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Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran (TWITTER PHOTO)

The value of newspaper endorsements

And the story of how the Star-Ledger got tossed from the 2009 gubernatorial debate

By David Wildstein, October 22 2018 3:04 am

It’s back to the old question: who cares what Tom Moran thinks?

Newspaper endorsement season has begun, with the New York Times endorsing Democrats Tom Malinowski and Mikie Sherrill and the Burlington County Times backing Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur for a third term.

The Star-Ledger sort of endorsed Democrats on Sunday, saying that if you “have cancer, diabetes, or a sick baby in your family,” Andy Kim, Josh Welle, Bob Menendez, Malinowski and Sherrill would protect them; Tom MacArthur, Chris Smith, Bob Hugin, Leonard Lance and Jay Webber would not.  That was more of a pre-endorsement.  It will be tough, but not impossible, for the editorial board to endorse people who don’t protect sick babies.

In a separate column, Moran beats the crap out of Webber.  “Paul Ryan is a fraud.  Jay Webber is a perfect match,” the headline read.

The column came one day after Webber, a Republican assemblyman, announced that he won’t meet with the Star-Ledger editorial board.  He said the handwriting was on the wall.

In the old days, when newspapers like the Star-Ledger endorsed candidates statewide, congressional, legislative and in some cases local office, reader relied on the newspapers judgment to help them decide their vote.  Those were times when the newspapers assigned reporters to provide detailed, in-depth coverage of the campaigns.  Today, newspapers are offering opinions on candidates they hardly know and campaigns they barely cover.

The real issue is whether newspaper endorsements mean anything? It’s not a new question.  A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center said that nearly seven out of ten voters (69%) didn’t care who newspapers supported.  Hillary Clinton was endorsed by 243 daily newspapers, with Donald Trump winning the endorsement of 20. That’s 92% of the newspapers who endorsed someone.  Clinton won the popular vote 48%-46%, but Trump won 304 electoral votes.

Some newspapers are reducing their endorsements.  The (Bergen) Record, which typically endorses state and county candidates, only endorsed in the race for governor in 2017.  (They backed Phil Murphy, and soon after their editorial page editor sought employment with him.)  This year, The Record’s editorial board is interviewing the candidates for Bergen County Sheriff, but not those running for county executive, freeholder, or State Senate and Assembly in several special elections that touch parts of Bergen County.

The Star-Ledger, just as an example, doesn’t always endorse in races for the U.S. House of Representatives.  They backed Josh Gottheimer against Scott Garrett two years ago; Gottheimer beat a seven-term Republican congressman in a district that Trump just narrowly carried.  Maybe the Star-Ledger mattered.

In 2012, the Star-Ledger waded into the Democratic primary for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th and 10th districts and went 1-for-2.

The newspaper backed Bill Pascrell in an incumbent-on-incumbent primary against Steve Rothman; Pascrell won 61%-39%.  They endorsed Newark City Councilman Ronald C. Rice for an open seat, but Essex County Freeholder Donald Payne, Jr. won 60%-19%.

In 2013, the Star-Ledger endorsed Chris Christie for a second term as governor.  Three months later, Moran said the endorsement was ‘regrettable.”  I can’t blame Moran for that one; I regret my endorsement in that race too.

The biggest endorsement blunder for the Star-Ledger came in 2009, when they decided to endorse an independent, Christopher Daggett, for governor.  He wound up getting just 5.8% of the statewide vote.  That’s doesn’t cry out “we influence people.”

The back story on that endorsement is the best part. John Farmer, Sr., who was the editorial page editor then, later said that Christie had the inside track against incumbent Jon Corzine until Daggett came in and blew their editorial board away.

“He was so good we brought him back a second time,” Farmer told National Journal’s On Call.

But there were unintended consequences.

The Daggett endorsement came out the six days before the final gubernatorial debate.  The Star-Ledger was an official partner of that debate, and Moran, who had recently returned to the editorial board after a short-lived private sector stint at PSE&G, was to be a panelist.

The state regulation on official debates – some of the candidates were receiving public financing — said that sponsors must not endorse a candidate prior to the debate.  Maybe the Star-Ledger didn’t read the rules, but I had.

I was the editor of PolitickerNJ.com at the time, writing under pseudonym Wally Edge.   After I raised the conflict issue, the Star-Ledger was removed as a debate partner and Moran lost his seat at the table and could not ask questions of Corzine, Christie or Daggett.

This story was updated at 9:16 AM.

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4 thoughts on “The value of newspaper endorsements

  1. Hey David, for the record, I wasn’t on the editorial board when I came back as a columnist in 2009, not until after the election. Also, maybe I’m having an Alzheimer’s moment, always possible, but I have no recollection of a discussion about sitting on a debate panel…Candidates they hardly know? Hmm, I’d challenge you on that one.

    1. Tom, here’s Matt Friedman’s story on that: https://observer.com/2009/10/debate-sponsor-says-star-ledger-offered-to-withdraw-after-early-endorsement/

      Debate sponsor says Star-Ledger offered to withdraw after early endorsement
      By Matt Friedman • 10/12/09 3:58pm

      No word yet on who, if anyone, will replace the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran as a panelist at the gubernatorial debate on Friday night.

      The Star-Ledger withdrew its sponsorship of the event after the paper endorsed independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett in yesterday’s edition – an apparent violation of state regulations that required them to wait until after the completion of the debate to issue an endorsement.

      A Star-Ledger representative called the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and William Paterson University – the debate’s host venue – to withdraw, according to Patrick DeDeo, a spokesman for the university.

      “The Ledger understood and they took care of it,” he said.

  2. I asked to meet with the Star-Ledger editorial board as well as the New York Times, but neither gave me the time of day before the primary. I still get called ‘unknown’ even though I got more votes than the combined total of two congressmen and the Assembly Speaker in the Democratic primary election for US Senate in New Jersey in 2013.

    That said, Matt Hale and Ben Dworkin are flat out wrong. Newspaper endorsements have little or no effect on voters. Most voters decide based on party affiliation.

    Voters make up their own mind & in their own way. Until they do better, we will get the government some of us deserve.

    There is no quick fix but it’s not a secret, either. Most manmade problems can be solved women – or men – but they have to stop blaming someone else and decide to do that.

    Until we realize that we have power, we do not have any. Once we do, though, we must accept responsibility .

  3. One other thing: Chris Daggett was hands down the best candidate for governor in 1990. It’s not a blunder to choose the best candidate– it’s a matter of life and death.

    When people stop treating politics like sports, government will function much better.

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