No one would enjoy sunny days without rainy ones, and no one would appreciate thoughtful newspaper edito- rials without U-T San Diego. The latest example of “Papa” Doug Manchester’s soapbox journalism was a list of who the U-T believed were the best and worst presidents in American history.
This bizarre example of a newspaper judging history rather than reporting was clearly nothing more than a partisan push for the ultra-conservative politics the U-T seems to have recently espoused. This pseudo-historical analysis included a few obvious choices to maintain the aura of historical impar- tiality. It was also preceded by a reader’s poll for a dash of populism.
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D.Abraham Lincoln, George Wash- ington and Franklin D. Roosevelt as respectively the first, second and fourth best presidents of all-time are obvious choices. Ronald Reagan as the third best president reveals a clear Republican bias, but it’s still somewhat within mainstream thought. Fifth place is where things started getting interesting.
Evidently the U-T’s editorial board couldn’t decide which Bush it loved more, so it left it at a tie with both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush in fifth place.
Let that sink in for a minute.
U-T San Diego, the biggest newspaper in the eighth-largest city in America with a circulation of more than 200,000 papers a day, believes presidents Bush Sr. and Jr. are the fifth best presidents in U.S. history. Better than Thomas Jef- ferson, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. Better than Lyndon B. Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to end Jim Crow laws and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who built the infrastructure propelling the U.S. to international superpower. According to the U-T Editorial Board, they all pale in comparison to the man that coerced the country into invading Iraq and Afghanistan and left the economy in the worst recession since the Great Depression.
And what about President Barack Obama, the man succeeding Bush Jr.? Where does the U-T rank him in history after more than three years into his presidency? It ranks Obama asthe worst president in history. Worse than James Buchanan, the man credited for pushing the country into the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. And worse than Andrew Johnson, who al- lowed Jim Crow laws to be en- acted and the only president to actually be impeached. Obama is the worst president of all-time despite keeping General Motors and Chrysler alive, ending the Iraq War, finding and killing Osama bin Laden and averting a collapse of the global financial system.
What scares me about this list is not the U-T embracing such a clear far-right ideology in its editorials. The U-T can say what- ever it wants in its opinion pages. If it believes Bush Jr. was a great president and we should all kiss the ground beneath his hallowed feet, that’s completely within its right.
What scares me is the fact a major newspaper published a list of the best and worst presidents that read like a 17-year-old Young Republican’s high school political science class presentation. Of course, that’s also just my opinion, which has no more intrinsic worth than the U-T’s.
I don’t want it to publish a list based on an impartial analysis of history. It already did when it published a C-SPAN survey of historians. Incidentally, this list placed Reagan in 10th place, Bush Sr. in 18th place, and Bush Jr., in 36th place among all-time presidents. But by presenting the list in a historical context, the U-T seems to be saying it’s not us who believes Obama is a terrible president, it’s an unbiased, his- torical fact.
The U-T’s editorial list elicited the expected confused and disap- pointed responses from readers. In turn, the paper stated it had included Bush Sr. and Jr. in the list to “stimulate community discussion.” Sure, it sounds like a last minute cop-out after the Editorial Board realized its choices hadn’t gone as well as expected. But there’s no way to know what the paper’s original intentions were when it put together what it called “Our Mount Rushmore.”
If it wanted community dis- cussion, it got it. Not of Bush Sr. and Jr.’s legacy as presidents, but of the degree the paper’s editori- als have become Manchester’s loudspeaker. All newspaper editorialists have biases. But to take the owner’s biases to an extreme and then present them as the official position of the newspaper is a disheartening development. Readers used to expect a Pulitzer prize-winning newspaper, such as the U-T, to hold its editorial board to a higher journalistic standard than blatant partisan- ship.
Recently, the U-T seems to be busier directing and judging history than actually reporting it. In the end, the only history we’ll see will be the end of a once proud publication as readers flee a paper whose editorial and journalistic integrity can no longer be trusted.