Home>Campaigns>Star-Ledger repeatedly beat up on Kean but failed to hurt him

Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran. (Photo: Tom Moran via Instagram).

Star-Ledger repeatedly beat up on Kean but failed to hurt him

Newspaper went hard at congressman-elect, but their influence isn’t what it used to be

By David Wildstein, November 14 2022 9:01 am

Future candidates might want to check their polls and make sure they’re at least five points ahead before they seek the endorsement of Tom Moran and his Star-Ledger editorial board.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) had released two internal polls showing him tied with Republican Tom Kean, Jr. in the race for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district.

Moran wrote eight separate columns fiercely vilifying Kean and promoting Malinowski, plus a Star-Ledger endorsement that disparaged the Republican nominee and passionately championed the two-term incumbent congressman.

The result of the onslaught was a four-point win for Kean.

That could be a data point demonstrating that Moran’s support costs a candidate four points, but the reality is that support from Moran and the Star-Ledger is largely irrelevant.  Moran could not have gone any harder at Kean, but his support had no effect on the outcome of the election.

“I do think you can make the argument in many cases that they’ve outlived their usefulness because of the increased polarization and the skepticism of media in general,” Des Moines Register executive editor Carol Hunter, told the Associated Press last month.  “I don’t think that’s a healthy trend, but I think that’s reality.”

Moran could be living amid the ghosts of the Star-Ledger’s past, when the newspaper, before budget cuts and the Internet gutted its authority, enjoyed the kind of relationship with its readers that their endorsement influenced actual votes.

If anything, voters appear to have validated Kean’s decision not to sit for a Star-Ledger editorial board interview and not to respond to Moran’s questions because he viewed  them as biased.  (Kean did speak to other Star-Ledger reporters, just not Moran, and he met with the Gannett editorial board whose endorsement would later go to Malinowski.)

Kean similarly rejected the Star-Ledger when he ran for Congress in 2020.  Malinowski’s internal poll that year had him ahead by five points, but after the Star-Ledger weighed in, he won re-election by one percentage point.

Given declining circulation numbers and content paywalls, it’s possible that Star-Ledger editorials just don’t get they eyeballs they once did.  And those who read the editorial page may be part of the decided voter bubble.

According to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released last week, just 12% of New Jerseyans said viewed local media as doing a good job.  The Star-Ledger cited an FDU poll from a few days earlier about the role of abortion in the mid-term elections, but did not write about the poll that gave them and others bad grades.

A study published in the Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly said that journalists are increasingly viewing editorial endorsements as a liability.

“The journalists in our study largely found the practice of political endorsements to be somewhat archaic,” the two professors who conducted the study stated

They noted that one journalist told them that “readers pay little attention to that distinction mark between opinion and non-opinion.

“It contributes to the public’s view that publications have an agenda,” the journalist said.

Privately, Republicans praised Kean’s rebuke of Moran, with some suggesting that this might be a model for the future.

“Maybe biased reporters will realize that being biased comes with a price,” one Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal against current and future clients.  “You can’t show a bias and then act aggrieved when you’re treated that way.”

Gov. Phil Murphy almost shared Kean’s position.  He came close to skipping the Star-Ledger editorial board when he ran for re-election in 2021, but his attendance probably didn’t matter.

The endorsement that went to Murphy was accompanied by a tirade that impaled him with a harsh rebuke of his record.

“This is a reluctant endorsement, an acknowledgement that Murphy is the best candidate on the ballot, nothing more,” the editorial said.

What Murphy avoided was a tantrum from Moran as punishment for not appearing.

There is evidence that the Star-Ledger endorsement doesn’t matter.

In 2020, the Star-Ledger endorsed Brigid Callahan Harrison for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district in advance of the Atlantic County Democrats meeting to award their organization line, even though the newspaper does not have circulation in the region.

“We wanted to have influence on the Atlantic County convention on Sunday,”  Moran told the New Jersey Globe at the time.

But the Star-Ledger failed to influence the vote: Amy Kennedy won with 63%, 157 to 73.

In 2009, the Star-Ledger endorsed independent Christopher Daggett for governor against incumbent Jon Corzine and GOP challenger Chris Christie, but Daggett received a scant 5.8% of the vote.  Four years later, they endorsed Christie, but three months after the election, Moran said he regretted the move.

The Star-Ledger endorsement of Daggett also had some unintended consequences.  After PolitickerNJ pointed out that the Star-Ledger had agreed to not endorse any candidate before the gubernatorial debate, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission forced the newspaper to withdraw its sponsorship.  That cost Moran his seat at the table as a panelist on the televised debate between Christie, Corzine and Daggett.

Competition for being awarded one of the officially sanctioned debates by ELEC may have been affected by the participation of the Star-Ledger, the state’s daily newspaper.  Had the Star-Ledger not been a candidate, perhaps the winner would have been the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, who had applied with a major media sponsor: ABC-TV’s New York and Philadelphia affiliates.

ABC had offered to pre-empt Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy to air the debate live on a weeknight from 7-8 PM.  That’s a better time slot than offered by Fox, which will aired the debate live on their website, and rebroadcast in Philadelphia at 2PM Saturday and in New York at noon on Sunday.

Following the Star-Ledger’s endorsement of Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston) in 1938, the congressman-elect’s grandfather unseated Democratic Rep. Frank Towey, Jr. (D-Caldwell) by fourteen points.

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