On April 26, The Oregonian editorial board bowed to the will of its readers and announced it would endorse a presidential candidate this fall. That's not unusual for most papers, but it is for The O, which chose not to make an endorsement for president in 2012 or 2016, when Donald Trump ran against Hilary Clinton.
But The Oregonian didn't just change policy on Sunday. It rewrote history. The rationale it recently offered for its past decisions doesn't match what it said at the time. The two explanations aren't mutually exclusive, but they're strikingly different.
"I believe most Oregon voters have already chosen whether they support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.…Our goal as an editorial board is to have an impact in our community. And we don't think an endorsement for president would move the needle. So that's why we focus our endorsement energy where voters may not have made up their minds and need help with the decision. We offer opinions on races and issues we think are most important to Oregonians—and on those on which our endorsement could make a difference."
"We want to take this opportunity to assure readers that we will be issuing a presidential endorsement in the November election. We heard loud and clear the community's disappointment when we chose not to do so in 2016, a decision made due to limited staff and resources. We recognize that for our readers, editorial board endorsements aren't just about giving recommendations; they are also declarations of what we stand for."
Response from Oregonian opinion editor Helen Jung:
"You are correct that the phrase 'limited staff and resources' wasn't in Laura's column. But our limited capacity was the context for the decision, which is pretty clear in her writing about the need to 'focus our endorsement energy' on races where we can have an impact. (And she mentioned on Think Out Loud that we were a staff of only three writers and detailed our process for doing endorsements). As you know, the scope of our coverage, whether in the news or opinion pages, has shrunk over the years with the size of our staff. Figuring out what serves readers best, as we tried to do in 2016, is just a function of weighing how to use those dwindling resources.
"And Sunday's editorial doesn't say that we now believe our writing a presidential endorsement will move the needle for most people. While we certainly hope readers find it persuasive, our decision to write one is an acknowledgment of readers' desire to know where we stand."