Newspapers Have History of Endorsing Candidates

Article excerpt

In a traditional election-year rite, newspapers around the country have proffered their valentines to Al Gore and George W. Bush, done up in fancy prose and partisan underpinnings.

Endorsements are the flower of the editorial page, a journalistic moment of guts in an often sissy world of political polls and focus groups. It ain't easy, though.

"The endorsement is a painful exercise in journalism. There are angry responses, irritable responses. But most editors think the endorsement is an essential responsibility," noted Richard Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The whole process may be for naught, however.

The newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher polled 2,000 likely voters in mid-September to find that 94 percent said they couldn't care less about their newspaper's endorsement. It would have no effect whatsoever on their presidential vote.

More than 70 percent, in fact, do not want their newspaper to endorse any candidate at all for public office, the study revealed.

This sounds dire, but it is not necessarily due to rancor between readers and their dailies; these folks are plain burned out on the daily deluge of opinion mongering.

"People want to make voting decisions for themselves and not rely on someone else's analysis," said Raghavan Mayur, who conducted the survey for the magazine.

"Every year, a large number of people say we shouldn't endorse candidates, that it doesn't influence them in a significant way," Mr. Oppel said. "But they still want to read what the local newspaper has to say, particularly true in local races."

The survey supports that. In congressional races, 87 percent of the respondents said their newspaper's endorsement had no bearing on their vote; in local races, the figure dropped to 76 percent.

Despite all this, the endorsement is a fixture in the political landscape. Typically, between 175 and 250 newspapers declare their allegiance to one candidate or another before an election.

So far, Mr. Bush has the blessings of The Washington Times, Detroit News, Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times, New York Post, the Austin American-Statesman, Atlanta Journal, the Portland Oregonian and others.

Mr. Gore received the nod from The Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sacramento Bee, Louisville Courier-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, Eugene Register-Guard, Akron Beacon Journal, Albany Times Union and Atlanta Constitution.

Endorsements inspire a variety of writings, including plain talk, bombast and genuine affection.

At the Clevelend Plain Dealer, Mr. Bush is "a conciliator, a convener." He is "a man of plain integrity" over at the Atlanta Journal. …