Will Dan Savage and Savage Love save the Village Voice/New Times chain? Will the chain allow any of its 17papers to endorse candidates in this critical election?

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Maybe it's up to Dan Savage, the editor of The Stranger in Seattle who writes a sex column called Savage Love with a left political slant for the Village Voice/New Times chain of l7 papers.

Let me explain. The New Times editor MIke Lacey and publisher Jim Larkin have historically refused to allow any of their papers, including the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, to do editorials, endorse candidates, or take real positions on such critical issues as the war and occupation of Iraq, the Bush vs. Kerry presidential race, or even local races for mayor, governor, and the U.S. House and Senate. Why? It has always baffled me and it baffles the staffs of their l7 papers. And now, this year for the first time, the staffs and readers of the six old Voice papers that were purchased by the New Times last fall (the Voice, the Minneapolis City Pages, the Nashville Scene, the Seattle Weekly, the LA Weekly, and the OC Weekly) will find that they can no longer run the endorsements and strong political coverage they ran so proudly in their papers for years.

What was the New Times position on Bush's reelection? New Times ducked the issue and, as far as I can tell, the only endorsement published in any New Times paper came from Savage's column just before election day. Dan, bless his heart, came out for Kerry in the last line of his column and has been pushing for impeachment. He even went out to Pennsylvania a few weeks ago to make trouble for Sen. Rick Santorum. He was successful.

There are major races in almost every one of the Village Voice/New Times cities, from New York to the state of Washington to Tennessee to Florida to Ohio to almost every city and region where the Voice/New Times has a paper. The mission of a real alternative paper is to be alternative to and competitive with the local monopoly daily. Instead, the Voice/New Times papers, by not endorsing, cede valuable political terrain and influence to their local daily competitors with their standard establishment endorsements, usually conservative and establishment to the core, in local and national races (see the Chronicle and Examiner endorsements.) And so the question remains: will Lacey and Larkin, operating out of their headquarters in Phoenix, allow any of their papers, in this terribly critical election, to finally break the taboo and take an editorial stand and do some editorial endorsements?

I bet they won't. I bet they continue their policy of making no explanation to their staffs and readers. And so once again it will be up to Dan Savage, the zesty gay sex columnist, to save the day and come out with some anti-Bush endorsements in his pre-election column in the l7 Voice and New Times papers. Will he do it? Will Lacey and Larkin allow the Savage endorsements to run in their papers? Let us stay alert. Meanwhile, the Bruce blog will keep you posted.

P.S. What has been the Lacey/Larkin/New Times position on the war and occupation? Let me recap an example from an earlier Bruce blog. Back in 2003, as the Guardian was pounding away on Bush and the invasion with front page stories and strong editorials, Lacey/Larkin/SFWeekly/EastBayExpress/NewTimes gave me a Best of Award for "Best Local Psychic."

Their Best Of item read: "Move over, Madam Zolta, at least when it comes to predicting the outcome of wars, Bruce-watchers will recall with glee his most recent howler, an April 2 Bay Guardian cover storyheadlined 'The New Vietnam.' The article was accompanied by an all caps heading and a photo of a panic-stricken U.S. serviceman in Iraq, cowering behind a huge fireball. The clear message: Look out, folks; this new war's gonna be as deep a sinkhole as the old one. Comparing a modern U.S. war to Vietnam--how edgy! How brilliant! How original! And how did the prediction pan out? Let's see now: More than 50,000 U.S. soldiers got killed in Vietnam vs. about l00 in Iraq. Vietnam lasted more than l0 years; Iraq lasted less than a month (effectively ending about two weeks after the story ran.) Vietnam destroyed a U.S. president, while Iraq tuned one into an action hero. Well, you get the picture. Trying to draw analogies between Vietnam and Iraq is as ridiculous as Brugmann's other pet causes. Scores of reputable publications aroiund the nation opposed the Iraq war, but did so in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. Leave it to the SFBG,our favorite political pamphlet, to help delegitimate yet another liberal cause. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft send their sincerest thanks, Bruce."

I am not jesting. This is what they wrote. I proudly display this Best of in my office. And this was yet another example of New Times journalism: hit, run, and hide. The article was not by-lined and I tried, again and again, by phone calls and by guerrilla emails to Lacey and his SF Weekly editors, to get someone to stand up and say who conceived, wrote, and edited the item. Nobody would fess up. But I was told reliably that the writer was the cartoonist Dan Siegler and the editor was then editor John Mecklin, who was reported to be Lacey's top editor and hand-picked by Lacey to take on the Guardian in San Francisco. I then confronted them with emails, askijng for confirmation or comment. I got none then and, as the war worsened, I updated my request now and then. I never got a reply.

We had lots of fun with their Best Of award. We did a counter Best of, a full page ad, titled "Best Premature Ejaculation," a special award to the editors of the SF Weekly/New Times. We ended with this note: "Sorry, folks: We wish the war in Iraq were as neat and tidy as you, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft would like to think it is. But you, um, spoke to soon."

We added a postscript: "Gee, what's the New Times position on the war anyway. We can't seem to figure it out." Three years later, l2 days before the election that is a plebescite on the war and Bush the Perpetrator, the question is more timel than ever: what is the Lacey and Larkin position on the war?

Will they tell us? Or is it up to Dan Savage? B3