Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2016 (1320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As of Oct. 11, 31 of the 100 U.S. newspapers with the highest circulations have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The list includes the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. But several traditionally Republican papers are also backing Clinton.
To date, no major newspaper has endorsed Donald Trump — a historical first — though during the primaries he received support from the tabloid National Enquirer and the New York Observer, whose publisher is Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
USA Today did not endorse Clinton, yet broke with its 34-year custom and came out against Trump declaring him "unfit for the presidency." Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Union Leader which has been staunchly Republican since 1916, (strangely) endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Its editorial explaining its anti-Trump decision said it best: "The man is a liar, a bully, a buffoon."
Newspaper endorsements probably won’t change a lot of voters’ minds — in the heart of conservative Texas, the Dallas Morning News angered many of its subscribers with its decision to back Clinton. In a calculation done by the digital media company Mental Floss, in the majority of U.S. presidential elections since 1940, the candidate who received the most endorsements has won the election.
Still, in the late '30s and '40s, both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were victorious in elections in which few newspapers endorsed them. So it’s not a science by any means.
Trump, who has declared war against the "mainstream" and "elite" media, has predictably sloughed off his lack of endorsements and condemned the critical treatment he is subjected to as part of the larger conspiracy to thwart his glorious march to the White House.
"I’m not running against Crooked Hillary," Trump said in August at a rally in Connecticut. "I’m running against the crooked media. That’s what I’m running against."
The New York Times, which recently broke the story about Trump’s taxes is "failing" and "dishonest"; CNN, which features endless stories and pundit panels about Trump has been dismissed by him as "biased"; and the Wall Street Journal is almost always "wrong." One of Trump’s most loyal allies (maybe his only one) among journalists, as he repeatedly pointed out during his first debate with Clinton, is Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, who has been oblivious to Trump’s numerous inadequacies.
It is political historical truism that a politician who blames the media for his or her troubles is increasingly desperate. Even in the old days when newspapers were highly partisan in the U.S. and Canada, politicians who either courted or manipulated the press have been more successful in elections and in office than those who gripe about it.
Back in the mid-nineteenth century, Abraham Lincoln was extremely adept at befriending journalists and ensuring what was written about him was precisely what he wanted. The same went for his contemporary in pre-Confederation Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, who spent a lot of his time buttering up friendly newspaper editors.
A century later, John F. Kennedy, the first presidential candidate to understand the enormous power of television, had many friends in the media. His press conferences, which were televised, were "must-see" events and his charismatic bantering with journalists was legendary. However, he also lived in an era when journalists were somewhat more respectful and refrained from writing about politicians’ private lives.
Contrast JFK with his Republican rival Richard Nixon’s tense relations with the press, which rapidly deteriorated during the Watergate scandal. Just like Trump, Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew stated that Nixon "was the victim of ‘a small and unelected elite’ who controlled the media." That hardly helped Nixon escape further scrutiny. He ignored each new revelation about Watergate at his own peril and he ultimately had to resign the presidency to avoid being impeached.
In most cases, ignoring the media is a smarter strategy than being obsessed with every negative comment as Trump is — or, for example, as Brian Mulroney was while he was prime minister.
But Mulroney’s nemesis Pierre Trudeau, who was first built up by the media in 1968 during "Trudeaumania," came to disdain journalists. He later insisted that he rarely paid attention to commentary about him in newspapers and on TV. During the 1974 federal election, in which Trudeau won a majority government, his chief advisers decided there was more to be gained by keeping Trudeau away from journalists covering his campaign than permitting them to speak to him regularly. The journalists grumbled loudly about it, but to no avail.
Trump or his handlers are incapable of showing such discipline. Instead, living in his own reality show, Trump will continue to yell and scream about every negative comment in every newspaper, TV news broadcast, or Tweet, right up to Nov. 8.
Now & Then is a column in which historian Allan Levine puts the events of today in a historical context. His next book, The Bootlegger’s Confession, a new Sam Klein Mystery, will be published this month.