In a telling example of its rightward march, the Daily News on Tuesday became the first and only major California daily to come out in support of Proposition 22.

Maybe the endorsement of state Senator Pete Knight’s gay-bashing ballot shouldn’t come as such a shock. After all, this is the same paper that endorsed Dan Lungren for governor and called for Clinton’s resignation — pre-impeachment.

But the paper’s endorsement of this proposition, which states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” doesn’t appear to reflect the opinions of the paper’s writers and editors, even the ones who handled the endorsement. Instead, it seems based on a cynical notion of what market niche the paper holds among its San Fernando Valley readership. “They are perceived by the public as being very conservative, so they act on that basis,” said someone familiar with the newsroom’s machinations. “They’re trying to hold on to die-hard readers.”

The Daily News endorsement hinges on the claim that without the proposition, gay marriages from other states might be recognized here. But given that California state law already says marriage can only be between a man and a woman, that argument is more than a bit specious. According to managing editor Ron Kaye, the measure “was a very difficult issue” for the paper.

The decision to write the pro-22 endorsement, Kaye said, came down to “the editor, myself and the editorial writers,” among whom enthusiastic support for the measure is hard to find.

The paper’s lone editorial writer drafted a No-on-22 piece, which was ultimately scrapped. The writer, who is gay, declined comment for this story.

Kaye himself defended the endorsement as a reaffirmation of what is conventionally accepted as marriage and dismissed the transparently anti-gay motives of the proposition’s author, who speaks out against gays and is estranged from his gay son, as irrelevant. “If the question was, ‘Is Pete Knight a homophobe?’ I think we could all say, ‘Yes, Pete Knight is homophobic,’” Kaye said. “But that’s not on the table. The issue is what the measure does.” Ultimately, though, Kaye said, he’s ambivalent about the measure. “I don’t know how I’m going to vote, to be quite honest,” he said.

That leaves the paper’s editor, David Butler, who is regarded in the newsroom as a liberal Democrat who, for market reasons, takes a hard right on editorials. “Dave Butler is the guy who runs the show, and runs it very tightly,” Kaye said. “No question this is Dave’s paper.” Butler did not return a call for comment.

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