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Yes, Newspaper Endorsements Matter -- Here is 'Proof'.

After a few weeks of cogitation, a number of leading newspapers have offered endorsements in the race for the White House this week. Just in the past day a bunch of heavyweights have weighed in -- all for Obama. In fact, our tally of all the endorsements now stands at 51-16 for Obama, which could be significant (Bush and Kerry pretty much split in 2004).

But does it matter? Stated or unstated, the common belief is that newspaper picks for president are meaningless; they influence no one, especially in an era when media approval ratings in polls rival the paltry numbers for lawyers.

But actually, I beg to differ with those who say endorsements have zero impact beyond local elections. Consider my amazingly accurate 11th hour predictions in 2004-- based solely on newspaper editorials.

Editor & Publisher has a decades-long tradition of logging endorsements for president. I don't know how it was done in a timely fashion before the Internet Age -- the mind boggles -- but in 2004, starting in mid-September of that year, we started checking the Web for any and all newspaper endorsements.

We kept a running total of who led in the number of endorsements, as well as the audience size of the supporting papers. The lead swung back and forth several times, and it was fascinating to chart a large number of papers that backed Bush in 2000 that now chose Kerry (the Iraq war was a big factor). Erin Olson, an intern from Medill, did a terrific job in keeping track.

It became a popular daily feature in the final weeks of the campaign. In early November 2004, our final pre-election tally found Kerry edging Bush in endorsements by 211-197, but topping him rather easily in total circ, 20.8 million to 14.6 million. Since Bush won, barely, you might say, so much for newspapers swinging the election!

But hold on for a minute. I knew that endorsements in most states really did mean nothing, since the votes of their readers were barely being contested. The race actually would be decided in a dozen or more "toss-up" states, and in these tight contests, a newspaper endorsement -- I believed -- could be key, no matter how loudly others scoffed.

So, on election eve, I probed the endorsements in 15 battleground states and awarded electoral votes to one candidate or the other solely on that basis. Regarding Colorado, I wrote: "With Dean Singleton taking over as publisher at The Denver Post, both of that city's papers lined up for Bush. Kerry picked up flip-flops in Boulder and Greeley, but it's not enough. Bush gets a rocky win."

For Oregon: "Did anyone notice that this state went from toss-up to leaning left (according to the pundits), right after The Oregonian switched from Bush to Kerry?" And West Virginia: "Some think this state is also still in play, but don't believe it, since Bush carries the dailies, 5-2."

When the votes were counted, I had accurately picked the winner in 14 of the states, from Hawaii to New Hampshire -- including the one that would count most, Ohio. I had observed that Bush earned the nod from The Columbus Dispatch (reportedly, after some ownership intervention), got a no-decision from The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and dominated in Cincinnati, Canton, and Youngstown. I had closed my awarding of Ohio with: "A slight nod to Bush, at least until the court cases begin."

My only blunder: Florida. But I did note that if Bush won there, he would take the whole ball of wax. This is what happened.

So, did newspapers decide the election? A big maybe. But don't scoff as endorsements pile up -- given the trend in 2004 and some of the early indications this year, Obama may do well. That Canton paper, for Bush in 2004, went for Obama recently.
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Author:Mitchell, Gret
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 17, 2008
Words:637
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