Trump or Hillary: Should media houses endorse politicians?

The Trump-Hillary fight has been marred with multiple firsts and countless rare recurrences

Naveed Ahmad November 04, 2016
The Trump-Hillary fight has been marred with multiple firsts and countless rare recurrences. PHOTO: REUTERS

The US election is less than a week from now and no matter how fatigued the American people may be, no one is calling it quits. Though the tradition of newspapers and news channels endorsing a candidate in the presidential race is an old one, it’s becoming more widespread as well as stern. The atmosphere is so charged that today’s media critics in the US don’t seem to fault such overt political positioning.

The Trump-Hillary fight has been marred with multiple firsts and countless rare recurrences. The Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Columbus Dispatch have departed from their tradition of endorsing Republican candidates for the White House. The four dailies have suggested their respective readers should consider voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Survey: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – Who do Pakistanis support?

The Chicago Tribune, which endorsed Obama in its first, ever endorsement, did not weigh in on either of the two mainstream candidates. The Tribune, as it is called in the US, sided with Gary Johnson, a Libertarian candidate whose nationwide rating remains single-figured.

More surprising are interpositions by The Atlantic, USA Today and the Los Angeles-based media house, Variety. USA Today, the country’s 34-year-old most widely circulated daily, set aside its neutrality, recommending its readers against voting for Donald Trump. The publication pointed out that Trump lacks “the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty” required in a leader. The daily has not directly endorsed his Democratic rival or any of the other contestants. The Atlantic, the 160-year-old magazine, also declared Trump “might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency." It pressed upon the reader to vote Democratic on November 8. Variety, specialising in entertainment reporting, too broke its tradition of neutrality lasting 111 years. It favoured Hillary Clinton.

However, not every media house is siding with Hillary Clinton. A prominent Trump-endorsing newspaper is The Crusader, which uses the punch-line “the political voice of white Christian America.”

Media bias or a generator of dialogue?

Nowhere in the world do media houses claim absolute neutrality; they have their leanings or slants. Endorsements for candidates are rarely as blunt as in the US, the ongoing campaign being exceptionally polarising.

Some believe the recent political outcry of America’s traditional media houses is originating from their morgue with marginal impact on the election outcome. They raise the question of relevance of old-fashioned media outlets with today’s voter: Who is better connected and is not confined to being a passive receiver. The swell of younger online news sources has taken their game away, it is argued.

It’s not a game for clicks, sales or repute, but of America’s future. The Atlantic justified its rare political partisanship in the name of democratic values, national interest and world peace. Trump, it write, “is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.” From CNN to The Columbus Dispatch, media outlets are adopting a similar approach for more or less the same reasons.

Trump over Hillary? Maybe

Pakistani media and political preferences

Is Pakistan ready for similar overt pronouncement of support come 2018 elections? Many would rebuke the question on the pretext that it is common knowledge as to which media house supports which political ideology or political leader. No doubt, many of the country’s media houses remain politically aligned regardless of the political season, year or term. What has not happened in Pakistan, however, is clear endorsement of Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Ali Zardari against the other. In America, newspapers or TV channels are free to decide without external pressure or even its fear. From incumbent governments to intelligence agencies, and owners’ business interests to ethno-political blackmail, anything works here. Thus, media houses have tried to not open a Pandora box of upfront honest endorsement during election season.

While media’s endorsements are rare in the US, countries like Pakistan and Turkey will experience a flood of them devoid of rationale and honest judgment. Subjectivity in media corporations will hit a new high with fair and balanced reporting becoming ever more extinct.

Five takeaways from the Clinton-Trump debate

Will people care about which candidate has been endorsed by X or Y news groups? Some might actually fall for the recommendation but a vast majority won’t for they have been voting for an assortment for other reasons ranging from tribal affiliation to ethno-lingual partiality. Manifestos have not been defining factors for a vast majority of voters.

Given the obvious slant present in Pakistani media houses, their endorsements won’t surprise the electorate, thus losing their charm and leftover iota of objectivity.

For all practical purposes, media houses’ endorsements of Hillary, Trump or Johnson are mere suggestions backed by reasoning. Their impact on voter behaviour has yet to be studied.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360


Arvind | 7 years ago | Reply Hillary as US president, will be highly favorable for Pakistan, because of her earlier pro Pakistan, pro Saudi Arabia policy. In future also she will continue to support Muslim world, because of huge donations by Saudi Arabia's for Clinton Foundation. Trump as US president will be harmful for the Muslims and as such for Pakistan. He is likely to support India, against Pakistan. So there is nothing wrong of Pakistani media to support Hillary and endorse her.
Fahim | 7 years ago | Reply It gives media house fame, audience, power, and access. So why not! But real question is if people should listen to media houses on sensitive issues and closing their heads?
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