Left-wingers who insist, in the face of the evidence, that the major media are really right-wing, point to newspapers endorsing Republicans for president. This usually reflects the politics of the publisher, who rarely exercises control over news or editorial coverage. But the fact is that the major national newspapers in this country, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are firmly in the liberal Democratic camp. Both papers endorsed Al Gore for president but insisted that their coverage of the campaign was fair and objective.
As Al Neuharth pointed out in USA Today, these newspapers describe themselves as “independent,” but their pattern of endorsements puts the lie to that label. He noted that the Times has endorsed every Democrat for president for the past 40 years. Neuharth adds, “The Washington Post didn’t endorse from 1956 to 1972. But since, it has endorsed six Democrats and no Republicans. It made no endorsement in 1988.”
Neuharth doesn’t like these endorsements. He says, “When newspapers endorse candidates editorially, their political coverage on the news pages becomes suspect in the eyes of readers.” He said that newspaper editors who respect the American people should refrain from endorsements and let the people make up their own minds at the ballot box. The trade journal Editor & Publisher polled 2,000 likely voters in mid-September and found that 94 percent couldn’t care less about their newspaper’s endorsement. They said it would have no effect whatsoever on their vote in the presidential race.
But that remaining 6 percent could make a difference. And it’s important to remember that because newspaper editorials and coverage are considered an activity covered by the First Amendment, so-called campaign finance reform would have no impact whatsoever on this kind of election activity. In fact, it would make the power of the media even stronger by restricting the activity of other groups.
The American people are entitled to full disclosure from the major media. When newspapers endorse candidates, that can be a tip-off as to the slant of the news coverage. As Neuharth suggests, it makes people suspicious of what they are getting under the guise of objective news coverage. Paul Sperry of WorldNetDaily says reporters should go further and disclose how they have voted in the past and how they intend to vote in the election they’re covering. Sperry declared himself an independent voter but said he voted for Reagan in 84, Bush in 88, Perot in 92 and Dole in 96. He said he was voting for George W. Bush in 2000.
We can’t really expect the reporters for the major media to follow Sperry’s example because they know that admitting their overwhelming pro-Democratic bias would turn off the mostly conservative or moderate electorate. But Sperry points out that a survey of top reporters in 1992 found that 89 percent of them voted for Clinton, compared to just 43 percent of all voters. But this survey was done anonymously, meaning that we can’t assign names to those votes. If this is any guide, most reporters went for Al Gore in 2000, some went for Nader, and very few went for Bush.