Someone else swimming upstream

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

I don’t believe endorsements by the media, celebrities, corporations, unions or anyone else have much effect in today’s political environs. I’ve never cast a vote for or against anyone or any issue because someone who makes scads of money said so. Nor have I ever carried a list of local newspaper endorsements into a polling booth. Such third-party opinions go in one of my senior ears and out the other with no notice.

Until Saturday, October 20, 2012! One definitely caught my attention.
On the surface, an editorial endorsement by nearly any newspaper is read by few and ignored by many. But Saturday’s exercise by The Salt Lake Tribune in old Mormon Utah had to be a shot heard ‘round the political nation.

The SLC Trib ignored Utah favorite son and part time resident Williard Mitt Romney in favor of President Obama. Right there in black and white on the old editorial page. Top of the fold! The closest I can come to a social, economic and political comparison is if the Vatican endorsed Israel’s Prime Minister to be the next Pope. Something like that.

The SLC Trib is owned by MediaNews Group of Denver, CO, but operates under a joint agreement with The Deseret News, traditionally considered the media voice of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Both newspapers share printing and other facilities under their contract and both trace their lineage in Utah back to nearly the first settlements. Very long histories – longtime rivals – sometimes nasty enemies – but now sharing a common operating contract.

Because of LDS dominance in Utah – large dominance – its history, commerce, religious and political worlds are all tanged into a larger mishmash of an almost incestuous nature. I mean that in absolutely no negative connotation. It’s just fact. It all operates very well for Utahans and has been that way for a couple of centuries. Parts of Southern and Eastern Idaho share very similar traits, the reason for which is also the large presence of the LDS Church. It just is. And Idaho’s politics are similarly affected.

So much for that. Hold that thought. Now, let’s look at a couple of the billionaire families in Utah that share a large and often dominant role there. Jon Huntsman, Sr. is the industrialist father of Jon Huntsman, Jr.. Recall Jon Jr. briefly ran for president in Republican primaries this year. Both men very rich and very influential in Utah politics. Jon Jr. was governor a few years back. Both men have been GOP deep pockets for many years. They’ve know Mitt and fellow Romneys for years and years.

Then there’s J. Willard Marriott, chief of Marriott Hospitality Corp., one of the largest such companies in the world which makes him one of the richest Mormons in the world. A major voice and force in matters LDS and political in Utah. One of his very best friends – going back many decades – was George Romney, former governor of Michigan and sire of Mitt. In fact, Mitt was named for – wait for it – Willard Marriott. Marriott was a major benefactor in George’s failed presidential campaign and young Mitt has often said he’s long-considered Willard a surrogate father figure. Mitt used to be on Marriott’s Board of Directors. Close relationship. Also Marriots well-known to the Huntsmans.

You see what I mean by almost “incestuous?” Lots of Mormons. Lots of money. Lots of Republicans. Children in one family named for the patriarch of another. I’ll bet there are many mutual business affairs and cross-ownership of stock in their various investments and trusts as well.

One more ingredient in the Utah political stew. Remember the 2002 Winter Olympics? The one Mitt stepped into to pull out of the ditch? Of course, he had some $750 million federal dollars and the backing of – wait for it – the Huntsmans and the Marriotts. Mitt ended up a deserved hero.

WOW! Pick one string in that tangle and see where it leads.
Utah politics bleed red. No chance of that being diluted this time around. Many say the Mormon Church is rigidly Republican. It’s not. There are significant exceptions. But there are few of those exceptions among successful Utah politicians so let’s just say the Church “leans” GOP. Quite a tilt.

Yet, with such background, Utah’s largest and most influential newspaper decided to go against that history, the money and all the intertwined relationships. Here’s a bit of The Tribune endorsement.

“Through a pair of presidential debates, Romney’s domestic agenda remains bereft of detail and (is) worthy of mistrust. Therefore, our endorsement must go to the incumbent, a competent leader who, against tough odds, has guided the country through catastrophe and set a course that, while rocky, is pointing to a brighter day. The President has earned a second term. Romney, in whatever guise, does not deserve a first.”

That would be pretty stiff stuff were it published in any state’s largest daily. But Utah? Yep! And here’s the kicker. The Trib did the same thing in 2008 for Obama over McCain.

When you consider the overwhelming Republican sympathies of the readership, the millions of dollars in ad revenue on the table routinely paid by Republican or LDS-dominated businesses – or both, the relationship of The Trib to the dominant religion in its service area and being located in Utah’s capitol city, the risks to both economic and circulation bases…well… that endorsement makes for quite a story to flesh out.

Obviously there will be some economic and readership fallout. Bound to be. But we’ll never know the extent. And that’s really not important for you and me. No, for our purposes here, it’s sufficient that we note the endorsement, consider some of the background interrelationships, look at the demographics involved and note the political-religious-familial ties. As I said, makes for a pretty good story.

But to me, as a journalist, damn – wish I could have been a fly on the wall for a week or two of those Trib editorial board meetings.

Oh, yes!

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