Endorsement Cynicism Run Amok

Once upon a time it was a good and prestigious thing when a candidate received the endorsement of a sitting elected official, a senior statesman or any generally influential person. It was an indication that people who were thought to know what they’re talking about considered one candidate more qualified than another–a feather in the cap as they say. Yet today, a voter might be inclined to consider an endorsement a negative occurrence if they listened to the cynical bloggers and columnists.

New Haven mayoral candidate and state Sen. Toni Hap was honored to get the endorsement of such heavyweights as Gov. Dannel Malloy and US Sen. Chris Murphy (I am consulting on the Harp campaign). Add them to the list that includes labor unions, police and firefighters groups, the majority of the New Haven Board Alderman, former candidates and state lawmakers and you have one very impressive group that thinks Harp would do the best job of those running, right? Not so fast.

Editorials from the Journal Inquirer and the Day of New London suggest that people in elected office should somehow bite their tongue on telling the electorate who they think is best qualified for the job. So it’s OK for a newspaper to make an endorsement but not someone about who might actually carry some weight with voters? Please.

As a result of my experience as a journalist I have never subscribed to the generally held belief that newspapers print what they do “just to sell newspapers.” That’s nonsense. However, I do think there is some truth to the thought that editorial boards like to be “players” in an election. In other words, they want what they write to count for something. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I do have a problem with bloggers and columnists who are so desperate to be relevant in the conversation about a particular election, they go out of their way to be combative and inflammatory. Case in point is Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie. Rennie has broken some important news in the past but any journalistic cred he might have is heavily outweighed by his tabloid insinuations and ability to dance every so closely to accusing someone of being corrupt or breaking the law without actually doing it. If you think a lobbyist is violating the law by suggesting to his or her contacts that they contribute to a particular candidate, man-up and say so. File a complaint. And if you really do believe that, you need to go back to law school.

Rennie is also the epitome of being able to dish it out but not take it. When the irrepressible Edith Prague, who at 87 will say exactly what she thinks, had the nerve to call out Rennie on his snipe-from-the-sidelines attacks on Toni Harp, Rennie hit backwith a school-yard “I know are are but what I am?” response, mocking Prague’s age. Brilliant comeback, Mr. Rennie.

Most disappointing is the cynicism of Courant columnist and WNPR radio host Colin McEnroe. Having apparently exhausted his witty characterizations about the workings of the General Assembly (a body that he covered as a reporter to the point you’d think he’d know how it operates), McEnroe turned his sights on Malloy and his endorsements. I like McEnroe. His bright and funny. I read him every week. But every so often his act gets stale. OK, we get it. The legislature is like a bunch of drunks and Harp once said she wouldn’t run for mayor only to change her mind. Go!

I’m not sure but I think the gist of McEnroe’s argument is that Malloy should clam up for Malloy’s own sake. I don’t know when McEnroe started caring so much about Malloy’s political future that he started writing advice columns to him. And oh, it appears McEnroe has also lost the nerve to say something anything but fawning about a fellow columnist. There once was a day when he wouldn’t have hesitated to take Rennie to task after one of the failed politician’s ridiculous rants against some staffer. Those were the days.

The bright, silver lining in all of this is that voters are smarter than people think. They generally can see through nonsensical, irrelevant attacks on candidates mostly because they don’t care what columnists think. They care about their own families, their kids’ education and the safety of their streets. That will always trump some hopelessly cynical gossip columnist or some in-need-of-new-material talk show host.

Sorry guys, just sayin’.