Pulse: Chatter: A Newsroom Divided

Politics on top of politics at the Inky

It came as no big surprise to the Inquirer’s largely blue readership when, a few weeks before the election, the paper endorsed Barack Obama for president. What was a surprise was the 382-word same-page dissent: “Another View: McCain the Stronger Candidate.” It amounted to a muddled — and unprecedented — dual backing from the newspaper, and it drew national scrutiny from the media and lots of letters from readers.
Inevitably, heads turned to Philadelphia Media Holdings CEO Brian P. Tierney, a prominent Republican who, before buying the paper, was chairman of Sam Katz’s unsuccessful 2003 mayoral run against Democrat John Street. Shortly after Tierney bought the Inquirer and Daily News in 2006, the Inquirer’s publisher resigned; Tierney took over and became the overlord of its editorial page. Though he now had a legitimate chance to input his opinion, insiders say he served benignly until the presidential issue came up. Tierney has basically kept mum on the rationale for the dual endorsement — though his staffers were happy to dish on what went down.
Sources say Tierney wasn’t happy when, after the editorial board debate, a vote ran eight to two for Obama. Fearful that Tierney’s reluctance to declare Obama the paper’s nominee meant the CEO was about to forgo tradition and demand the board come out for McCain, one of the Obama supporters proposed a preemptive defense — the second editorial voicing the McCain position. It ultimately included a parting shot contrasting the candidates: Unlike Obama, “McCain didn’t hire as a strategist David Axelrod, who helped lead Mayor John Street’s race-baiting reelection campaign.”
For Tierney, it looks to be quite a compromise: Save face with the GOP, placate his pro-Obama staff, and take a jab at an old nemesis. Whether Tierney plans to continue to exercise his editorial-board voice isn’t clear; he didn’t respond to an e-mail requesting comment. But one thing’s sure: His paper couldn’t lose on November 4th.