The Colonel vs FDR

The Chicago Tribune has been a Republican-leaning newspaper for what seems like forever. The Chicago Tribune has not previously endorsed a Democratic nominee for President, ever. However, they did endorse Barack Obama for president, quite strongly, in fact.

On Nov. 4 we’re going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.

On Dec. 6, 2006, this page encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign. We wrote that he would celebrate our common values instead of exaggerate our differences. We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen the policy debate. In the ensuing 22 months he has done just that.

Many Americans say they’re uneasy about Obama. He’s pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

The change that Obama talks about so much is not simply a change in this policy or that one. It is not fundamentally about lobbyists or Washington insiders. Obama envisions a change in the way we deal with one another in politics and government. His opponents may say this is empty, abstract rhetoric. In fact, it is hard to imagine how we are going to deal with the grave domestic and foreign crises we face without an end to the savagery and a return to civility in politics.

This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

Happy 4th of July

As a companion piece, a bit of newspaper history:

The most famous was the long-running feud between Tribune publisher Col. Robert R. McCormick and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

McCormick complained bitterly that Roosevelt’s New Deal was a socialistic boondoggle that he feared would destroy Americans’ personal freedoms and rights. At one point, the Colonel, as he was known around the Tower, had a photo “cooked up to argue that soon the Social Security plot would have every working man tagged and numbered like a prisoner of war,” according to historian Frank C. Waldrop.

In the 1936 presidential campaign, McCormick instructed telephone operators at Tribune Tower to answer all calls with a declaration of how many days remained to “save the Republic” by turning Roosevelt out of office.

The feud was very personal. Once, reported historian Richard Norton Smith, McCormick showed a Tribune financial writer a headline clipped from another newspaper. The story was about a nationwide series of fund-raising balls for a polio foundation organized by FDR. The headline: “President’s Balls To Come Off Tonight.”

“I suppose,” sighed McCormick, “that is rather too much to hope for.”

FDR once said of McCormick: “I think he must be a little touched in the head.”

The high–or low–point, depending on your point of view: In 1942, a livid Roosevelt briefly contemplated sending the Marines to occupy Tribune Tower because of a report in the newspaper that naval officials feared would tip the Japanese that the U.S. had broken their military code. Goaded by an adviser, FDR also briefly pressed for a charge of treason against McCormick, knowing a conviction could bring the death sentence. An investigation later cleared the Tribune and two of its staffers of violating an espionage law.

[From Behind the scenes: ‘Was there shouting?’ ‘Who really decided?’ —]

Fascinating stuff. Perhaps Colonel McCormick paid closer attention to his hemp farms than we know…

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