Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. US Election 2020
3 November 2020updated 04 Sep 2021 3:17pm

US election 2020: the US media has repaid Donald Trump for four years of insults

All but one of the major newspapers in the US have endorsed Joe Biden for president. 

By William Turvill

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 TimesWashington 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.

[See also: US 2020 presidential election forecast model: will Donald Trump or Joe Biden win?]

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

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).

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

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.

[See also: US presidential election 2020: Are the polls tightening?]

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.”