Scroll through any newsfeed on the presidential primaries and the headlines will jump out at you: “New York Times Backs Clinton, McCain.” “Kansas City Star endorses Hillary Clinton.” “LA Times Backs Obama.” It would seem that every major newspaper in the country is formally endorsing a presidential candidate.
As a student journalist and a first-time voter, I wonder: why are we allowing our newspapers—which are supposed to maintain an impartial stance and represent the interests of all readers—to attempt to direct our actions as voters? This practice is pointless and flawed, and not without potential consequence for voters.
The AS Review or The Western Front could never successfully “endorse” a single candidate. In a university setting where students exercise their First Amendment rights swiftly and without fear, people who disagreed with the paper's choice would waste no time in letting people know. In short, all hell would break loose, and rightfully so. These publications represent Western as a whole, and therefore couldn't possibly endorse one candidate over another. Why, then, are major newspapers that represent millions of people getting away with this with little or no complaint from the citizens themselves?
Perhaps readers assume that reporters and editors know more about the election and the candidates and are just doing their jobs by expressing their professional opinions. However, reporters and editors are human, and what citizens need to remember is that no matter how knowledgeable a newspaper staff is, it might still be easily swayed and pressured by outside influences.
In December of last year, The Des Moines Register announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Iowa caucuses. According to the New West Politics Web site, Bill and Hillary Clinton and their senior staff had spent hours socializing with the Register's editorial board at a bar just weeks before the endorsement was printed. Was the newspaper's decision to endorse Clinton really based on solid reasoning, or simply the fact that her camp got to it before Obama's?
On a similar note, the recent New York Times article, “It's Splitsville for Rupert and Hillary,” recalled the “cooling relationship” between News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch and Hillary Clinton. The article speculated that Clinton's disregard for the News Corporation-owned New York Post since starting her bid for the presidency may have contributed to the newspaper's front-page declaration of support for Barack Obama.
Newspapers have many responsibilities, two of which are maintaining an objective standpoint and providing their readers with the information they need most. Maybe it's just my “newbie” belief in journalistic ethics talking, but when the front page of a newspaper—indeed, the major “news” section of the newspaper—is about that staff's opinion on who would better lead our nation, that is neither objective nor putting the reader's best interests to the forefront. What voters need on the front page of their newspaper before a presidential primary is not a barrage of opinions, but news based on fact. Information that will help voters decide for themselves who is the best candidate instead of an opinion piece that may or may not have been influenced by something as superficial as a night in a bar.
Allen Neuharth, the creator of USA Today, has often been quoted on his standpoint that newspapers should not make political recommendations. “Endorsements are not only an insult to you,” he once wrote, “[but the political content of newspapers that do them] becomes suspect in the eyes of readers, rightly or wrongly.” In addition, a Pew Center for the People & the Press study on media influences during the 2004 presidential election found that “newspaper endorsements dissuade as many Americans as they persuade.”
It is absolutely within a newspaper's rights to support a presidential candidate, and it's great that the press has that freedom. But at what cost? When a newspaper's endorsement alienates part of its readership, calls its political accuracy into question and isn't proven to have a positive effect on voters, readers need to question the true motives behind this action.
USA Today and the Wall Street Journal are two major publications that refuse to endorse candidates out of principle, and for that reason, both will have my readership when I need accurate news concerning the election.
I urge all voters to consider closely the sources of their political information in the following year. Just because a newspaper is popular does not make its endorsement, or its political coverage, reliable.
Editor's note: The AS Review and its publisher, the Associated Students, actively refuse to endorse candidates in any election, including the spring elections for the AS Board of Directors.