Opinion: It’s Time for Newspapers to Stop Endorsing Candidates
Taking sides only decreases public trust
Just when editorial boards are coming off the sidelines to endorse in the presidential race, it’s time to do just the opposite.
After 34 years of not endorsing a presidential candidate, USA Today published “Trump is ‘unfit for the presidency’” on Sept. 30. It’s the first time the paper has taken stand in a presidential election. Foreign Policy magazine hadn’t backed a candidate in nearly 50 years, but the editorial board recently endorsed Hillary Clinton. The Chicago Tribune editorial board chose a different path by supporting Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
Of course, some newspapers have been endorsing candidates for generations.
I understand that Donald Trump has raised the stakes of this election, yet I’m dismayed that the cycle has evolved into if-you’re-not-vocally-against-him-then-you’re-for-him. I have a hard time believing there is a large population of undecided voters waiting for an editorial board of a local or national paper to tell them how to vote.
If newspaper endorsements mattered, Ohio Gov. John Kasich would be the GOP presidential nominee.
Most Americans don’t trust the media, let alone look to newspapers for electoral guidance. Just 32 percent of adults said they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll in September. Twenty years ago, that number was closer to 50 percent.
There is also a chance that an endorsement against Trump could help galvanize the GOP nominee’s supporters. To some Americans, any enemy of the media is precisely the candidate they want to support.
Endorsing candidates also feeds Americans’ distrust in the media and the belief that the media is biased. According to a May 2015 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports at the beginning of the election cycle, just 23 percent of likely voters believed most reporters would try to offer unbiased coverage.
I’m going to go out on a short limb and say that the average person probably doesn’t know or doesn’t believe there is a wall between the editorial board and reporters in newspaper organizations. If a paper endorses a candidate, there is an assumption that the paper is friendly to that candidate, cause, or party.
Retired USA Today correspondent Richard Benedetto made similar points in an Oct. 4 piece countering the newspaper’s decision to get involved in this race. Benedetto wrote about the philosophy of late Gannett chairman and CEO Al Neuharth, who created USA TODAY.
“[Neuharth] also believed endorsements might taint the objective reporting we were trying to do in the rest of the newspaper. Moreover, he felt it was elitist to assume we know better than everyone else when it comes to voting,” Benedetto wrote.
It may not be a popular position among some friends in the media, but I think giving up newspaper endorsements is a way for the media to regain some trust, and maybe even some readers.
Editor’s note: Roll Call does not endorse political candidates.