After the President’s four-year war on the “fake news media”, newspapers in the US have decided, almost unanimously, to endorse one candidate. Of America’s 20 largest newspapers, just one – the New York Post, which has had its disputed allegations about Hunter Biden removed from social media – has endorsed Donald Trump.
Joe Biden has won the support from 16 of the nation’s biggest titles (as defined by Press Gazette, using current and historical circulation data) including the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Even USA Today, a publication that has traditionally prided itself on not making endorsements, has made its first presidential endorsement for Joe Biden.
But research by Press Gazette shows that this is not only a reaction to the Trump administration. The almost total backing of Biden from America’s largest newspapers fits with a red-to-blue trend that has been building over the last 40 years in the US media.
Unfortunately for Democrats, however, the analysis also suggests that newspaper endorsements appear to have little impact on election results in the modern era. In 2016, Trump failed to win the support of a single major US newspaper – the New York Post declined to endorse any candidates – but still managed to win the election (albeit while losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, who, like Biden, won support from 16 out of 20 major titles).
Even in the UK, where newspaper circulations tend to be higher, the impact of media endorsements is highly debatable. US newspapers maintain a strict “state and church” divide between news and opinion departments, meaning coverage tends to be less openly partisan than in the UK.
The circulations of America’s largest newspapers have plunged by around 30 per cent since the last presidential election, which could also make their endorsements less significant at the ballot box. At the same time, however, their online readerships have grown considerably over the same period. The New York Times, for example, today has around six million digital subscribers, up from fewer than two million at the end of 2016.
Trump’s tirades against the “fake news media” have also been personal, often singling out publications and journalists for criticism or abuse. In 2015 he openly ridiculed a reporter’s physical disability, while this year his confrontations with the press have included telling an Asian American reporter to “ask China” for the answer to her question and demanding that a journalist remove his face mask during a press conference.
The extent to which Trump’s antipathy towards the press may have fostered an anti-media atmosphere across the US is laid bare in a Press Gazette interview with Stephen J Adler, the editor-in-chief of news agency Reuters, ahead of the election. Revealing that Reuters has had to issue reporters covering the election and its aftermath with flak jackets, helmets and gas masks, he said: “Our concern about the safety of journalists in the US is unprecedentedly high.”