For the first time in its 161 year history, The Chicago Tribuneendorsed the democratic party's nominee for president this week. The Los Angeles Times, after 36 years of endorsing no one, also endorsed Obama. But do such announcements really have an impact? Editor&Publisher editor Greg Mitchell argues that they do.
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BOB GARFIELD: The presidential newspaper endorsements are beginning to come in, and with them, some surprises. The Chicago Tribune, a paper that has never before in its 161-year history endorsed the Democratic Party’s nominee for president unbound its elephant hide and endorsed Barack Obama. The L.A. Times, after 36 years of not endorsing anyone, also came out for Obama.
And, in this nexus of media and politics, the big question is – so what? How much does a newspaper endorsement really matter? Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher Magazine, and he says, quite a bit, actually. GREG MITCHELL: I take issue with those who really kind of scoff at these endorsements because, especially as we've seen in the recent presidential races where there’ve been so many toss-up states, battleground states that were decided by, you know, a relative handful of votes, certainly an editorial endorsement, but in the mix of other things, can and, I believe, does have an effect. BOB GARFIELD: Now, we're speaking on Wednesday. What’s the endorsement count right now? GREG MITCHELL: Well, Editor & Publisher has a long history of tabulating the endorsements. And for this year, as of now, our daily update has 126 for Obama and 46 for McCain. So it’s quite a stark difference. BOB GARFIELD: Now, this year the polls suggest that McCain is going to get swamped by Obama, and the endorsements are along the same track. In 2004, it was [LAUGHS] a very different environment. GREG MITCHELL: Well, it was quite different in 2004. In stark contrast to this year, our count of our tabulation then was that Kerry and Bush were splitting down the middle the 420 endorsements.
In the closing days of that campaign, I looked at the 15 toss-up states and, based strictly on newspaper endorsements, both the number and the size of the papers in each of the 15 states, I predicted which candidate would carry those states. And when the votes were counted, I got 14 out of 15 correct, and only missed on Florida.
So, you know, that’s anecdotal evidence, I suppose, but there were some states that were, you know, incredibly tight, including Ohio and states like that, and yet, based strictly on the newspaper endorsements, I was able to get 14 out of 15 correct. BOB GARFIELD: All right, so let's assume for a moment that that constitutes a legitimate methodology. If the election were held today, based on the endorsements you've gathered so far from the swing states in this election, how would the results go? GREG MITCHELL: Again, as of today, 27 papers that endorsed George Bush in 2004 have swung over to Obama, and only 4 that endorsed John Kerry have switched to McCain. That’s pretty startling.
Another measurement that I'll mention is just today we did a tabulation of strictly the daily papers in red states. These are strictly the states that went for Bush in 2004. And we found, by this count, that 48 had gone for Obama and 28 for McCain.
If I was the Republicans – and I know some people may disagree with this – I would be very concerned about that as an indication of how things are going. BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you one last thing, Greg. Obviously the McCain/Palin campaign has to deal with the economy, it has to deal with the record of the Bush Administration. But its opening salvo, from the Republican Convention on, was to run against the media, to castigate the press. Is there any chance that the editorial boards are responding not only to the kind of underlying political circumstances but to these attacks? GREG MITCHELL: I don't think so, frankly. I think, particularly when you look at the number of red state and GOP-leaning papers that have come out against McCain, I think, contrary to what many people have said, if you read these editorials, what stands out the most is the, I'd say, almost disgust that many of these papers, including the Republican papers, express about the pick of Sarah Palin.
You read these quotes in these editorials, it’s startling how many say flatly that she is unqualified, that the pick showed that McCain, you know, lacks judgment, and so forth. And these are from papers that, as indicated previously, endorsed George Bush just four years ago. BOB GARFIELD: Greg, as always, thank you so much. GREG MITCHELL: I’m happy to be here. BOB GARFIELD: Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher Magazine.