example of it. But this is of a piece with the paper's performance over its history. While some good reporting analysis of politics happens in the Big O's pages (Jeff Mapes' work, for example), it is entirely unreliable in its major endorsements because it is so thoroughly welded to its Republican and Boosterist history. The primary example of its tendentious and mendacious work is its 2000 endorsement of George Bush (it endorsed Kerry in 2004). It is an absolutely blinkered evaluation of the Bush record and campaign, matched only by this groveling to Gordon Smith. In both editorials it stares us in the eyes and pretends to believe things that never happened.

Fortunately, the misguided Senate endorsement, or indeed the vapid Obama endorsement, will make little to no difference on the ground. The Oregonian has long since established its irrelevance on most issues of public importance. It may occasionally influence voting on a ballot measure, but that's about it.

Blue Oregon deserves a better newspaper, a better newspaper publisher, and a better editor of the editorial page. Taking a buyout, Bob?

Originally posted to Vico on Sat Oct 18, 2008 at 02:29 PM PDT.

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