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Why we don't endorse candidates

This is the time every political season when many newspaper editorial boards announce which candidates they support. Publications, such as Editor and Publisher, have begun keeping a scorecard of presidential endorsements, regularly updating whether Bush or Kerry is ahead in either the total number of newspapers or the total circulation of the papers in their camp.

Rest assured, this newspaper isn't going to add to either total. The Deseret Morning News has a long tradition of staying out of that game. We've maintained that tradition despite the fact that our main rival, the Salt Lake Tribune, began endorsing candidates two years ago.

We do, however, have a long tradition of endorsing ballot initiatives and proposed amendments. Beginning today, you will notice this page taking positions either for or against many of the items that will face voters next Tuesday.

Why do we do this?

Granted, there is a thin line between advocating strongly for issues and advocating support for a person who wants to carry those issues into office. But it is an important line. Issues have clearly defined borders. They include facts that, while subject to interpretation, do not generally change. Humans are much more complicated. They change. They sometimes act insincere, and sometimes they lie to get votes.

Were we to endorse people, rather than issues, we could easily fuel perceptions of bias in the objective news coverage elsewhere in the paper. Rightly or wrongly, studies have shown that readers assume a paper's endorsement clouds its reporting. Perhaps more disturbing, we would run the risk of creating an uneasy relationship with public office holders who may expect a certain familiarity or allegiance if we happened to support them, or feel a sense of antagonism if we did not.

The nuts and bolts of the typical endorsement process also give us concern. At most papers that endorse, the editorial board meets for a half hour or so with each candidate, then meets separately to argue over which candidate to choose. The outcome represents little more than the collective voting-booth preferences of that board, and many times the members are not unanimous. Often, in high-profile races such as the one for president, the paper's owner will overrule everyone on the board and order the endorsement of a particular candidate. A liberal paper may find itself having to support President Bush, or vice versa, giving readers a confusing picture.

Our owners, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remain strictly neutral when it comes to candidates. Some say our decision not to endorse has been mandated by ownership. The truth is, no one has ever handed down guidelines or prohibitions on this matter. We assume, however, that the church's neutrality is based on the belief that well-educated, well-informed people grounded in sound moral judgment will make the best electoral choices.

That's our feeling, as well. We trust you to decide who to vote for on Election Day. We offer our opinions on ballot issues, just as we do each day on a variety of issues. But we wouldn't insult you by trying to guide your hand as you enter the private sanctum of the voting booth.