The walls of The Star’s offices are full of snapshots of governors, including George C. Wallace, who when in town would visit with the newspaper’s editorial board. (By the way, Wallace preferred to refer to the newspaper by the derisive nickname “Red Star.”)
During campaign season, the pace quickens as scores of hopefuls come through our doors seeking endorsement.
The meetings can be lively and enlightening, as politicians explain their positions, field tough questions and lay out their visions for the future.
However, one local politician, five-term U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, has been an infrequent visitor to the newspaper. He’s not visited since fall 2008, though he makes regular visits to other newspaper boards in his district. Before that, his appearances before the Anniston Star board were spotty.
The reason, says his press secretary Shea Snider, is that The Anniston Star editorial board and the congressman have "different world views."
"Every time [Rogers] goes in, it’s a hostile environment," Snider said. "There’s no value to those meetings."
She emphasized that the congressman and his office are always happy to respond to The Star’s reporting staff, as well as to questions from this writer; it’s the editorial board the congressman has a problem with.
It is accurate that the Star's editorial board subjects politicians to tough questions. For its part, the newspaper believes holding the people's representatives to account is part of its First Amendment responsibilities. That standard is applied to politicians across the ideological spectrum.
An informal survey of National Conference of Editorial Writers members via listserve showed that Rogers’ refusal to meet with The Star is out of step with most Washington politicians. Most will meet with local editorial boards.
"Our senators drop in for a visit about once a year," wrote Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore. "Our local congressman stops by more often for useful backgrounders on issues of interest to him and to us (and for gossip that is even more useful)."
Editors mentioned that there are exceptions, a few senators and congressmen who for one reason or another refused to darken their doors. It usually has something to do with something written by the newspaper that the officeholder didn't like.
At the NCEW’s 2010 convention in Dallas. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is now said to be considering a run for president, spoke to members of the NCEW, but refused to take part in the traditional Q&A session following his remarks. Perry’s reason for skipping out on question time was that he had a tight schedule. However, after leaving the stage the governor spent a lengthy session chatting with friends in the meeting room and then carrying on an extended TV interview just outside its doors.
Then-NCEW president Tom Waseleski wrote Perry afterwards, calling the snub "an affront to any notion of civil discourse, such as the kind you have called for on other occasions."
Tom Moran, editorial page editor of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, described the refusal to meet with editorial boards as folly on the part of politicians. “When these guys choose not to defend their positions, it hardly advances their cause,” he wrote.
Mark C. Mahoney, editorial page editor at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., boiled down the reasons a politician might or might not visit with an editorial board. "It all depends on the degree with which you have criticized the individual and that individual's personal degree of tolerance for criticism," Mahoney wrote. "Some can take a little criticism. Some can take a lot. Some can't take any. Those that can't take any criticism have tended not to meet with us."
Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star and a member of its editorial board, is secretary/treasurer of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.