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EDITORIAL: Journalism, endorsements should not mix

While a newspaper, or any other source of news, endorsing a political candidate may seem a natural, if not inevitable occurrence at first — after all, those who work in the media, biased or not, have access to contemporary and topical information — the truth of the matter is that journalistic institutions should abstain from endorsing candidates. 

The Iowa Caucuses, set to be held on Feb. 3, is one of the first and most important races in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries. The Des Moines Register, an influential newspaper in the state, endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for the primary, according to The New York Times. By doing so, it dampened its public perception of objectivity and robbed impressionable voters from its personal agency.

“The newspaper, Iowa’s largest and most influential, gave Ms. Warren a boost just over a week before the caucuses on Feb. 3, when Iowans will take part in the first nominating contest of the primary cycle,” according to the article. 

Additionally, The New York Times itself confusingly endorsed two candidates with very different views, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for the primary. Such a fickle and irreconcilable endorsement by a national outlet is bound to cause issues.

Newspapers have “news” within its spelling. News is simply the relaying of events to the public — that is the jurisdiction of their authority. Passing along information does not make news institutions an authority on any matter aside from passing along information. 

The problem with news agencies endorsing candidates is not merely due to news’ responsibility to remain nonpartisan. Certain sections of newspapers — such as the one you are reading this piece in — are dedicated toward more partisan, non-objectivist ideas and ethics. 

An editorial is the opinion of a news team’s editorial board, a group usually separate from news reporters and editors. While news editors are seldom — if ever — included on the editorial writing team, the public may not know that. 

They simply read that “The New York Times” or “The Wall Street Journal” is endorsing a candidate, and if they personally disagree with the endorsement of that paper, or even if they do agree, there will be a shadow of doubt over that paper’s ability to remain impartial and the reliability of the news source's content. 

This is especially important for journalistic institutions in the modern day. Politicians from the entire political spectrum try to gain leverage over journalists, labeling them — sometimes correctly — as biased. When public trust in journalism is shaken by politicians, so too is the foundation of a functioning governmental and political system, as the public needs a bedrock to rely on in terms of receiving information. 

When facts are deemed as interpretative, a vacuum opens for government officials to act corruptly, as any media reporting on such corruption will be doubted. In essence, the media turns from a governmental watchdog to a political lapdog for politicians to exploit, use and berate at will.

Endorsements from large institutions also dilute how the electoral process works. People should be granted the facts, which is what a newspaper is designed to provide, and make their voting decisions on their own. Powerful corporations should not be granted a vocal authority over elections. 

Newspapers and other journalistic institutions delude themselves through hubris into believing that they are doing something particularly noble by providing information, when the reality is that they are merely like any other large, rich and powerful organization. Imagine the backlash if Amazon endorsed a candidate.

Additionally, who comprises the editorial staff of large newspapers? Nearly universally, they are rich and powerful people who do not represent the full spectrum of American society. A farmer from Illinois or an entrepreneur living in California is not going to be best represented and advocated for by a newspaper’s editing team. 

All in all, the public has a right to know information, and journalists are critically important for that reason. That being said, newspapers should not be telling the public what to do with that information, particularly when it comes to supporting a certain political prospect. 

By doing so, they harm the electoral process and prevent people from arriving at the voting decision that is best for them, aligns with their situation and reflects their personal ethics.

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The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.