Did the Globe’s editor-in-chief really overrule his editorial board’s election endorsement? Not likely, writes former long-time staffer Michael Valpy.

By Michael Valpy

Thomas Hardy wrote in his diary in 1882: “Nothing bears out in practice what it promises incipiently.” Which in journalese means, “If a story looks too good to be true, it probably is,” which brings us to Jesse Brown’s account in his Canadaland blog of how The Globe and Mail came to editorially endorse Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives in the Ontario election.

Bits of Brown’s narrative are maybe true, but his interpretation of how the bits all fit together conveys a big misunderstanding of how newspaper editorial boards work and how newspapers endorse political parties at election time. Plus, it’s weird that iPolitics and Vice should be repeating Brown’s claims—actually torquing them considerably, attended by swarms of tweets and Facebook re-postings—with shrieks of ethical indignation and aprons thrown over their heads. They both should know better.

Brown reported on June 11, the day before the election, that a “highly-placed source within the Globe and Mail” had “leaked” to him that the editorial board had unanimously agreed to endorse a minority Liberal government but was overruled on deadline by editor-in-chief David Walmsley. Moreover, as Brown goes on to say, “it is widely felt that Walmsley was carrying water for publisher Philip [sic] Crawley, who in turn was carrying out the orders of the Globe-controlling Thomson family, whose interests would be best served by a Conservative government.”

What is wrong with this account (unless the Globe has horrendously changed the way it’s been endorsing political parties and candidates since the invention of the printing press) is that there would have been no editorial board decision for Walmsley to overrule. The board undoubtedly discussed which party and leader should form the next Ontario government but the decision would only be made by Walmsley after consultation with Crawley, who would be sensitive to the thinking of the Thomson family.

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The Toronto Star operates only slightly differently. The decision is made by publisher John Cruickshank to whom editorial page editor Andrew Phillips reports directly, and Cruickshank lets John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corporation, the Star’s parent, know what he’s doing. But basically what happens at One Yonge Street is what happens at 444 Front Street West—the decision is made by the guys at the top.

The idea that the Globe’s or the Star’s editorial writers hold some august autonomy is fiction. Owners own the voices of corporate newspapers in North America. Those voices may be delegated to writers on the editorial pages but no one holds those jobs whose view of the world is not more or less in line with the worldview of publishers and owners. Judy Rebick is never going to be chair of the Globe’s editorial board.

As for the Globe’s endorsement of Hudak and his Ontario Progressive Conservatives, why does this elicit shrieks?

The late James Carey, of Columbia University, one of the 20th century’s most insightful media scholars, pointed out that newspapers primarily are instruments of ritual communication, not providers of “new news” but shapers of communities’ shared values, confirming for their readers a shared symbolic vision of the world. He likened reading a newspaper to partaking in sharing the bread and wine of the Christian mass, and, interestingly enough, a video the Globe produced for its advertisers when it launched its redesign in October 2010 began with the words “The Ritual” and went on to portray the newspaper’s desired elitist, well-to-do readers—MOPEs: managers, owners, professionals, entrepreneurs—opening their papers in the morning in a shared ritualist act.

Which political party in Ontario would most leave the MOPEs’ money in the MOPEs’ hands and be seen by the MOPEs as the best friends of the market, of shareholders, of the bond-rating agencies? Ontario has just finished a historic election contest between the Conservatives, who want to shrink the state, and the Liberals, who want to expand it. Who do you think the Globe would endorse?

leftMichael Valpy is a senior fellow at Massey College who teaches in University of Toronto’s book and media studies program. He is a former Globe editorial board member, columnist and foreign correspondent.

This piece was originally published on Origins of Politics and is republished here with the author’s permission.

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