Nods from Newspapers Worth Candidates' Energy? Newspaper endorsements were once a major measure of popular support and momentum, before polls and the blogosphere. Even as papers have declined in circulation and power, candidates still pursue their approval with great vigor β€” especially in key primary states. Are they worth it?
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Nods from Newspapers Worth Candidates' Energy?

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Nods from Newspapers Worth Candidates' Energy?

Nods from Newspapers Worth Candidates' Energy?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now we're going to here about the impact of newspaper endorsements on the presidential race. If you look at the endorsemenst of major papers you might conclude that Barack Obama has next week's Democratic primary sewn up in Texas and a tough race in Ohio.

But as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, it's hard to figure whether that's because of the papers or despite them.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: You don't have to read newspapers to know what some of them think of Hillary Clinton.

Unidentified Man #1: Newspapers across New Hampshire have endorsed Hillary Clinton.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #1: The Hartford Courant has made its choice for president: Hillary Clinton.

Unidentified Man #2: The New York Times has made its choice: Hillary Clinton for President.

FOLKENFLIK: But in the last debate Barack Obama pointed to…

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): The editorial boards all across the country and newspapers have given me endorsements including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas.

(Soundbite of cheering)

FOLKENFLIK: Okay. But he shouldn't start getting cocky. Obama was backed in the primaries by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, but he lost in California and Massachusetts. Clinton got the endorsements of the Des Moines Register and the Hartford Courant, but lost in Iowa and Connecticut. In fact, there appears to be little correlation. We looked at the biggest newspapers that made endorsements in 25 states and their chosen candidate has only won in fourteen.

Four years ago, the Republican-leaning Columbus Dispatch endorsed President Bush who won in Ohio. Associate publisher emeritus Mike Curtain oversees that process.

Mr. MIKE CURTAIN (Associate Publisher Emeritus, Columbus Dispatch): We still get letters to the editor here from people complaining about our decision-making in 2004 and suggesting that had we gone a different way that the country may have been spared the second George W. Bush term. Obviously, that's a huge stretch.

FOLKENFLIK: Actually, that's a tremendous stretch. Last fall, the Pew Research Center found that only 14 percent of Americans say their local paper's endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate for public office. Of course, the group also found that 14 percent say they'd be less likely to vote for a candidate because of that endorsement. Although local races can be affected, there seems to be little evidence there's any palpable effect on the presidential level.

Don't tell that to Joe Trippi. Trippi was a senior adviser to John Edwards and was Howard Dean's campaign chairman in 2004. And he remembers the Des Moines Register's decision to back Edwards in the Iowa caucuses that year.

Mr. JOE TRIPPI (Senior Adviser to John Edwards; Campaign Chairman for Howard Dean): You know, that paper's endorsement started the momentum for this at the time very little known senator and, you know, catapulted him to 32 percent of the vote.

FOLKENFLIK: And Edwards ended up the Democrats' vice presidential nominee. But Time magazine managing editor Rick Stengel wonders about all these editorial endorsements with the royal we, as in we support senator so-and-so.

Mr. RICK STENGEL (Managing Editor, Time Magazine): And we as who exactly, the newspaper? An endorsement doesn't reflect the opinion of the people who work at the newspaper. It reflects either the opinion of the editorial board, the small, elite group that think they know better than anybody or the owner, right?

FOLKENFLIK: Right you are. Stengel argues in a column they should stop doing endorsements.

Mr. STENGEL: I think it hurts newspapers to endorse candidates because people feel like, hey, if the newspaper is endorsing, say, Hillary Clinton, how can they be fair at how they cover Barack Obama?

FOLKENFLIK: There's a classic answer from old newspaper hands like Los Angeles Times editorial page editor, Jim Newton.

Mr. JIM NEWTON (Editorial Page Editor, Los Angeles Times): The group of people who make these endorsements positions are separated off quite firmly from the news operations. This is a pure act of opinion of journalism not of news journalism.

FOLKENFLIK: The L.A. Times stopped making endorsements after 1972 when it supported President Nixon. The paper had fueled his rise so flagrantly that its staffers even wrote some of his early speeches. And publisher Otis Chandler wanted to make a break.

After more than three decades, the L.A. Times is now back in the endorsement business. Its counterparts in next week's primary states are giving the candidates bragging rights and symbolic momentum - but votes? That may be another matter.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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