W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Romney’

Newspaper endorsements don’t much matter — except maybe at the margins

In 1897, Newspapers on November 5, 2012 at 6:54 am

Romney endorsed by New York Daily News

It’s long been apparent that newspaper endorsements for high political office are rarely decisive.

Back in 1897, when print made up the mass media, newspapers were shocked when their endorsements had little impact on the outcome of the New York City mayoral election.

The Tammany Hall candidate, an obscure judge named Robert A. Van Wyck, won the election decisively — without giving a speech and without receiving the editorial support of the city’s leading newspapers.

Nowadays, in a world of myriad digital options, many U.S. daily newspapers are but shells of their former selves. Few of them really presume to set an agenda for their communities and their endorsements for high political office are all but irrelevant. More than a handful of newspapers no longer endorse candidates for president.

Still, it is conceivable that newspaper endorsements could make a difference in close elections in a few places in tomorrow’s presidential election. Enough readers could take cues from newspaper endorsements to tip the outcome in very tight races — as perhaps in Iowa and Florida.

It’s speculative, but not implausible.

In Iowa and Florida, prominent newspapers that endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 are backing Republican Mitt Romney this year. And the Obama-Romney race is close in both states. Polling data compiled and aggregated at RealClearPolitics indicate that Obama leads by three percentage points in Iowa and that Romney is narrowly ahead in Florida.

The largest-circulation newspaper in Iowa, the Des Moines Register, has endorsed Romney, citing his “strong record of achievement in both the private and public sectors.”

In Florida, the Orlando Sentinel and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel have come out for Romney.

The Sentinel asserted in its editorial endorsement: “We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years. For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race.”

And the Sun-Sentinel said: “When President Obama came into office in 2009, the economy was in freefall and though untested, he inspired us with his promise of hope and change. Now, four years later, we have little reason to believe he can turn things around.

“So while we endorsed Obama in 2008, we recommend voters choose Republican Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.”

That those newspapers have turned away from Obama probably matters much only to a few readers. But editorial endorsements that sway even a few readers could make a difference if the statewide race is very close.

This point was made the other day by a leading political analyst and numbers-cruncher, Michael Barone. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Barone said the Des Moines Register’s endorsement “could make a significant difference” in the outcome in Iowa.

Some indirect evidence suggests that newspaper endorsements can signal the outcomes of close races.

Greg Mitchell, formerly editor of the trade journal Editor & Publisher, noted in a recent commentary at the Nation that just before the presidential election in 2008,  he “went out on a limb and predicted which candidates would win in the thirteen key ‘toss-up’ states based purely on newspaper endorsements in those states — not polls or common sense or anything else.”

Mitchell said he “got them right, except for one.”

Based on newspaper endorsements in swing states this year, Mitchell has predicted that Obama will narrowly defeat Romney. Mitchell’s breakdown has five swing states for Obama, five for Romney, and one (Virginia) undecided, which seems more like a toss-up.

In any case, data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, show that 12 newspapers that endorsed Obama in 2008 are supporting Romney this year. They include the New York Daily News, the country’s fifth-largest newspaper, and Newsday of Long Island, the 13th largest daily.

Those endorsements aren’t likely to matter much, though, given that Obama is a sure bet to carry New York State.


‘We’re trying to toughen you up’: Never happened with Obama and news media

In Debunking, Media myths on October 7, 2012 at 8:39 am

“We’re trying to toughen you up.”

Remember that?

It was nearly six years ago when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made the comment to then-Senator Barack Obama, as his campaign for the presidency was unfolding.

Obama at the debate

Her remark was in reply to Obama’s criticism — uttered perhaps half in jest — about Dowd’s having mentioned his prominent ears. (She wrote in a column in October 2006: “He’s intriguingly imperfect: His ears stick out, he smokes, and he’s written about wrestling with pot, booze and ‘maybe a little blow’ as a young man.”)

“You talked about my ears,” Obama told her later, “and I just want to put you on notice: I’m very sensitive about — what I told them was I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.”

Dowd said in response:

“We’re trying to toughen you up.”

Of course, “toughen up” never happened. The mainstream U.S. news media rarely have treated Obama with anything but swooning deference. He and his policies seldom have been exposed to rigorous and critical assessment. Not in any sustained way, and certainly not during the 2012 election season.

As Andrew Klavan wrote recently in City Journal: “No other president could have … presided over such a crippled economy and such universal failures at war and in foreign policy and escaped almost without mainstream blame.”

The upshot of media deference was on vivid display Wednesday night, when Obama’s economic record was eviscerated by Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a debate stunning for its lopsidedness.

Not even Richard Nixon lost so utterly in 1960 in his debates with John F. Kennedy.

For the first time in his presidency, Obama was called to account publicly and prominently for the economic failings of his administration. And he had nothing in rebuttal: Romney’s unrelenting pressure left Obama looking flustered, hapless.

Since then, the mainstream news media have been inclined to blame Obama’s performance on Romney’s having told nothing but lies, on the clumsy moderation of Jim Lehrer of PBS, and (in Al Gore’s telling) on the altitude in Denver, the debate’s host city.

Even now, the mainstream news media are little inclined to “toughen up” Obama, even with two debates ahead and his presidency very much in the balance.

An inevitable reason for all this can be traced to the dearth of intellectual diversity at leading U.S. news organizations. The ideological imbalance in newsrooms is hardly a secret: News organizations themselves have called attention to this defect from time to time.

For example, the then-ombudsman for the Washington Post, Deborah Howell, wrote in a post-election column in November 2008:

“I’ll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.”

Howell’s column quoted Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, as saying:

“The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It’s not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives.

“It’s inconceivable that that is irrelevant.”

More recently, in his farewell column in August, Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times public editor (or ombudsman), chided the newspaper’s “political and cultural progressivism” which, he said, “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

“As a result,” Brisbane declared, “developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”

Rather than treat the “overloved and undermanaged” critique as a matter of serious consideration, the Times’ executive editor, Jill Abramson, rejected it out of hand, dismissing it as obviously erroneous.

Brisbane’s observations, the product of two years as the newspaper’s ombudsman, deserved a reception far more thoughtful and serious-minded than that. Especially given the newspaper’s mostly forgotten internal report in 2005 which said in part:

“Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel we are missing stories because the staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faith.” (Emphasis added.)

The critique of the news media’s ideological imbalance is more than impressionistic, more than “perception”: A survey in 2008 of journalists for national news publications reported that 8 percent identified themselves as “conservative,” 32 percent as “liberal,” and 53 percent as “moderate.”

Such imbalance has given rise to the occasional vague promise to promote intellectual diversity in the newsroom.

But nothing much changes.  As I pointed out in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong, “Viewpoint diversity is an issue not much discussed” in American newsrooms — “places that sometimes seem to be bastions of group-think.”

In that regard, I quoted Michael Kelly, former editor of National Journal, who once observed:

“Reporters like to picture themselves as independent thinkers. In truth, with the exception of 13-year-old girls, there is no social subspecies more slavish to fashion, more terrified of originality and more devoted to group-think.”

Obama has thrived for years within the reassuring confines of the media cocoon which, when ripped away as it was Wednesday night, makes for dramatic theater. But it does little for the news media and their sagging credibility.


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