Chicago Tribune Backs Obama: Temperature in Hell Dips Below 32 Degrees

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics


On Friday, the Chicago Tribune announced that it was endorsing Barack Obama for president. Now, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a newspaper endorsing a particular candidate for high office. Indeed, I’m confident that there are very few people out there who are saying to themselves: “I’m so conflicted, I just wish my local newspaper would tell me who I should vote for.” The Tribune‘s announcement, however, had more of a “man-bites-dog” quality to it than most newspaper endorsements, as it marked the first time in the paper’s 161-year history that the Trib had given its nod to a Democratic presidential candidate. Joseph Medill, the influential editor during the newspaper’s formative years, was one of the co-founders of the Republican Party, and the Tribune was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign for the White House (after briefly considering giving its nod to John McCain), so the paper’s endorsement of Obama marked something of a seismic shift in the tectonic plate of midwestern politics. That whirring noise you heard on Friday was the sound of Col. Robert McCormick furiously spinning in his grave.

Apart from its purely historic character, there are two reasons why this endorsement carries some special significance. First, the Tribune has never treated Obama like a favorite son in this election, and there was no guarantee that it would have endorsed the Illinois senator and fellow Chicagoan over his Republican rival. The Trib, after all, endorsed Dwight Eisenhower over Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson II in 1952 and 1956. And besides, Obama is a White Sox fan, which can’t go over very well inside the halls of the Tribune Tower.


Barack Obama: lefty

The Tribune, in fact, has extensively reported on Obama’s ties to convicted political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko, and grilled the senator about that relationship in an extraordinary session in front of the paper’s editorial board. Although conservative columnist John “Don’t Call Me Jack” Kass remained predictably unconvinced, the board emerged from that session satisfied that Obama had not acted improperly, although it agreed with Obama that the land transaction with Rezko had been a “mistake.” In short, the Trib conducted the most complete investigation of the only substantial ethics charge against Obama and found nothing there. Friday’s endorsement, therefore, makes it just a little bit harder for Republicans to complain that they know nothing about Barack Obama. The Tribune has covered Obama’s political career from the beginning, it has known Obama for years, it has thoroughly vetted him, and so it can say that you, sir, are no Barack Obama.

Secondly, the Tribune has, for decades, stood with the traditional small government, isolationist, protectionist, and civil libertarian wing of the Republican Party, and it has, in fact, remained a Robert Taft Republican newspaper long after everyone else forgot who Robert Taft was. Although the paper backed the Iraq War and endorsed George W. Bush twice, it became noticeably less comfortable with both decisions as the years went on. Its endorsement of Bush in 2004, in fact, was about as grudging and unenthusiastic as an endorsement could ever be. The Trib‘s support of Obama, therefore, signals a shift in the GOP, as old-line conservatives start asking themselves whether they should leave the party or whether the party has already left them. Obama has a long way to go before convincing these retro-cons that they can find a welcoming home under the Democratic big tent, but they might feel a bit more comfortable in making that move if they know they can get the Chicago Tribune delivered to their doorstep.



  1. sozobe  •  Oct 18, 2008 @11:07 am

    Very cool, thanks, Joe.

    I don’t read the Trib regularly but I do read their blog “The Swamp,” and have seen the evolution there. (I read it occasionally now but for a long stretch — early 2006 to late 2007 say — I read it daily because it was one source that reliably had Obama news.) Frank James is one in particular who was pretty anti-Obama for a while there and seems to have come around. The big editorial board meeting seemed to be a turning point for him.

    Great point about how the Trib investigated the Rezko thing extremely thoroughly and just didn’t come up with anything. The transcript of that meeting is what I turn to when someone starts making wild allegations re: Rezko.

  2. nimh  •  Oct 18, 2008 @7:59 pm

    “after briefly considering giving its nod to John McCain”, heh :-D

    Good job on contextualising the significance of the endorsement and what it may signal or portend about a broader political shift, too.