Saturday, October 18, 2008

Better Late than Never

This Sunday, the celebrated Chicago Tribune for the first time in its history is endorsing a Democrat for president, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

The Trib, well-known for its relentless conservatism and support for Republicans, gained legendary infamy for its 1948 headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman," which enabled one of the most famous photographs in presidential campaign history: a broadly smiling Truman holding up the hapless newspaper with its egg-in-the-face banner headline.

The Chicago Tribune will never, ever, live this one down.

The Tribune has had a long history of support for reactionary, ultra-conservative causes, with a xenophobic twist. Reaching back to its nativist roots in 1855 of support for the Know Nothing party, during the Great Depression the Chicago Tribune of Col. Robert McCormick was stridently anti-FDR and anti-New Deal. And during WWII, the Colonel's Trib was fiercely isolationist, providing a platform for the America First movement, which had attracted pro-Nazi elements and poster-boy Charles Lindbergh.

But the Chicago Tribune also has had moments of backing progressive causes and of great journalistic integrity. In a return to the better angels of its nature, the Trib was on the right side of abolitionism. The newspaper supported Abraham Lincoln, his radical Republican Party, and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1974, the Chicago Tribune was the first newspaper to publish the full transcripts of the Watergate tapes.

By endorsing Barack Obama, breaking with a partisan tradition that goes back more than 150 years, the Chicago Tribune adds to its history one of those moments of journalistic integrity, reasserting itself as one of America's great newspapers.

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