So, a week or so ago, the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Arnold Schwarzenegger for Governor. When I read it over my morning cup of coffee, I though, “Huh. That’s weird. Whatever.” And went about my day.

The letters to the editor, on the contrary, have been as angry, outspoken, and (yes) diverse on opinion as I’ve come to expect from letters to the editor. There were several folks who were appalled that their venerable “liberal” Chronicle would endorse Arnold. Has the editor, they yelled, forgotten what he pulled a year ago, trying to pull funding from nurses, schools, teachers?! There were even threats to cancel subscriptions. Egads!

On the other hand, almost at the same time, the Chronicle endorsed McNerney to replace Republican incumbent (and alleged Abramoff-pal) Richard Pombo out in Tracy. Letters to the editor on this one were equally virulent, though mostly of the “what do you expect from the ‘liberal’ Chronicle?” stripe.

What consistently cracks me up about the letters to the editor is this: who cares? There may have been a time back in the Golden Age of a free and independent print media and press that one could reasonably trust the local newspaper to accurately, fairly, and in an unbiased way report the news and then go out and do the necessary reporting to get all the facts before making political endorsements. I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore, but even if it were, just because the Chronicle (or the SF Bay Guardian or any other paper) endorses a particular candidate or position on a particular proposition doesn’t mean you have to vote that way. You are still free to vote for whomever you wish to vote to for. And if you don’t like Arnold but are thrilled with Angelides, then vote for Camejo. And don’t tell me that you’d be throwing your vote away or that by voting for a third party candidate you’re only ensuring that Republicans win or some other line of crap. It’s still your vote and it’s still your choice, newspaper endorsements be damned.

I know there’s a legitimate concern with newspaper endorsements. The logic is that newspapers have a tremendous amount of capital and power to go out and do the hard research necessary to figure out whom the best candidate is or what all the subtle nuances in legal speak mean in ballot initiatives. And since newspapers generally have a pretty obvious political slant (the Chronicle is obviously pretty centrists while the Bay Guardian seems to want to turn San Francisco into a Marxist utopia), you can look to a paper’s endorsement to determine which way to vote on close races or difficult decisions. Plus, since newspapers do have a political slant, they certainly have an agenda and agendas can be misleading or cause editors to leaves facts our paint certain candidates in a certain, inaccurate way. Sure. I get that.

On the other hand, there’s a bigger, deeper, more insidious concern over at the Chronicle. And it’s this: how independent and reliable are they in the first place? As part of the Hearst Corporation’s media empire how much actual reporting are they doing? I would much rather see letters to the editor decrying the slow loss of local reporters on the pages of the Chronicle to stories culled from news wires, AP, and the New York Times. It begs the questions: how reliable a source of local news is the Chronicle, and if it isn’t, how reliable are its political endorsements?

If the answers is, “not very,” then complaining to the editor about who it’s voting for is like giving a cancer patient a Band Aid and telling him he’ll feel better in the morning.

Personally, I don’t like newspaper political endorsements. Then again, I don’t like movie reviews either. I’d rather make up my own mind, make my own decisions, formulate my own opinions about politics and movies. And since they invented this cool new thing called the Internet, it’s really easy to find information about elections that’s straight from the horse’s mouth.

You wanna know what Schwarzenegger plans to do for California? Ask him.

And in the mean time, I’ll be writing letters to the editor asking them just how beholden are they to their corporate sponsors.