RNC pretends newspapers lean left

Published October 26, 2004 1:38PM (EDT)

As the mountain of newspaper endorsements pile up in favor of Sen. John Kerry, including dozens from dailies that backed Bush in 2000, the Bush/Cheney campaign is dismissing the trend as no big deal. "Look, the Republican candidate will never win the contest for editorial board endorsements. The major dailies across the country tend to skew liberal," RNC chairman Ed Gillespie told CNN last week. That spin comes straight out of the GOP handbook that insists the mainstream press tilts to the left, so of course newspapers love Democrats come Election Day.

Only problem is, it's not accurate. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Since 1940 when industry trade magazine Editor & Publisher began tracking newspapers during presidential elections, only two Democratic candidates -- Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton in 1992 -- have ever won more endorsements than their Republican opponent. That's because newspaper publishers, who usually sign off on endorsements, tend to vote Republican (like lots of senior corporate executives), which means GOP candidates pick up more endorsements. A lot more. In 1984, President Reagan landed roughly twice as many endorsements as Democrat Walter Mondale in the president's easy reelection win. And in 1996, despite his weak showing at the polls, 179 daily newspapers endorsed Republican Bob Dole, which easily outpaced the Democrats' tally by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

In 2000, the overwhelming trend toward Republicans continued. According to estimates, candidate Bush enjoyed a huge newspaper advantage, picking up nearly 100 more daily endorsements than Gore. On the eve of the election four years ago, Editor & Publisher spelled out the newspaper love affair with Bush in a Nov. 6 article: "The nation's newspaper editors and publishers strongly believe the Texas governor will beat Al Gore in Tuesday's election for president. By a wide margin, they plan to vote for him themselves. And, to complete this Republican trifecta, newspapers endorsed Bush by about 2-to-1 nationally."

E&P's results come from industry-wide surveys it conducted among 800 top newspaper executives one week before the election. Asked how they were going to vote in 2000, 59 percent of newspaper publishers signaled they were voting for Bush, compared to just 20 percent for Gore. And even among newsroom editors, Bush won support among 33 percent, compared to just to 24 percent for Gore.

As E&P noted in 2000, "One has to wonder: whatever happened to the so-called 'liberal press'?" The better question for the Bush/Cheney team is, why have all those GOP publishers abandoned the president this time around?

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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