(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – As Election Day approaches, editorial boards at newspapers across the country are trying to sway undecided voters, as they publish their presidential endorsements voicing support for either President Bush or Senator Kerry. Or, in some cases, for neither candidate.
The first endorsement came out in mid-June when the “Philadelphia Daily News” endorsed John Kerry. However, the past few weeks have produced a slew of endorsements from major and local papers, showing varying trends.
Both candidates’ hometown newspapers printed endorsements supporting the opposing candidate. There was much media hype when the “Lonestar Iconoclast,” Bush’s hometown paper, endorsed Kerry. However, when the “Lowell Sun,” the local paper in Kerry’s Massachusetts hometown, published an editorial endorsing Bush, the media paid little attention.
“Bush is the incumbent, and he vacations in Crawford, Texas. One expects such a small town to be a booster of its home town hero. If a Plains, Ga., newspaper had come out with an endorsement against Carter, it would have been a big deal,” said Stephen Keller, professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University.
Some papers that traditionally endorse republican candidates are issuing endorsements for Kerry, or refraining from publishing any endorsement at all.
“Four years ago, this page endorsed George W. Bush for president. We cannot do so again — because of an ill-conceived war and its aftermath, undisciplined spending, a shrinkage of constitutional rights, and an intrusive social agenda … Our endorsement of John Kerry is not without reservations, but he is head and shoulders above the incumbent,” said the “Seattle Times” editorial.
The “Tampa Tribune,” a Florida paper who endorsed Bush in the 2000 election, and has a record of endorsing republican candidates in the past four elections, refused last Sunday to endorse anyone for the first time since 1964.
“We find ourselves deeply conflicted today about the presidential race, skeptical of the promises and positions of Sen. John Kerry and disappointed by the performance of President George Bush,” said the “Tampa Tribune” editorial.
As for the papers that have printed endorsements, Kerry is winning the current tally with the backing of such major papers as the “New York Times,” the “Washington Post,” the “Boston Globe,” and the “Atlanta Journal Constitution.”
According to the National Journal’s tally of presidential endorsements printed thus far, Kerry is leading Bush with 33 of the Hotline’s 100 most influential papers, while Bush has 25. Eight of the 62 papers that have printed endorsements have switched parties from 2000, five of them from Republican to Democrat.
Although he has more support in the newspaper community, much of the editorial rhetoric is far from enthusiastic. Many papers have been forced to admit that while they have chosen one candidate over the other, it is much like choosing the lesser of two evils.
The “Daily Herald,” of Illinois, said in their editorial, “Do voters have an inspiring choice? No. Faced with two imperfect candidates, the “Daily Herald” endorses John Kerry for president.”
However, the “New York Times” published a clearly stated anti-Bush, pro-Kerry endorsement that some readers said is over the top. According to Keller, an editorial is far more effective in swaying the undecided vote if it presents a balanced, moderate argument.
“Where as the “New York Times” was essentially an [anti-Bush] rant that would appeal to members of the Americans Coming Together, its persuasiveness was virtually nil,” said Keller.
Keller said the “Washington Post” endorsement published this Sunday is much more convincing through its use of fair, two-sided arguments and opposing view.
“On balance, though, we believe Mr. Kerry, with his promise of resoluteness tempered by wisdom and open-mindedness, has staked a stronger claim on the nation’s trust to lead for the next for years,” said the Post endorsement.
Keller similarly praises the “Chicago Tribune’s” endorsement for President Bush, which gave adequate credit to Kerry’s opposition, but clearly supported the incumbent in the end.
“For three years, Bush has kept Americans, and their government focused — effectively-on this nation’s security. The experience, dating from Sept. 11, 2001, has readied him for the next four years, a period that could prove as pivotal in this nation’s history as were the four years of World War II,” said the “Chicago Tribune” editorial.
Endorsements for President Bush have generally focused on his strong stance in the war on terror, the way he handled 9/11, and his ability to keep America safe. Those pushing for a Kerry election have focused on the qualities that Kerry has which Bush lacks, his ideological stance on issues such as civil liberties and stem cell research, and his intention to re-unite America with world partners. However, an overwhelming amount of endorsements on each end have essentially said that they are supporting the more decent candidate, and while they are not perfect, he presents a better option than his opponent.
The “Omaha World Herald” endorsement said; “Bush is a decent man despite the demonizing of this campaign.”
The “Detroit Free Press” endorsement took a similar approach in endorsing Kerry; “Kerry is not a perfect candidate, but he is a promising alternative to things as they are.”
While editorial endorsements don’t generally have a huge effect on the outcome of an election, the closeness of this year’s race is preceded only by the disastrous 2000 election.
“[Editorials] haven’t played a significant role in the past. I think newspapers regard it as a civic duty, and some people do base their decision on it. But in a presidential election the effect is very small. Then again, this year that could make the difference,” Keller said.
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