BOSTON (CBS) – What are the chances that anyone’s presidential vote will be affected by a newspaper endorsement?
Slim and none, and slim forgot to mail in his ballot.
The latest tree to fall deep in the forest with no one around to hear it is the Boston Herald’s endorsement of President Trump, a half-hearted dog’s dinner of boilerplate right-wing slander of Joe Biden and dubious claims about the incumbent’s achievements. (“Trump didn’t spend his way to a robust economy”? The national debt must have exploded by 36% over the past four years all by itself.)
The Herald’s offering is small beer compared to the Boston Globe’s October 7 nod for Joe Biden, a magnum opus that offered a dozen arguments tailored to various voter groups. But the two endorsements will almost surely have the same negligible impact.
As this excellent blog post documents, “newspaper endorsements don’t matter anymore.” Hillary Clinton won 243 daily newspaper endorsements in 2016 to Trump’s 20. The Globe endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination (well after it could do her any good); the New York Times endorsed Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
It’s possible that the unusual sight of the arch-conservative New Hampshire Union Leader endorsing a Democrat might sway a few voters at the margins. And as Northeastern Journalism Prof. Dan Kennedy of WGBH Radio has noted, endorsements can still be helpful to voters facing confusing ballot questions or local races where they know little about the candidates.
Otherwise, forget about it. Or should we?
A case can be made that for all their evident irrelevance, the marshaling of editorial-page resources to make a case for a candidate is still a worthwhile effort. No one turns to dead-tree news sources for breaking news anymore, but they are still important providers of content and context.
Newspaper endorsements may not have much clout anymore, but they can still play a useful role in the lives of the communities they serve. They can spur discussion and thought. When done with care, they can point out achievements or failures that might otherwise struggle for proper attention.
There’s an old argument that political journalists shouldn’t vote because that’s evidence of bias. Nonsense. Show me a thinking human being who doesn’t have an opinion on this presidential race and I’ll show you a corpse.
The trick for news reporters is to keep their opinions separate from their coverage. But an editorial page is there to offer opinion, hopefully well-reasoned, rigorously researched and made relevant to its specific readership.
A political culture drowning in garbage social media hot takes and disinformation needs more of that sort of commentary, not less. Long live the newspaper endorsement, however enfeebled.