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Why Do American Newspapers Endorse Political Candidates?


Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) billionaire activist Tom Steyer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sander, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 14, 2020.
Why Do American Newspapers Endorse Political Candidates?
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On January 19, The New York Times will endorse a candidate seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic nominee is expected to face U.S. President Donald Trump, the likely nominee of the Republican Party, in national elections this November.

The Times is one of most famous newspapers in the United States. It has been publishing endorsements of presidential candidates for around 150 years.

But this year, there will be something different. The endorsement process will take place in a very public way. Readers will have a chance to see and even hear how the paper’s editorial team decided on which candidate to support.

Today, we will explore how and why U.S. newspapers endorse political candidates. We will also show you how endorsements are changing in the modern media landscape.

Endorsements

Newspaper endorsements are specific declarations or statements of support for a political candidate. This candidate could be seeking the presidency or any number of local political offices.

American newspapers have been endorsing U.S. presidential candidates for a long time. The New York Times, for example, has been endorsing presidential candidates since 1860. So says Kathleen Kingsbury, a deputy Editorial Page editor at The Times.

Endorsements appear in the editorial section, which gives opinions. The editorial section is separate from the news section.

Process

Newspapers come to their endorsement decisions in different ways, notes Danny Funt in the Columbia Journalism Review.

For example, the policies of The Tennessean newspaper, in Nashville, Tennessee, are set by the paper’s editorial board. For an endorsement, Funt explains, five board members must reach a consensus decision.

Another paper, The Idaho Statesman, has a board that “consists of an editor, publisher, and five unpaid community volunteers.”

“Some readers might imagine a staff meeting where everyone on staff casts a vote,” Funt writes. “In reality,” he adds, “we endorse” may reflect the opinion of the publisher alone, the opinion editor alone, a board of a few people, or a board of 16, as at The New York Times.”

Public and private

To make its endorsement decisions, The Times has historically done ‘off-the-record’ interviews with candidates. In other words, its editorial team met with candidates and asked them questions. The questions and answers were not released to the public.

This year will be the first time that The New York Times publishes written transcripts and videos of the interviews. Kathleen Kingsbury wrote on Twitter that the idea is to make the endorsement process more open.

But not everyone thinks this change is a good idea. Alex Tabarrok is an economist and a professor at George Mason University in Virginia. He notes that private, off-the-record discussions can be very valuable.

“A credible off-the-record system leaks a bit of honesty into the public domain and thus improves information overall,” he wrote in the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. He added, “Indeed, what possible value-added can the NYTimes make with a “transparent,” “public” process? Everything that will be said, has been said.”

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis


Do presidential endorsements matter?

Newspaper endorsements have been a subject of debate for some time.

Before the 2012 elections, for example, 17 large U.S. newspapers chose not to endorse a presidential candidate, according to National Public Radio (NPR).

David Haynes told NPR that endorsements tend “to undermine this whole idea of independence, and it really undermines this idea of being an honest broker of opinion.” At the time, Haynes was the editorial page editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The 2016 election seemed to settle the question about whether newspaper endorsements influence American public opinion in presidential elections.

In October 2016, media company Politico noted “as of this writing, Clinton has more than 200 endorsements from daily and weekly newspapers in the United States.” By comparison, Politico reported, Trump had only six endorsements.

Trump won the presidency the following month.

Yet many U.S. newspapers are expected to endorse presidential candidates this year. Their reasoning often goes beyond the idea of simply changing public opinion.

Chicago Tribune editorial page editor John McCormick noted thatswaying votes is only one reason for endorsing, and arguably not the most important.”

He added that endorsements, “explain to the world what that publication is, what it advocates, how it thinks, what principles it holds dear.”

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

endorse – v. to publicly or officially say that you support or approve of (someone or something)

landscape – n. the qualities of a given situation or activity; a picture representing an area

section – n. a part of piece of something; a group within something larger

board – n. a committee; a group of people serving on the decision-making body of an organization

consensus – n. an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group

reflect – v. to represent something

transparent – adj. honest and open; not secretive

credible – adj. able to be believed; reasonable to trust or believe

undermine – v. to lessen the effectiveness of something

sway – v. to influence; to cause to move back and forth

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