Should Newspapers Endorse Political Candidates?

A newspaper's job is to report a story based on the facts and what the pulse of the community is. However, more and more newspapers are beginning to endorse political candidates. Does this affect their credibility?

This past New Jersey campaign season, the Star Ledger made two different endorsements. The endorsement for the Senatorial Special Election was made for Cory Booker, whom now we refer to as Senator Booker. With overwhelming support for the success that Booker has had with his mayor career, according to the Editorial Board at the Star Ledger felt he would be the best candidate to represent New Jersey in the Senate.

They refer to his "economic development, reducing violent crime, building affordable house and parks" to a list of credibility that made Booker the best candidate for the Senate.

They also stressed his ability to "cross party lines" which is something they felt important for people in the government to be able to do successfully. Referring to him as sensible deals, hoping that with a candidate like Booker there could be some real discussion within the Senate on progressive change that would not have to be so highly influenced and rejected by political ideology.

However, the Star Ledger was not the only one to endorse Booker. During the election there were also endorsements for Booker from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Courier Post, and Asbury Park Press.

John Morano, Professor of Journalism and Advisor The Outlook, said, "There has certainly been a long tradition of newspapers endorsing political candidates. In fact, The Outlook has on occasion endorsed candidates for the University presidency. So, the short answer to your question is yes, it can be a useful practice, depending on a few conditions."

Morano continued, "I would hope that the newspaper is acting with the best interest of their readership in mind. Normally, the opinion would be produced by the editorial and/or the political writers. One would hope that the opinion is not influenced by any special interest, ownership, advertisers or post-election access. In the end, readers should be able to expect a well informed, researched and vetted opinion."

The Philadelphia Inquirer stressed their hope for Booker to take his time and experience from being mayor and apply it to his new seat in the Senate.

They stated, "He supports the Affordable Care Act, having increased the availability of health care as mayor, which reduced expensive emergency-room visits. Beyond punishing crime, he wants to reduce recidivism with more effective prison counseling and education. A supporter of urban farms as mayor, he would back efforts to reduce the nation's carbon footprint as a senator."

The Courier Post reflected on Booker as "our best hope" stressing the need for someone like Booker who they see as "reasonable." Agreeing with the comments made by the Ledger, the Post speaks about the extreme ideological issues in the Senate and house currently and how they feel there is a need for someone like Booker to even out the agenda.

While the Asbury Park Press takes a different approach from the others, starting out with scolding Booker and giving him an endorsement that was not as flattering as the rest.

They expressed Booker to be a "clear choice" for the Senate seat, only because his opponent was out of touch with what the state of New Jersey wanted in their Senator and the positions they held.

Dr. Michael Phillips – Anderson, an associate professor of communications said, "I think it is fine that they endorse, there is a long history of it. We expect that the opinion and news sections of newspapers are separate, even though we know that they are sometimes crossed over."

"I think it can be useful in that we tend to seek out media that agrees with our positions so that their endorsement might reflect what we might be interested in in a candidate. It does not have much effect on the news, on the credibility of it." Phillips-Anderson continued.

Jennifer Pacheco, a senior psychology major, said she believes that newspaper endorsements hurt the unbiased atmosphere that newspapers are supposed to have.

Pacheco said,"In the past newspapers were devoted to remaining unbiased and sticking to just the facts. Allowing them to endorse political groups is polarizing. I mean how many people refused to watch Fox News because they knew their political preferences?"

Morano stated, "If political endorsements are given to further some corporate or special interest agenda, then certainly they can do great harm. In a sense, it can be a dangerous abuse of the First Amendment."

Morano continued, "The intent of the First Amendment is to provide citizens with truthful, useful information. Endorsements that serve special interests manipulate voters, rather than informing them, and as a result, might undermine the election process and corrupt the resulting government."

What is interesting for The Star Ledger is that while supporting the Democrats with Booker in the Senator race, their support for Governor went to the Republican side of the aisle. They explained Christie as the "most remarkable political talent America has seen since Bill Clinton," referring to his great political skill, however not so great governor skills.

They go on to talk about how his record may not be so great with a weak tenure bill reform, property tax burden that has grown, and how little he has done to improve the environment by draining over a billion dollars from the clean energy funds.

Yet their endorsement comes from the fact, they do not see much potential in Barbara Bouno, whom they claim to be a "weak opponent." Referencing her stance on education, as against charter schools and support for a "traditional" union contract, voting against pension and health care reform, and called her choice as lieutenant governor "a little-known union leader with no experience in elected office, and spotty voting record."

The Star Ledger states, "The endorsement of Christie comes with the hope that Democrats hold control of the Legislature to contain his conservative instincts."

Phillips-Anderson commented on The Star Ledger's endorsement, "It is surprising how negative the (Star Ledger) is of Christie, that they lay out a strong case for his almost total failure as a governor, (school reform, pension reform, taxes, environmental record after Sandy terrible). They seem to mainly praise him for his style but if his style is either so good or so useful why he has not accomplished more, they kind of overestimate it."

Arielle Giordano, a law student and graduate from the University, commented, "Endorsing Christie, could just be a public appeasement move. NJ [overwhelmingly] supports Christie, due to his successful handling of Sandy, as well as his seemingly moderate views with regards to social issues (he dropped his appeal to the passage of gay marriage). I feel as though endorsing Buono would hurt readership, and simply because she's trailing so horribly in the polls."

Giordano continued, "A lot of news outlets jump on the bandwagon of popularity in order to appease their readers. Booker was leading Lonegan, which could explain their motives for supporting him as well."

"So in their case, it may not be motivated by politics, but more so by readership considering how dismal the newspaper market is currently looking." Giordano said.

Morano agreed with Giordano, "I believe newspapers endorse candidates, generally, primarily, because it stimulates readership. In other words, it sells papers. And, as I mentioned before, there is a long tradition of the practice."

Morano concluded, "Also, I think readers more or less expect it from their papers. Certainly, when it's done with integrity, responsible political endorsements can serve the public in a way that the writers of the Constitution would have been proud of. And, it often does just that. Good journalists are in a position to research political candidates with a zeal, an expertise if you will, that many citizens might not have the time or ability to do on their own."