It’s a perennial tradition in American elections which dates back pretty much as long as we’ve had elections. The board of editors at most all of the major newspapers get together every four years and pen some long winded explanation of how they have carefully weighed all of the facts, considered the angles, and will now share with you their expert opinion about who you should vote for and why. It’s the coveted newspaper endorsement, and campaigns love to talk about them when they get them. (And they love berating the ones who endorse the opponent nearly as much.) But is anyone even paying attention to these dinosaurs of the political process any more?
In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times went for Obama, but Mitt Romney managed to split the bounty by picking up the endorsement of The Orlando Sentinel who had backed Obama in 2008. The Denver Post went for the President, as did the Salt Lake City Tribune (!) which has backed both Republicans and Democrats over the last few cycles. Should anyone be listening to these former gatekeepers? Doug Mataconis doesn’t seem to think so.
There was a time, of course, when newspapers were far more explicitly partisan than they are today, not just in their editorials but also in their news coverage. Even after that era passed, newspaper endorsements used to hold great sway especially in large cities. However, I honestly have to wonder what value these endorsements have in an era when anyone with an Internet connection can find out whatever they want to know about any candidate for any office. If there really are people out there who end up deciding who they are going to vote for based on who gets endorsed by a self-appointed board of experts who happen to have access to a newspaper’s Editorial Page, then I have to wonder about their own thinking capacities. Are there really people out there who are so devoid of critical judgement that they base their voting decisions on who some group of anonymous people decided to endorse? As I’ve admitted before, I hardly fall into the category of the “typical voter,” but I quite honestly cannot understand a person who would be influenced by what someone else tells them in an anonymous editorial.
All of this comes during the same week that Newsweek announced they were finally throwing in the towel on print production. After grappling with the shocking realization that nobody was buying their product, they have decided to “embrace the digital future.” (Or, to put it less charitably, they’re scrapping their magazine and becoming a blog. Welcome aboard! Hot Gas can always use the competition to keep us on our toes.) The point is, even though it’s a weekly magazine as opposed to a daily fish wrap, the trend for print news sources is all heading in the same direction – down. To think they still wield any serious influence in elections seems overly optimistic.
Doug points to Greg Mitchell, formerly of Editor & Publisher, who claims that newspaper endorsements pick the winners on a state by state basis a large majority of the time. That may be true, but is it because they are influencing the decisions of their dwindling pool of readers or because they just happened to pick the person who was more popular with their potential reader base? I know… I know.. I’m a cynical old bastage. What can I say?