In his op-ed column in today’s Las Vegas newspaper, Steve Sebelius uses the term majority a dozen times to refer to a “majority” of the paper’s editorial board and the decision to publish an editorial this past Sunday opposing the margin tax for education, Question 3 on the November ballot. He, of course, endorses the tax and I happen to agree with the editorial stance.
“Sunday’s editorial made the case against The Education Initiative, saying it would be economically destructive across a wide variety of businesses, and that, in fact, ‘it does guarantee a much worse economy.’ In these contentions, I believe the majority is simply wrong,” Sebelius writes.
The column leaves the distinct impression that a newspaper’s editorials are determined democratically by a “majority” of the editorial board members. At all the papers I’ve worked at since the early 1970s, that has not been the case.
People would ask me, when I was editor of the Review-Journal, how editorial decisions were made and I would explain that the editorial board would discuss the various aspects of an issue, the board would vote, and the publisher always won — a majority of one.
There is a tagline at the bottom of the editorial column that reads: “The views expressed above are those of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. All other opinions expressed on the Opinion and Commentary pages are those of the individual artist or author indicated.”
Unless things have changed far more than I could imagine at the R-J, the term “majority” is a misnomer.
In fact, in my current incarnation as a free-lance columnist and editorialist for a string of rural newspapers owned by the R-J’s former publisher Sherman Frederick, this distinction has in fact arisen.
Back in December I penned a column pointing out a better way to reduce the caseload of the Nevada Supreme Court than creating an appeals court, which is Question 1 on the ballot.
But the publisher wanted to endorse Question 1. I told him an editorialist is like a gunslinger or a hooker. Who do you want shot or screwed? The price is the same. (Borrowed from a description a lawyer once used for his profession, but it works in this case as well.)
By the time I finished the editorial I may have convinced myself to vote for the appeals court, since the better solution is not on the ballot and the current situation is untenable.
That’s how it really works at the vast majority of newspapers. It’s hardly a democracy.
(By the way, at this year’s Nevada Press Association contest my columns and editorials won first places in the community newspaper division. I also had first places in both categories while at the R-J. Both of those were deservedly captured this year by Glenn Cook.)