Last week, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram announced it would no longer endorse candidates for elected office The decision is an abdication of the paper’s essential role in educating and informing the electorate and represents an unfortunate catering to right-wing political pressure.

MaineToday Media, parent company of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, Morning Sentinel in Waterville as well as the Press Herald and Telegram, is owned by S. Donald Sussman, a hedge fund investor married to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and a prolific Democratic donor.

Admittedly, this puts the paper in a challenging spot. If they endorse Democrats, they open themselves up to criticism that they’re simply doing their owner’s political spade work. And it creates a self-evident conflict of interest in the congresswoman’s re-election race.

But the necessary and appropriate response is an abstention from endorsing in Pingree’s contest, not an indiscriminate abandonment of the endorsement process.

What’s more, by taking a pass on all endorsements, the editorial board actually validates right-wing criticisms that it’s incapable of making objective decisions absent their ownership’s political interference.

The board should have addressed these criticisms head-on and then fulfilled their traditional and essential role by endorsing candidates they believe are best positioned to lead our state.

Beyond the ownership issue, the editorial board offered numerous other reasons for their decision, but none validates their conclusion.

The editors wrote that, “we’ve decided that it’s not our job to tell you how to vote.” But an endorsement isn’t a directive to the electorate. It’s an opinion based on the board’s collective evaluation of the candidates. Readers remain quite free to vote for whomever they please and to discard the paper’s opinion wholesale.

They continued, “We work for readers, not candidates.” But readers are sophisticated enough to understand that an editorial staff endorsement does not occasion a 19th century abandonment of journalistic integrity nor the mobilization of news staff to elect the preferred candidate.

One also imagines that “working for readers” would necessarily entail offering an informed, carefully considered assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of candidates pursuing that state’s highest elected offices.

The board continued, “Our research tells us that readers don’t find endorsements to be valuable, and that some even find the practice insulting.” But it presents no data to support the claim, making the rationale ring particularly hollow.

And could some people find an endorsement insulting? Of course. But the editorial board offers opinions every day that some will inevitably find offensive or insulting, yet editorial writing continues.

The board went on, “Some people say that a news organization, because of its access to candidates, is in a better position than the average voter to make a choice, but no voter has a shortage of information these days.”

Baloney. The majority of voters are busy living their lives, making ends meet, and putting food on their tables. They make decisions on a paucity of information, often from sound bites, TV ads or other anecdotes that may or may not be fact-based.

What’s more, while there is no shortage of information available to voters, there is a critical shortage of credible, impartial and factual information.

Voters are bombarded with agenda-driven, partisan information that stretches the truth, distorts facts and cherry-picks data. It’s precisely because of their issue-knowledge and access to candidates that we rely on reporters and editorial boards to cut through the distortions, add relevant context and help us see issues more clearly. That’s what “working for readers” is all about.

Finally, the board noted, “(N)aming a favorite is not necessarily taking a stand on principle – it can be an emotional response to a candidate’s personal qualities. Who do you like? Who do you trust? These are the kinds of questions that go into deciding who to support for public office.”

These questions speak to a candidate’s personal qualities and, importantly, they can be as predictive of electoral and official success as any policy position or platform. Besides, isn’t “Who do you trust?” an essential question for every voter to ask?

That the editorial board dismisses personal assessments as somehow unimportant or irrelevant is either a dodge or a lack of political understanding.

Finally, as a former campaign manager, I’ve helped candidates painstakingly prepare for endorsement interviews. Almost universally, they take candidates out of their comfort zones and subject them to a store of knowledge rarely duplicated on the campaign trail.

If a candidate is unable to perform in an endorsement interview – if they’re anxious, evasive, unknowledgeable or antagonistic – it’s a reasonable indicator of their future performance in office.

Put another way, endorsements are a vital crucible of electoral politics. By abandoning them, Maine Today Media’s editorial board not only does a disservice to readers, they weaken our democratic process.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Barack Obama. He manages the Boston, MA and Portland, ME offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, DC. Contact him at:

[email protected] Twitter @CuzziMJ.