FINALLY CLINCHING the conversion of the Detroit News from a principled conservative voice to a liberal echo, the paper the other day declined to endorse a candidate for president. This abdication, ending a string of Republican endorsements unbroken since World War II, fooled no one: Michigan Democrats rejoiced.

But how, "agonized" the News's editorial, could the paper endorse an incumbent who had made "too many mistakes"? The chief mistake it cited--the Iraq war--is one the Detroit News itself initially supported.

It takes firmness of purpose not only to start a war but also to see it through, even as it sets in train unforeseeable developments, and that's a quality in short supply these days at the News. Ever since the unceremonious deposing of the paper's respected longtime editorial page editor Tom Bray four years ago, readers have watched the once stalwart paper shifting its ground. On racial preferences and gun control, for example, the publisher's promise back then that the News would not abandon its conservative identity has proved to be mere words.

The only wonder, indeed, is that News publisher Mark Silverman hasn't gone all the way and endorsed his fellow Massachusetts liberal, John Kerry. But Silverman seems to prefer using the cover of a "conservative" paper to promote the opposite cause.

Take the News's role in the last gubernatorial election, in 2002. Silverman ran front-page headlines accusing the Republican candidate, Dick Posthumus, of trumped-up charges of race-baiting. Posthumus's crime? He'd had the temerity to release a memo written by Detroit's Democratic mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, to the Democratic candidate--now Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm--demanding that she pledge to appoint a certain number of Detroit blacks to her administration in exchange for his support. Was the mayor's attempt to cut a backroom deal with a candidate for governor then not the public's business?

Apparently not, in Silverman's book. He forced his editorial page to run an editorial threatening to retract its endorsement of Posthumus. (Close observers of the Detroit newspaper scene say the only reason Silverman endorsed Posthumus in the first place was to avoid getting into legal hot water by running afoul of his Joint Operating Agreement with the liberal Free Press.) Posthumus would have been hurt less if Silverman had kept his endorsement to himself. He eventually lost the election by just three points.

At this stage, the News's continuing departures from its old identity hold no surprise. Still, it's necessary to notice and chronicle the Gannettization of a once proud editorial page.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

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