Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Should newspapers endorse presidential candidates?

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I thought I had been harsh to the Times the other day; this guy has got an axe to grind. Ouch. That’s making me feel bad about this blog post, but I have to do it. This is about the Times’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Ok, to be fair, it’s about presidential endorsements in general.

I know the question above is about as old as modern journalism, and I’m not inventing warm water here. But the fact that I’ve been asked this question twice this weekend is telling. The first time, it was with my journo roommates. Nothing spectacular. The second time, it was in an IM chat with a high school friend. Pretty smart, college-educated and more tuned in to the news than your average 23-year-old, but not a journalist. Just an avid New York Times reader. Here’s what he asked me about the Times’ endorsement, which disappointed him.

So does it effect how they will be covering the campaign? (…)
Or is that just what everyone who’s not a knowledgeable journalist will think?

Well… I explained all about editorial boards being separate from the news-gathering staff and reassured him about the Times’ objectivity. But how many readers have a journo friend that they can ask and that they trust enough to actually believe their answer? Come to think of it, how many of us actually believe that answer? I’m not too worried about the Times, but many newspapers (starting with campus papers) make endorsements even though their staffs are much too small to separate editorial and reporting.

So, you might ask, what’s the difference with the daily op-ed page? a/Op-eds are rarely a complete espousal of a public person’s opinions and platform. They might resemble a party’s or a candidate’s stance, but they don’t scream “Vote for that guy!”. b/Op-eds aren’t nearly as publicized as endorsements. In the past few weeks, it’s been a circus of ‘Times endorsed this,’ ‘Post endorsed that.’ It begs the question: who cares? Is someone seriously gonna vote for Hillary Clinton just “because the Times said so?” That’d be scary for democracy. (What isn’t?)

Professional organizations might have an interest in telling their members what candidate best defends their profession’s interests. The Kennedys can do what they want. But news organizations have a credibility to defend. Presidential endorsements seem to only serve the ego of news orgs that for half a news cycle on CNN get to be in the campaign, not just covering it. It has a nasty taste of “We know better, we’re journalists,” the very reason why so many people are turned off by our profession. It doesn’t serve the reader.

As long as there’s even just one reader out there wondering if he now can trust the New York Times’ coverage of Barack Obama, drop the hubris. Drop the endorsements.

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Thursday, 7 February, 2008 at 02:05

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