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'Chicago Tribune' Backs President Bush

Chicago is considered to be a Democratic city, yet The Chicago Tribune is endorsing President Bush. The paper received thousands of letters and e-mails in response. From the Tribune we speak with editorial page editor Bruce Dold, and letters editor Dodie Hofstetter.


Other segments from the episode on October 26, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 26, 2004: Interview with Chris Satullo and John Timpane; Interview with Bruce Dold and Dodie Hofstetter; Review of Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World."


DATE October 26, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Chris Satullo and John Timpane discuss their paper's
endorsement of John Kerry

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today, we're going to talk with the editors of two newspapers about their
presidential endorsements. A little later, we'll hear about the Chicago
Tribune's endorsement of President Bush. The Philadelphia Inquirer is doing
something unprecedented in its endorsement of John Kerry. It's publishing 21
editorials over 21 days in a series called 21 reasons to vote for Kerry. Each
editorial expands on the differences between Kerry and Bush in one area,
ranging from homeland security to Head Start. Opposite the editorial on the
Commentary page each day is a piece by a guest writer who supports Bush. My
guests are Chris Satullo, the editorial page editor of the Philadelphia
Inquirer, and John Timpane, the editor of the Commentary page. I asked Chris
Satullo if the Editorial Board wanted to emphasize its endorsement with a
21-day series because Philadelphia is in a swing state.

Mr. CHRIS SATULLO (Editorial Page Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer): Very
clearly, one reason why we did this is we know Pennsylvania is a close
battleground state and we know that it's quite likely that that ballot round
will be decided in the suburbs of Philadelphia where we circulate, where we're
the dominant newspaper, and where we think we have some of our most loyal
readers who know us and know how we argue points and might actually be
interested in our reasoning.

You know, the point of an endorsement really is not just naming a name. It's
the argument you make, you know...

Mr. JOHN TIMPANE (Commentary Page Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer): Yes.

Mr. SATULLO: ...the facts you marshall, the way you interpret them, and
nobody votes for a president simply 'cause a newspaper says that. But what we
do is we enter the larger conversation. We give people some things to think
about. We maybe reframe some issues for them, give them some facts they
didn't know before, and that enters into their thinking. We don't think
anybody is going to change their mind 'cause we endorse somebody.

GROSS: Now the fact that the Philadelphia Inquirer is running 21 days of
editorials in support of John Kerry is half of the story. The other half of
the story is on each of those 21 days, you're running a commentary on the
Commentary page, taking the opposite point of view and supporting President
Bush. John Timpane, you edit those commentaries. Why did you decide and how
did you decide at the Inquirer to have each day of the editorial oppose with a

Mr. TIMPANE: Well, we decided it at the very moment that we decided to do the
first 21-part series. We said, `Well, we can't just say, "Yea, Kerry," every
day. We should balance it on the op-ed page,' and after all, the words op-ed
mean opposite to the editorial position. So we went out and we tried to find
the very best writers that we could for the conservative rebuttal.

GROSS: Now what are your criteria for the very best? I mean, we're living in
a time when a lot of people think the very best are the people who, like, spin
most convincingly. So, you know, what were you looking for in terms of, like,
factual background, expertise, spin? You know, like, what were your criteria?

Mr. TIMPANE: My main criterion was who has written excellently about this in
the past for the conservative side? So, for example, who would counter our
big editorial against the war in Iraq? Well, I felt David Frum was the best
person because he has written a book with Richard Perle about putting forward
very eloquently, as well as you could do it, the case for the war in Iraq, the
case for unilateral military action, and so in David's case, he was one of the
first people we called. When the issue came up of Kerry's values, who's the
best person to write about values? Well, I thought Bill Bennett, despite his
recent troubles, he's still a very eloquent spokesperson for conservative
values. When we get to homeland security, why not have Tom Ridge? For one
thing, he used to be our governor. For another thing, he's got standing. He
knows or should know what his agency is doing. So it had to do with who had
already established a track record as a very good spokesperson for this.

GROSS: What's the fact-checking like? Like, say somebody makes a statement
that you know is pure spin and it's not really true. Are you going to say,
`You can't really say this 'cause it's not factually accurate. It's just

Mr. TIMPANE: Yes. Yeah, I've done it an awful lot already. I've done it,
you know, 20, 30 times I've called people back and said, `You know, we already
know this isn't true.'

GROSS: Give me an example of one of those commentaries?

Mr. TIMPANE: Oh, I don't want to name the writer...

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. TIMPANE: ...but one of the writers tried to say that Kerry has already
been discredited for his service in Vietnam. He has not been, and so I said,
`You can't say that.' We had a fight about it and we won. You know, it just
didn't get in.

Mr. SATULLO: I want to add that in terms of running commentaries, we give
leeway to interpret and characterize facts to the writers so that they can
make their case...

Mr. TIMPANE: Sure.

Mr. SATULLO: ...and nothing goes in with their name on it if they don't feel
that their case has been made even if they aren't totally happy. And in the
editing of the editorials, the editorials get bounced back to the writers and
I tell them...

Mr. TIMPANE: Absolutely.

Mr. SATULLO: ...`We can't say that. We haven't nailed that. That point
doesn't make sense. Where's your source on that? What's your information on

Mr. TIMPANE: I think there's a difference between irresponsible bloviation
and being very opinionated. And I want my op-ed writers to be very
opinionated. They have every right to feel that with the Inquirer's weight
behind a 21-part series for John Kerry--they have every right to feel that
they should have a big stage in which to air their grievances, but I don't
want them to lie. And, you know, we don't want any lies anywhere in the

GROSS: Now you want your 21 editorials to really carry a lot of weight and
to help inform your readers before going to the polls. I'm wondering if the
Kerry-Edwards campaign has quoted any of the editorials in their ads or in
their literature.

Mr. TIMPANE: Not that I'm aware of. I've seen that they've posted them on
their blog. One thing I just want to make real clear to everyone is we had no
communication with the Kerry-Edwards campaign before or during this project.
We haven't talked to them to get any information. You know, we're doing our
own reporting and our own writing.

Mr. SATULLO: Absolutely.

Mr. TIMPANE: There's just absolutely no connection with the Kerry campaign

Mr. SATULLO: I mean, ironically I've had a lot of connection with the
Bush-Cheney campaign and certainly, you know, involving the displeasure and
discomfort of certain parties.

Mr. TIMPANE: Yeah. We've had some very entertaining conversations with them.

GROSS: Well, yeah. Well, we're about to get to that. And let me ask you
about the letters that you've been receiving, the editorials, the 21 days of
editorials is unprecedented. Is the nature of the letters that you're getting
unprecedented as well?

Mr. TIMPANE: We've received--you know, at a certain point you stop counting,
but at least 1,500 responses to the series by e-mail, letters or phone calls,
probably running three-to-one against. The initial...

GROSS: Against your editorials?

Mr. TIMPANE: Against--I hesitate to say against the editorials. Against the
idea of the project. I have to say that it seems to me that very, very few of
the people who are writing in have even actually seen the newspaper.

Mr. SATULLO: Yeah.

Mr. TIMPANE: What happened was the Bush-Cheney campaign put out an e-mail to
its mailing list, which told people that we were doing this horrible,
horrible, illegitimate thing and mentioned only that we were running the 21
editorials and never mentioned the 21 rejoinders from Bush supporters.

Mr. SATULLO: Right.

Mr. TIMPANE: It was an extremely unfair and unbalanced description of what
we were doing, and a lot of the e-mail we're getting from around the country
clearly is a response to that distortion.

Mr. SATULLO: Bush-Cheney actually have been cooperating with me in getting
some of the pieces. All the time that they have been doing this other
campaign, they've been working with us to get pieces on the page. So it's a
rather ironic...

GROSS: So in other words, if you want somebody high-powered within the
Bush-Cheney camp, they'll help you get them or...

Mr. SATULLO: Absolutely, with bells on. Yes.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. SATULLO: I called someone with the Bush-Cheney campaign to try--in a
somewhat good-natured way I called up and said, `Hello, it's the antichrist,'
I'll say to them, `Chris Satullo.' I just asked, `Do you really think it's
fair to send out this e-mail to all these people and not mention that you're
working with us on the rebuttal pieces,' and the reply of the person in the
Bush-Cheney campaign was, `It's not my job to be fair; it's my job to re-elect
the president of the United States.'

GROSS: What does that tell you about the political process?

Mr. TIMPANE: Well, he's right. I mean, that is his job.

Mr. SATULLO: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. TIMPANE: That didn't tell us anything we didn't know. It's when it's
done to you that it wakes you up a little bit, and it's been done to us.

Mr. SATULLO: Right. I have these shreds of naive idealism which after 30
years of covering politics I should have scoured away, and I'm sure, you know,
people on the other side would be as intent on discrediting what we're doing
had we endorsed President Bush. But I don't want to leave the impression that
many of our ordinary readers didn't write in. They did write in. Some of
them were extremely unhappy; some of them were very happy. We had a couple of
people calling up nearly in tears.

Mr. TIMPANE: Yeah.

Mr. SATULLO: I mean, we've had--praising us saying, you know, `Finally a
newspaper with guts.' Now they're very much outnumbered by our readers who
are unhappy and saw that as a piece of a long history of partisan bias or
liberal bias in the entire newspaper.

The other point I'd just like to make is that normally our editorial page is
centrist. When we endorse in congressional races we're pretty much split down
the middle--Republican and Democrat. We've supported things like school
vouchers, moment of silence in schools. We try to take a fresh and
non-ideological and unpredictable look at a lot of issues. This particular
president, this particular campaign has left us feeling that it's much more
important to make sure that the hard-right revolution that is occurring isn't
completed than it is to be perfectly centrist. So at times we find ourselves
aligned in this election or sounding like very liberal elements of the
Democratic Party who, in a normal period of time, we would be criticizing...

Mr. TIMPANE: Yeah.

Mr. SATULLO: ...fairly strongly.

GROSS: Well, I think so many newspaper readers are really confused. How can
it be that you can say the reporters are unbiased in their coverage, yet there
is an editorial page that is all about offering opinion?

Mr. SATULLO: Terry, I think you're on to a really great point, which is that
people in the newspaper business seem to think that everybody understands what
we're doing even though we never bother to explain it. Even the very term
Editorial Board is confusing 'cause it sounds like we're running the


Mr. SATULLO: That's what it sounds like an Editorial Board does. I've come
to the conclusion that after this is done, whenever this election is
decided--December, January--whenever we find out who's won--when the dust
clears, I think we're going to change the name of the editorial page and the
Editorial Board 'cause I think it's deeply confusing to people, and the
tradition is not worth the confusion. I think we should call it the opinion
page, and I think we should call it the opinion board, and that would make
what we do as opposed to what the news side reporters and editors do much
clearer to people.

GROSS: Now what about the publisher? You're part of the Knight Ridder chain.
Can the publisher ever intervene and say, `I don't like the idea of you doing
21 editorials endorsing John Kerry,' or, `I don't like the op-eds you've been
running. Those opinion pieces aren't strong enough. Here's my list of people
who I think would be stronger; print them.' Does the publisher ever intervene
like that?

Mr. SATULLO: Well, technically, and again this is one of these mysteries of
the news business that we don't explain very well, but the editorial page is
the publisher's page. He is actually the chair of the Editorial Board at our
paper and at most papers. So he has every right to do whatever he wants. But
in my 10 years on the Editorial Board at the Inquirer, it has never happened
that the publisher has countermanded a decision of the board. They take part
in the discussion sometimes, some of the higher profile things, and they have
their say. In this case, Joe Natoli, our publisher, approved the project.
You know, I wouldn't ever do something like this without reviewing it with
him. His emphasis from day one and all the way through has been, `What are we
doing for balance?' but he's behind the series 100 percent.

GROSS: Now the publisher has to worry about the bottom line. What kind of
impact, if any, do you think your 21 days of endorsements for Kerry have been
getting from subscribers, newsstand buyers and advertisers?

Mr. SATULLO: I think the latest number of people who've called to threaten
to cancel their subscription as opposed to actually following through with it
is around 600 to 700, which is not something you take lightly in this world of
newspapers where we're fighting every year to increase circulation slightly or
to stay even. But the publisher and the people on the business side of the
paper know this is part of what a newspaper is and does, and it's part of
being a strong voice in the community. And in the end, they realize that the
stronger a voice we have, the more effective we are at grabbing our
community's attention and holding it, the better the newspaper is. It's no
fun talking to people--and I've called a lot of them and talked to them--it is
no fun talking to people who feel this badly about something you've done that
they're thinking of breaking what is in some cases a 30- or 40-year
relationship with you as a reader.

GROSS: What's...

Mr. SATULLO: But if we'd endorsed George Bush, an equal or perhaps greater
number of people would have canceled.

GROSS: My guests are Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia
Inquirer, and John Timpane, editor of the Commentary page. We'll talk more
after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the
Philadelphia Inquirer, and John Timpane, editor of the Commentary page. The
paper is running a series of 21 editorials each offering another reason to
vote for Kerry.

During this election, and for the past few years really, there have been
charges that newspapers that have always been seen as pretty mainstream and TV
networks that have been seen as pretty mainstream are actually really liberal.
And this kind of charge is being leveled at news coverage at a lot of
newspapers, not just the editorial page. So how is that affecting the
Philadelphia Inquirer?

Mr. SATULLO: Yeah, we get that charge all the time, and it is not without
substance. More and more, as I get further into this job and spend more and
more of my time exchanging e-mails and talking to conservatives who make this
complaint, I see what it is about newspapers that drives them crazy over their
Corn Flakes in the morning. I do see lapses in fairness or understanding or
perspective more often than I used to.

What frustrates me about this conversation is that it is true that we need to
sit back--we being journalists--sit back and do a reassessment to make sure
that we haven't gotten into some reflexes and some bad habits that really are
unfair to our readership. But most of the complaints about bias that I hear
assume a kind of partisan ideological agenda on the part of newspapers. And
that's why I think that argument falls on deaf ears so often because if you
work in a newspaper you know that it's some of the most skeptical
non-ideological people in the world can gravitate towards journalism.

There is no way in which we sit around a big oak table in the morning and say,
`OK, how can we slant the news to help the Democrats?' I mean, that simply
doesn't happen. But that's the way the charge of bias is frequently framed.
So it's very easy to say, `Oh, we're not doing that so we're fine.' We
probably aren't doing what our critics are saying, but that doesn't mean that
we're fine. We're still making mistakes.

GROSS: What are the mistakes?

Mr. SATULLO: I think it's a failure of perspective. If you take an issue
like gay marriage. Dan Okrent, who's the public editor for The New York
Times, wrote a wonderful piece saying that The New York Times when the issue
of gay marriage was hot, when the weddings were happening in San Francisco and
Boston--I don't have the exact numbers--wrote something like 55 pieces about
the issue and only three of those pieces spent much time talking about the
possibility that this wasn't a good thing for America. Most of them were
celebratory in sort of their tone or their approach to the news. That's
clearly not balanced coverage when you know that a certain segment of your
readership thinks this is really a terrible development. And I'm not making a
comment one way or the other on gay marriage, but if you're covering an issue
of controversy like that, it's clear that you have to make sure that you have
some sympathetic understanding of the perspective that says what's happening
in Massachusetts and San Francisco is bad for the country.

GROSS: Chris Satullo, in Sunday's paper you had a column in which you were
talking about the expression `the liberal elite,' and you were talking about
how although you're from a working-class town in--or suburb in Ohio, because
of the work that you do now you would be in this narrative described as part
of the liberal media elite.

Mr. SATULLO: Right.

GROSS: What's going on there, do you think, with that expression? How is
that expression being used now and why do you distrust it?

Mr. SATULLO: There's a conservative narrative that's been growing for 30
years in the country that basically explains what's gone wrong with the
country and how it's gone right. And in this narrative what's gone wrong with
the country is the media and the levers of government were essentially subject
to a hostile takeover by an arrogant liberal elite that involves people that go
to colleges in mostly New England who are very cosmopolitan outlook, have a
kind of sneering contempt for the values of mainstream America...

Mr. TIMPANE: Like...

Mr. SATULLO: ...think NASCAR's stupid, think country music is stupid. They
come out of the '60s. They devoted their time in the '60s to sex, drugs and
Led Zeppelin and draft dodging--you know, this whole narrative. So every time
I write something that's critical of President Bush, which has, I admit, not
been an infrequent occurrence this year, I get e-mail where people say, `Well,
we know who you are and here's why we can dismiss everything you have to say.
You're part of this elite that's immoral, that doesn't believe in
God'--parenthetical mention, I'm an Episcopalian--but they're sure I'm an
atheist. They're sure that I spent most of the 1960s on mescaline and LSD.
They're sure of all these things. And it's a way of not really dealing with
what I might have to say or anything--or any argument I make that has some
substance because they can put me over there--I'm part of an elite that is in
their mind discredited. You know, and I know lots of these people; they're my
neighbors. I still live in the suburbs. I get along great with them when
we're not talking about politics, when we're watching football or playing golf
or having a cookout. So I realize that this is not fully part of their
attitude, it's just something they use as a defense mechanism when politics is
what the question is.

GROSS: Do you feel that the Bush campaign is using this narrative?

Mr. SATULLO: Sure. I mean, I think it's a narrative that has worked
politically for the Republican Party for a long time. It speaks to something
real too.

Mr. TIMPANE: Mm-hmm, yes.

Mr. SATULLO: It's not that there aren't--there isn't an arrogant liberal
elite, and it's not that there aren't people who are contemptuous of
mainstream American values, so they have something real that they can plug
into. And I think President Bush, with his kind of studied inarticulateness,
his mangled syntax, his swagger, his work shirts, the way he talks about John
Kerry--you know, Massachusetts liberal--is plugging into that.

GROSS: And finally, do you think that there will be contested votes on
Election Day in the area that you cover, in the greater Philadelphia area, the
Delaware Valley?

Mr. TIMPANE: I think it's almost a certainty.

Mr. SATULLO: I've always said it was a blessing from God that it was Florida
that was tied and not Pennsylvania 'cause I would never want anybody to come
in and lift the rock in Philadelphia and see how we actually...

GROSS: What's the problem?

Mr. SATULLO: ...tally votes there. Especially this town.

GROSS: What's the problem?

Mr. TIMPANE: Well, as in many cities still, I mean, there is a system here
and things can get lost if people don't like the way things turn out and
it's--but I also think that's true of the state in general. It is not the
best organized place as far as collecting the votes and tallying the votes.

Mr. SATULLO: Now this is a Democratic machine town--Philadelphia is.

Mr. TIMPANE: Certainly.

Mr. SATULLO: Our paper, several years ago, did a major investigation on how
Democrats stole a state Senate election doing monkey business with absentee
ballots. The election was overturned by a federal judge as a result of our
reporting. This may seem hard to believe to people elsewhere, but in
Philadelphia there are voting machines in people's living rooms. You go into
a private home to vote in places in Philadelphia and that person is often a
Democratic precinct committee person in whose home you're voting. So there's
a lot of stuff that happens in Philly that I'd like to see get fixed. And
it--I mean, I think there are examples of stuff like that all over the

Mr. TIMPANE: You know, I'm praying every day that we don't--that it's not
that close here. I'm just praying really hard.

GROSS: Do you have a prediction about whether it will be?

Mr. TIMPANE: I do, and it will remain with me.

GROSS: Very good. And, Chris, you feel the same way?

Mr. SATULLO: I think it'll be close. I would suspect that Kerry's going to
win Pennsylvania because I think there's just going to be enormous turnout in
the city of Philadelphia, and a lot of it will actually be valid. There's
just a tremendous amount of feeling among minority voters in this city that
minority voters were disenfranchised last time, and even if they're not that
thrilled about John Kerry I think that will effectively motivate them.

GROSS: Thank you both so much for talking with us.

Mr. SATULLO: Thank you, Terry.

Mr. TIMPANE: Thank you.

GROSS: Chris Satullo is the editorial page editor of the Philadelphia
Inquirer. John Timpane edits the Commentary page. We'll hear about the
Chicago Tribune's endorsement of President Bush in the second half of the

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: It's no surprise that the Chicago Tribune endorsed President Bush, but
it's generated an unusually large response. Coming up, we talk with the
Tribune's editorial page editor, Bruce Dold, and letters editor, Dodie
Hofstetter. Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new biography of Shakespeare.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bruce Dold and Dodie Hofstetter discuss the Chicago
Tribune's endorsement of President Bush

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In the first half of the show, we talked about the Philadelphia Inquirer's
endorsement of John Kerry. In the largely Democratic city of Chicago, the
Chicago Tribune has endorsed President Bush. The endorsement came as no
surprise to readers, but the response has been unusually large. My guests are
Bruce Dold, the Tribune's Editorial page editor, and Dodie Hofstetter, the
letters editor. I asked Dold why the Tribune endorsed President Bush.

Mr. BRUCE DOLD (Editor, Chicago Tribune): The editorial starts out by
quoting John McCain, saying that every generation has a fundamental challenge
that it faces. And the fundamental challenge facing this generation is the
war on terror. So much of the editorial focuses on that. To our mind and
what the editorial says is that President Bush has taken a more aggressive
stance on the war of terror, to the point of saying that, `We will act
pre-emptively,' while John Kerry has taken more of a law enforcement view;
that, `We will respond when we are attacked.' Kerry has not ruled out
pre-emptive action, but, you know, there is a--seems to be a distinction in
their views on that issue. And that was the paramount issue for us.

We criticized both of them on the spending policy and pointing out that, yes,
the president has left the nation with massive red ink. However, when you
look at the Concord Coalition's assessment of both of these candidates, they
would both create massive more red ink for the nation, the president largely
through tax cuts and a President Kerry largely through spending.

We're uncomfortable with how John Kerry has handled the fundamental issue of
Iraq and point out that he did vote--as many people know, he voted for the
Iraq resolution. And it seemed to support an effort that would lead to likely
intervention in Iraq, one that was expedient for him. When Howard Dean gave
him a hard time from the left in the Democratic primaries, that's when John
Kerry became an anti-war candidate. So that didn't give us a lot of comfort
all around.

We pick apart some of the arguments that are used against Bush. One is that
he always acts unilaterally. We point out that he has sought coalitions. He
has sought coalitions on how we deal with North Korea, how we deal with the
murder in Sudan, genocide in Sudan, how we deal with Iraq. So those are the
basic parameters of the endorsement.

GROSS: Your endorsement includes this sentence: `This year each of us has
the privilege of choosing between two major-party candidates whose integrity,
intention and abilities are exemplary.' Why did you include words of praise
for both of the candidates in your editorial?

Mr. DOLD: Because I think they both deserve words of praise. You know, when
we discuss John Kerry's views and where we disagree with him, we are not going
to make this a character issue. I think the whole tenor of this campaign has
been unfortunate in many ways, the sense that the other side has no leg to
stand on--and we'll get into this when we talk about the reaction to this.
But many of the people who reacted, it wasn't with a sense that, `I profoundly
disagree with you.' It was with a sense that, `It is unfathomable to me that
anyone takes an alternative view of these two candidates.' I suppose, yeah,
this is an endorsement that could have gone further to try and trash John
Kerry, but we don't want to trash John Kerry. On fundamental views, we sided
with George Bush. In terms of character, we find a lot to like about these

GROSS: Well, let me bring Dodie Hofstetter into this conversation, who edits
the letters for the Chicago Tribune. And, you know, it's no surprise, I
suppose, that you'd endorse President Bush. But was the reaction surprising
to that, Dodie?

Ms. DODIE HOFSTETTER (Letters Editor, Chicago Tribune): The reaction was
very surprising. I've received more letters for this than I have for almost
any other topic in the six years I've been editing the Voice of the People
section, which is where we run the letters. The other thing that was very
surprising to me was the tone was very negative, very nasty in a lot of cases.
We did get a lot of letters that just--as Bruce was saying, they just couldn't
believe, you know, our stupidity and our `heads in the sand' in endorsing
President Bush. And that surprised me that they were surprised, I guess,
because of our tradition, because the conservative history we have with the
Tribune. And I'm surprised that people were as surprised as they are.

GROSS: Is there perhaps a letter you've brought with you that has the kind of
tone that you're describing that is different than the typical letters that
you get?

Ms. HOFSTETTER: What I tried to do, in the letters that I chose to publish,
was to pick the more thoughtful ones, the ones that were representative of
what we received but also, you know, didn't carry quite the nasty tone. One
that we ran center of our Sunday column said, `Surprise, surprise,' and ends
with, `If Mickey Mouse were the Republican candidate for president, he would
be certain of an endorsement,' as just saying, you know, that no thought went
into this and that it would have been anybody, just as long as it is the
Republican candidate.

The others were more thoughtful, I think, that--we did get a mix. We did
receive some from people who were pleased with our choice. And those people
tended to, I think, more articulate that their concern is safety and that they
felt George Bush is doing a good job with that and keeping them safe and that
they feel that sticking with George Bush is going to keep them safe for the
next four years.

GROSS: Could you tell if there was any organized letter-writing campaign or
phone-call campaign?

Ms. HOFSTETTER: That was another surprise actually for the endorsement
letters. We have received so many letters from the end of September
through--last Friday was the last time I tallied them. And in a normal month
we get between, oh, 4,800 and 7,000 letters. But up until October 22nd, we
have received more than 11,000 letters. And they started to really come in
after the debates began. The debates produced such a letter-writing campaign,
mostly a liberal letter-writing campaign that we traced back to, for instance,
the Democratic National Committee Web site, telling people exactly what to
say. And we could tell the letters right away were the same wording; they all
arrived--many arrived before the debates even began, saying that they felt
that John Kerry had won the debates.

GROSS: Now I think a lot of newspaper readers are confused. How is it that
they're told reporters are fair and neutral in their reporting, yet the
editorial page takes a strong position on things as important as elections?
So how do you explain that the difference between reporting and editorial to
your readers?

Mr. DOLD: If you go back, you know, even 60, 70 years in American
newspapers, there wasn't a difference. The front page of the Chicago Tribune
in 1931, on Election Day, was: Vote for Cermak Today. Now that happened to
be when the Tribune had a real crusade to oust the last Republican mayor of
Chicago. It's an example of where the Tribune wasn't in lockstep with
any--you know, with a particular party. It is over the last half-century or
so that newspapers have been much more conscious about needing, you know, to
establish that their news coverage is unbiased.

The editorial board is a group of people who do only that; we are the opinion
function of the newspaper. We go out of our way not to influence the
reporting coverage. Then we get a lot of complaints from people who will say
that news coverage is biased. That's a common complaint around the country,
you know. And all we can tell people is we specifically--there is a firewall,
and we do not influence their coverage. We'll talk to them about issues.
We'll get background from them. But, you know, every effort is made from the
editor and publisher on down to assure that reporters don't feel that they
should be swayed one way or the other because of what the editorial page says.

GROSS: Now the Chicago Tribune owns several other papers, and I'm wondering
if the publisher ever overrules your opinion.

Mr. DOLD: Well, I think where you're going to is whether the corporate body
has an influence, and the publisher is the publisher of the Chicago Tribune,
just as there's a separate publisher of The Baltimore Sun and Newsday and the
other papers that the Tribune owns. From what I've seen so far, most of the
newspapers in the Tribune company have endorsed John Kerry. Now The Hartford
Courant, one of our papers, endorsed Bush. We endorsed Bush. I haven't seen
the LA Times yet. The LA Times had a practice of not--of making presidential
endorsements, and they were weighing whether to break that rule this time.
Our papers in Florida endorsed John Kerry. So each paper is making its own
individual determination based on, you know, where that newspaper stands.

At the Chicago Tribune, as at most papers, the publisher does have the
authority, if he or she wishes to exercise it, to overrule the editorial
board, to set policy. As a matter of course, I don't think that's happened
once since I've been the editor at the Editorial page.

GROSS: My guests are Bruce Dold, Editorial page editor of the Chicago
Tribune, and Dodie Hofstetter, the Tribune's letters editor. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Bruce Dold, the Editorial page editor of the Chicago
Tribune, and Dodie Hofstetter, the Tribune's letters editor. We're talking
about the paper's endorsement of President Bush.

One of your editorials recently was an endorsement of Barack Obama for
Illinois senator over his opponent, Alan Keyes. And was that a tough choice
for you? You describe Alan Keyes as from `the right wing of the right wing of
the Republican Party,' and so clearly you find Alan Keyes a little
distasteful. But was it difficult for you to end up endorsing the Democrat,
Barack Obama? Did you...

Mr. DOLD: No. It...

GROSS: ...wish that there was a stronger Republican to support?

Mr. DOLD: No. I felt very good about that endorsement, and I think there was
unanimity on the Editorial page on that endorsement. And, you know, we
had--Barack Obama, in the Illinois Legislature, had worked on a number of
issues--on welfare reform, on criminal justice reform--that the paper, the
Editorial page and the news pages, have been very, very much involved with.
So we have, really, a long record of knowing where he came from, knowing what
he saw as critical issues and being on the same side as many of those critical
issues with him. It would have been a more interesting race in Illinois if
Jack Ryan, who won the Republican nomination, had stayed on the ballot. But
as we said in the Obama endorsement, our decision and we think the voters'
decision would have been the same.

What I like about Barack Obama is that he makes a great effort to get past
partisanship. You hear him on the stump, you hear him when he's speaking to
groups, and, you know, he talks as he did at the Democratic convention about
one nation. You rarely--he doesn't take the bait. He doesn't, you know, come
across as shrill. He will criticize Republicans when he disagrees with them
on issues. But he really, I think, wants to change the tone of politics in
the country, and I think that's a great thing. Also, I think, you know, we
often--the Editorial page often talks about a culture of corruption in
Illinois politics. And you see it in other states as well. And I think
Barack Obama has an extremely high ethical standard. He's a very, very honest
person, a hardworking person, and all of that went into a very heartfelt
endorsement of him.

GROSS: Since you described Alan Keyes as being from the right wing of the
right wing of the Republican Party, what's one or two of the more outrageous
things that he said that would have made it impossible for you to consider
endorsing him?

Mr. DOLD: Well, I think his comments about Mary Cheney simply, you know,
were--you know, personalized an issue. And I think that was the point at
which many Republicans in the state turned him off. You know, he's--this is
an evangelism effort, not really a political campaign. So...

GROSS: You want to mention what it is you're referring to, the hedonist

Mr. DOLD: When he--at the Republican convention, he was asked about
lesbianism, and he said that gays are--What was the quote?--"selfish
hedonists." And, you know, that just kind of awoke a lot of people here. But
I think before that, you know, the party made a decision that it wanted a
high-profile candidate when Jack Ryan got out of the race, and it settled on
Alan Keyes. I mean, this was a guy who had, you know, barely registered when
he'd been the Republican candidate for Senate in his own state, in Maryland.
I don't think he ever got more than a third of the vote. So they just made a
colossally bad judgment, you know, call and decided to hand the Republican
nomination to him.

GROSS: Now with Jack Ryan having dropped out of the Senate race because of a
personal, well, sex scandal, and then with Alan Keyes being considered pretty
extreme, what state is that leaving the Republican Party in Illinois in?

Mr. DOLD: We did two things on Sunday: We endorsed Barack Obama in the
Senate race, and we had a second editorial basically saying, `Wake up,
Republicans. What have you got yourself into?' And we said they need--that
there should be two lessons from recent experience here: One is that they
have to have candidates who talk about ethics. We've just gone through--one
of the reasons that the Republican Party is in the such sad shape as it is in
in Illinois is the corrupt administration of former Governor George Ryan,
who's gotten a lot of attention around the country for his stance on the death
penalty but is also under indictment now on corruption charges. The
Republicans are still reeling from that. So, you know, what we said is,
`You've got to have candidates who will reflect that.' We said, `We need to
get past that. We need ethics in government.' Illinois isn't exactly known
for ethics in government, as Louisiana and New Jersey.

And the second point we made was that the folks on the Illinois State Central
Committee, who thought that Alan Keyes was a good choice for the Senate, are
out of touch with the mainstream of the state. The Republican Party had a
25-year run in the governor's office in this state because it put up
practical, conservative candidates. And it has gotten away from that. It got
away from that with the choice of Alan Keyes. So I think, again, you know,
coming from where the Tribune comes from, we may have some impact on the
Republican Party that another newspaper that doesn't have a known ideology
would. People do pay attention to what the paper has to say on those issues.

GROSS: Bruce Dold, I'm wondering what you think about this. You know, the
Philadelphia Inquirer is so--the editorial board is so strong in its support
of John Kerry that they're writing 21 editorials over 21 days, each editorial
giving--you know, expanding on another reason why they're endorsing John
Kerry. What do you think of that?

Mr. DOLD: I think that's tremendous. I mean, I think that's terrific. And I
think we--the last president election, we did, I would say, more of a
concerted effort. We had more issues analysis on the Editorial page than we
did this time. Our news section did issues, analysis. You know, when you're
in a swing state, as Pennsylvania is--and I--you know, that's a great effort,
you know, to undertake. And I'm also glad to hear that they're putting, you
know, other opinions of--you know, Bush-supportive pieces on the op-ed page.
That's exactly what an editorial page should do.

GROSS: Did you feel that Illinois' being a little overlooked in this
election? You're not a swing state, so people--you know, the presidential
candidates aren't actively, you know, courting the vote of the people of
Illinois. You're not seeing as many ads as the people in swing states do.
And, you know, let's face it, Barack Obama really has this senatorial election
wrapped up. So there's probably not a whole lot of media action on that one

Mr. DOLD: Yeah, we feel like we're missing in action. I mean, we've
supported the Electoral College, but I'll have to think twice about it. You
do feel like you're missing something. Now we're surrounded, just about, by
swing states. I mean, you can go to Wisconsin and get a taste of the
presidential election. But it is kind of an odd feeling, especially in a
state that did get a lot of focus in presidential elections in the past, to
feel that this one is just passing you by.

GROSS: Why did you support the Electoral College in an editorial?

Mr. DOLD: Well, I'll you I'm rethinking it now. I mean, I think--we are
reluctant to make changes in the Constitution. And I don't know. Given the
track record, you know, in presidential elections, it was exceedingly rare to
have happen what happened in 2000. I think there were, at the time of
the--you know, the Founding Fathers decided to--you know, at the time the
Electoral College was created, there was an argument to be made on parceling
out representation and influence. I think if you took it away, Iowa would no
longer count. Most of the focus would be on the population centers, and I
don't know that that would be good for the country. But conversely now, as
you see it, it is not particularly good for the country that New York and
Illinois and Massachusetts and states that are not in play essentially are
almost forgotten.

GROSS: Bruce Dold, Dodie Hofstetter, thank you both so much for talking with

Mr. DOLD: Thank you.


GROSS: Bruce Dold is the Editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune. Dodie
Hofstetter is the Tribune's letters editor. Earlier we heard from two editors
of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has endorsed John Kerry.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new biography of Shakespeare. This is

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World"

Stephen Greenblatt's new biography of Shakespeare called "Will in the World,"
has just been nominated for the National Book Award. But critic Maureen
Corrigan says that regardless of the outcome of that nomination, Greenblatt's
book is a winner.


Reading "Will in the World" is like taking a walking tour through Elizabethan
England, Shakespeare's life and the imaginative universe of his plays and
sonnets. That's what I told a friend who likes to read but who was put off by
the thought of reading this biography of the bard by Harvard professor and
renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt. Just as Shakespeare's plays
pitch themselves at both the illiterate groundlings swarming the stage and the
more knowledgeable big-spenders in the gallery, so, too, Greenblatt's superb
book speaks to an audience of curious general readers as well as to those
who've studied in Shakespeare and surrendered themselves to the spell of his
language time and again. Greenblatt, in effect, says fie to the fear that
Shakespeare is for smarties only and pays tribute to the glorious democracy of
Shakespeare's art by the openness and easy elegance of his own writing style.

"Will in the World" is subtitled "How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare." And as
Greenblatt readily admits, any biography of Shakespeare must rely a lot on
guesswork since, besides property records, so few documents in Shakespeare's
hand--no letters, no marginalia, no first drafts--exist. But there's
guesswork, and then there's inspired, vastly knowledgeable guesswork.
Greenblatt, as a scholarly sleuth, is in this latter Sherlock Holmes category.
He takes on this daunting case because of his overwhelming conviction that
`Shakespeare's plays and poems spring not only from other plays and poems but
from the things he knew firsthand in his body and soul.'

The central and enduring mystery here is how Shakespeare, a modestly educated,
young man from the sticks, whose father was a glove-maker, broke into and
conquered the inbred theater world of London and ultimately became the
greatest playwright of all time. To piece together a likely story, Greenblatt
draws upon his exhaustive knowledge of the politics and culture of Elizabethan
England. Greenblatt is also a great close reader of Shakespeare's sonnets and
plays, where he ferrets out some of the most convincing clues to Shakespeare's

Throughout his book, for instance, Greenblatt discusses how Shakespeare
became, in effect, the bard and yet never forgot where he came from.
Greenblatt looks closely at the famous scene in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
where the troupe of artisans--among them, the weaver Nick Bottom and the
carpenter Peter Quince--perform a catastrophically bad play within a play and
are jeered by an audience of their betters. Greenblatt says in this scene,
`The young Shakespeare's proclaiming his own move from rustic amateurism to
urban sophistication.'

But Greenblatt goes on to say this: `What saves the scene of ridicule from
becoming too painful is the self-possession of the artisans. In the face of
open derision, they are unflappable. Shakespeare achieved a double effect.
On the one hand, he mocked the amateurs. On the other, he conferred an odd,
unexpected dignity upon Bottom and his fellows, a dignity that contrasts
favorably with the sardonic rudeness of the aristocratic spectators. Even as
he called attention to the distance between himself and the rustic performers
then, Shakespeare doubled back and signaled a current of sympathy and

There's a wealth of psychological insights like that one in Greenblatt's book.
And if even a quarter of them truly hit the mark, then our knowledge of
Shakespeare, the man, has been profoundly augmented. I wish, for example,
that I had the infinite space to convey the brilliance of Greenblatt's
discussion of the biographical sources for "Hamlet." That tragedy has baffled
scholars, who can't account for its explosion of language. Shakespeare added
over 600 new words in "Hamlet," both to his own canon and many to the written
record of English itself, nor have critics adequately accounted for the
unprecedented representation of tormented inwardness that marks its
soliloquies. Greenblatt suggests the solution involved a deep shock in
Shakespeare's life and says the death of Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, in 1596,
about four years before he wrote the play, was that very shock.

Greenblatt ties in that personal tragedy to the starker relationship to the
dead imposed by the Protestant reformation. `"What ceremony else," cries
Laertes, standing at the grave of his sister, Ophelia.' `What ceremony
else,' Greenblatt suggests, Shakespeare himself might have silently cried,
denied the comforting funeral rituals of Catholicism. In the context of the
case Greenblatt has already made for Shakespeare's father being a closet
Catholic, the idea that the bard would have conjured up Hamlet's
spirit-haunted world as a way of affirming the Catholic belief in an ongoing
relationship between the living and the dead makes emotional and historical
sense. But I digress.

If I, like Shakespeare--huh--could concoct words out of air, I'd do so to rave
about "Will in the World." As a work of biography, scholarship and
imagination, it deserves a new vocabulary of praise.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Will in the World" by Stephen Greenblatt.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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