Newspaper endorsements

This has been bugging me for awhile. Every election season, I open up the local newspaper to find a full page of Cincinnati Enquirer “Endorsements.” And I must say that it bugs the hell out of me. It’s not that the Enquirer is endorsing candidates that I don’t like. Usually it’s quite the contrary. But, as a matter of principle, I think newspapers should REPORT the news in as unbiased a way as possible, NOT attempt to influence election results. Can you imagine in our local radio and t.v. stations did the same. “Channel 9 endorses Al Gore for President.”

How do newspapers get away with it? And shouldn’t we get rid of this archaic, borderline unethical, practice?

What’s unethical about it? It’s called freedom of the press.

In the nineteenth century, the vast majority of newspapers were blatantly partisan, if I’ve got my facts straight. The notion that newspapers should be unbiased is a relatively recent development. I remember back when having two or more independent dailies in a town was more common, one would generally be allied with more liberal causes, and the other would give voice to more conservative viewpoints.

The difference with broadcasting is that we, the people, own the broadcast spectrum, and we (through the FCC) license various entities to use particular frequencies on our behalf in a manner that ‘serves the public interest.’ In return, they get to make shitloads of money.

There used to be a FCC rule known as the Fairness Doctrine which, in recognition of the principles stated above, said that if a broadcaster took a stand on an issue, it would have to give equal time to opposing views. This discouraged broadcasters from taking stands at all, of course. The FD was overturned back in the late 1980s, and now broadcasters, AFAIK, are free to endorse candidates; I’m surprised it hasn’t happened. Instead, broadcasters put Rush, Ollie, and G. Gordon Liddy on the air to do it for them, I suppose. So what distinction is left is more a matter of tradition than law, at this point.

I personally feel that the old distinction was important, for this reason: I can exercise freedom of the press anytime I want, but I have no right to speak over the airwaves.

So if I don’t like the newspapers’ endorsements, I’m free to buy an old mimeograph machine, and print and distribute my own opinions on street corners. If people like what I have to say, maybe I can start charging for it, and gradually compete with the big daily. (Not likely, but possible.) But if I don’t like Channel 9’s endorsements, I can’t go into business as Channel 10 to offer up my alternative viewpoint. Period.

Anyhow, that’s my take on why the papers are justified in endorsing candidates, but the broadcasters aren’t. Hope that helps.

Enough of voting for the lesser of evils - vote Cthulhu 2000!

In their Constitutional Rights? Yes

Is it ethical? That’s a difficult one to answer.

As RTF explained, it was not uncommon for communities to have more than one newspaper to work towards the views of opposing standpoints. This was healthy I think.

Our city used to have two local newspapers, both of which my mom subscribed to. I think (shes gone now so I can’t state for sure) she subscribed to both papers to get both sides of the story before making up her mind.

In a perfect society, the news wouldn’t have any bias, but even our major TV outlets are highly biased, in my opinion.

I do think that any city with only one major local newspaper, that editor of that newspaper should be smart enough to report the news on political candidates as unbiased as possible. This is responsible reporting in my opinion.

The Chicago Tribune had an interesting problem last election. It seems the Lake County (IL) Republican Party bought ad space on their delivery bags. So on election day, people living there got their Tribs delivered in bags that said “Chicago Tribune” and, just below it, “Vote Republican!” Hmmmm.

The Trib decided this was a mistake and they would not accept any future advertising on their bags. But I guess I don’t see how it’s terribly different from them endorsing a bunch of Republican candidates. I mean, if it says “Vote Republican” on the bag or “Vote for Joe Blow, a Republican” inside, what’s the diff?

One’s an advertisement (which would be accepted from any political party and/or candidate) and one’s an editorial opinion. I assume that the paper doesn’t want the former mistaken for the latter.

Pretty much what Firefly said. Plus there’s the element of time.
Freedom of the press was constitutionalized in the U.S. in the 18th century and broadcasting showed up in the 20th. The FCC was one of the many alphabet soup agencies that appeared during the New Deal.
The FCC replaced the FRC with an agency that had the teeth to enforce who was on what frequency with what power requirements. The agency attempted to get into program content at one time but this proved to be a sticky wicket. Today the FCC seems to limit itself the the engineering end of broadcasting. Program content for the most part is determined by the free market.
And the free market determines who makes a profit. If your TV station endorses one candidate over 8 others, it not only risks losing the ad revenue of the other candidates it will likely lose revenue from each advertiser that supports the other candidates, too. Multiply this out to every national/state/local race and you’re talking a couple of dollars, here.
In the words of an old General Manager at WBAP, Fort Worth long, long ago: “If your guy gets 80% of the vote you still lose 20% of your clients.”
These days the daily newspapers seem to be limited to one per market. So editors can carry on their tradition/agendas and candidates not endorsed can wrangle with the question of whether the throw money at the paper or not.

Whoops! Give the 80/20 cite to Gene Cagle at KFJZ, Fort Worth, around 1964.

I believe the myth of objective journalism has done more damage to the democratic process in this country than practically any other factor.

As has been pointed out by others, the idea that newspapers should “objectively” report the news is a recent phenomenon, born partly of the issues related to broadcasting mentioned elsewhere, but largely a result of the professionalization of journalism: the rise of journalism as an academic field, with a credentialization process and the concomitant notion that its practicioners are disinterested professionals with no personal stake in the news they report.

There is no such thing as objective journalism. Even the flattest, least descriptive account of an event selects certain details and omits others. At an even higher level, the decision about what news is worthy of coverage and what is not is informed by an enormous number of preconceptions and biases.

That Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, et al. are anywhere regarded as anything other than shills for particular economic and political viewpoints says volumes about the inability of most people in our society to read and interpret at anything more than the shallowest surface layer. Fortunately, the bullshit detectors still work, they’re simply trained more at the tube than the printed word.

Give me a press where there are multiple outlets, each passionately committed to advancing a particular cause or set of causes, where these allegiances are not merely acknowledged but boasted of, and above all where the press collectively is read and reflected on. So long as contending interests each have their voice, and so long as the reader knows why a particular organ is arguing along certain lines, the people are well served and can determine the course they should pursue far more effectively than when there is only one nominally objective source of information.

It was for precisely these reasons that I subscribed to The Economist. While my economic and political views are often at odds with that of its editors, The Economist at least argues for a certain agenda and does so openly. Knowing that, I was better able to weigh the information presented for myself (and God knows they present a ton more information than any of the American newsmags).

“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” –Satchel Paige

We’re not making enough of a distinction between the editorial and news gathering departments of a newspaper. They’re usually kept seperate. Newspaper editorials have a certain point of view, but they also have credibility since they’re written by professional journaists with years of experience in the information gathering business and with no discernable motives. Need I remind you that to extremists, moderates look biased.

On the subject of newspaper endorsements… why do newspapers that are clearly affiliated with the extreme wing of either party even BOTHER to make endorsements in the other party’s primary?

For example, what moron at the New York TImes thinks ANY Republican cares whether they prefer John McCain or George Bush? Why do the RUpert Murdoch papers bother to endorse Democratic candidates in ANY primary? Do they REALLY think any Democrat cares about RUpert Murdoch’s preferences?

Sure, papers have a legal right to endorse anyone they want, but what’s the point? Why doesn’t the Times just say “We are the voice of the far left, and it’s obvious to everyone that we will never support any Republican under any circumstances, so the GOP can nominate anyone they want. We’ll offer no opinion on their primary.” Rupert Murdoch could do the same. THen Democrats could pick their favorite candidates, and Republicans could do the same, without any “help” from their enemies.

I get sick of this tired old mantra. The Times as the voice of the far left? In what universe? The Times editorial page is a monument to how NOT to write en editorial. They almost never reach any conclusion other than “Well. This [insert issue here] sure seems like a problem. And it’ll get worse before it gets better.” The Times Op-Ed page is fairly diverse, perhaps more left-wing partly because of the overwhelmingly conservative leaning of most other major NY papers. But every newspaper worth a damn runs a variety of columnists with a variety of views.
I defy someone to prove a charge of some ill-defined “liberal bias” in a Times news piece.
As to why newspapers endorse candidates, the simple answer is probably “because they’ve done it for a century and have gotten good at it.” That’s the main reason we do much of what we do.
Why do we print our papers on oddly shaped, low-quality newsprint? Because we always have and it’s cheap.
Why do we do poll stories? Because we always have.
Why write long, pointless stories about zoning ordinances? Because we always have.
If you don’t like endorsements, don’t read them. As to being unethical, I can’t imagine anything more unethical than newspaper journalists, who spend more time dissecting city, state and national issues than any other stratum of citizen, NOT endorsing a candidate.
Okay. Tag! You folks are “it.”

In what fantasy universe do news organizations report in a neutral, un-biased fashion?

First of all, it is impossible to ‘report’ anything in an ‘unbiased’ fashion. Everything we do in life is affected by our biases, our past experiences, whether we consciously think about it or not. Perception is altered by such biases, and reporting is as much affected by perception as it is by conscious effort to promulgate a view. A reporter who has grown up in a poor inner city area will have a different perception than one who grew up in a well-to-do suburban setting; it would be impossible for both reporters to view a story the same way and report it without letting their biases affect what they say and how they say it.

Secondly, reporting in America has never been about neutrality. Indeed, the First Amendment has often been characterized as creating a ‘marketplace of ideas’ for people to review. Prominent in creating this gallery of differing viewpoints have been the newspapers (and, by extension, the television stations). Indeed, as noted by RTFirefly, the late 19th Century newspapers were so noted for their advocacy in ‘reporting’ news that their methodology acquired a name: ‘yellow journalism’. Modern papers often let the opinions of their editorial staff color the news they report, both content and style. For example, my local newspaper, The (Toledo) Blade, is currently waging a campaign against the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the University of Toledo. They cannot say anything nice about him; they report everything they can negative about him, including the ‘news’ that others have a poor opinion of him, and they endlessly repeat with every story about him the growing list of things he has done ‘wrong’. I would submit that, if you were to review ANY newspaper in this country, you would see similar biases in the coverage of local and national stories, to say nothing of the terrible biases that always get shown in reporting international news.

This is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Often, the biases of a newspaper or television station result in positive changes in a community. Sometimes, the effect is even broader. The Blade last year published a comprehensive series of articles about the beryllium industry. The emphasis was on local concerns: Brush-Wellman has a couple of local plants that process the stuff, and several former employees have fallen ill with the respiratory disease that often affects those exposed to beryllium dust. No one who read the articles could conclude they were ‘fair’ or ‘unbiased’; the paper clearly thought there was a problem that was being covered-up by the industry and the government. Following the articles, many local contracting companies have begun testing programs for workers which have had to work in the beryllium plants, Brush-Wellman has increased programs designed to identify those with the disease, and the federal government has proposed a comprehensive review of diseases contracted by ALL workers in the defense industry, including beryllium handlers, plutonium handlers, etc. Thus, the biased approach of the local rag has had a positive effect, both locally and nationally. Would this have been true if they had had no strong opinion on the issue, and reported things in a ‘neutral’ way? I doubt it.

This does not mean that editorial reporting has no drawbacks. ‘Yellow’ journalism is condemned rightly. It lacked facts and often acted to spread nothing but rumors and outright lies in the attempt of the publishing magnates to influence the results of elections and governments. Since the reforming efforts of the early 1900’s, news groups have rightly concluded that ‘news’ should focus on a relatively striaghtforward reporting of ‘facts’, with opinions clearly identified as being opinions, usually limited to a specific part of the newspaper (such as the Editorial page). Efforts are made to contact both sides of a dispute for information, to avoid the appearance of outright bias. Indeed, when the parent organization of the Los Angeles Times selected as its Chairman a man who declared that revenue production and stock prices demanded a relaxation of the separation between the advertising/money-making activites and the editorial/news-reporting activities, the industry was rightfully concerned with the impact this would have on the ability of the public to accept what was reported as ‘news’ and not ‘advertisement’. But, let’s face it: when a company that reports news also owns a sports team, how ‘unbiased’ can the coverage of that team be?

Editorials are a mainstay of newspaper journalism. Newspapers understand that they have the ability to influence readers. In an attempt to separate the fact from the opinion, they put their opinions out to the public in obvious format. Failure to do so would simply make one think that the opinions are sneaking back into the facts, not through inherent biases but through intentional manipulation of the ‘news’.

This shouldn’t bother anyone much, anyway. It is a regrettable fact that, at any point in our history, there is a percentage of people who don’t care about anything, a large percentage of people who lack the intelligence, desire, or education to examine what they read/hear to formulate their own opinions, and a small percentage who do not accept what they are told, but review an issue, accept input from multiple sources, investigate issues on their own, and reach conclusions on the basis of something other than “I read in the WSJ the other day that…” The presence or lack of editorials (including election endorsements) isn’t going to change this much.

Isn’t “liberal bias” an oxymoron? If someone is biased, shouldn’t there be motivating factors? I can understand why conservatives are biased; they tend to be religious, nationalistic and selfish. But can someone explain to me why and how a liberal would be biased?

P.S. There’s a difference between liberal and left-wing. Left-wing political correctness is not liberal.

I would really prefer if newspapers give me facts. Give me a list of issues/ordinances/law proposals and report how candidate A, B, and C voted on an issue. Give me quotes, in context. Report to me how much money he raised in soft money. Tell me that the NRA endorses this candidate, or that the Teacher’s Union endorses that candidate.

But for a newspaper to come out with a page of endorsements is ridiculous. If each individual columnist gave his “opinion”, fine. But for a paper to say “The Cincinnati Enquirer endorses George W. Bush for President” is so clearly an attempt to influence a vote that it makes me want to vote for the other guy, just on a matter of principle.

I can’t imagine how the rest of the people who work at the organization feels when they see their employer endorsing the opponent. I just think that as a matter of public policy, journalists should at least pretend to be unbiased.

Just my opinion.

Hmmm, it bugs me that someone with Pundit in their name is against newspaper endorsements. Notice if you will that most newspapers (all of the good ones) will give you a list of candidates, ballot questions, etc in the news section somewhere. On the Op-Ed pages they will endorse candidates. The endorsements will usually be of candidates that fit the editorial tone of the paper. Editorial tone is set by the publisher (owner) of the paper to some extent but is set by demographics of the readership to a larger extent. Why? Because, contrary to popular opinion, newspapers are not really in business to report news. They are in business to make money for the owners. To do that they have to sell ads at the best price possible. To get the best price, they need circulation. To get circulation, they damn well better reflect the views of the majority of their readership. For example, The Washington Post will most likely endorse a Democrat. The Washington Times will most likely endorse a Republican. The majority of the people in the Washington area are democrats. This is one reason that the Post has about 4 times the circulation of the Times. Gannett owns papers all across the country and USA Today. USA Today is usually considered by impartial observers to be fairly neutral (it is often called a McPaper.) Gannett also owns The El Paso Times. The Times is quite liberal on immigration, bi-lingual education and other similar issues. It is quite conservative on military issues. Why? Because a large part of their readership is Mexican and another big chunk is military/retired military.

“You can be smart or pleasant. For years I was smart.
I recommend pleasant.”
Elwood P. Dowd