Two Studies in One!

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on October 7, 2016

Two Studies in One!

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Two Studies in One!

  • “What’s the Longest Humans Can Live? 115 Years, New Study Says”—headline, New York Times, Oct. 6
  • “On Aug. 4, 1997, Jeanne Calment passed away in a nursing home in France. The Reaper comes for us all, of course, but he was in no hurry for Mrs. Calment. She died at age 122, setting a record for human longevity.”—lead paragraph, same article

Dog Bites Trump
This year’s presidential campaign has caused journalists to lose all perspective, we keep thinking, and they keep proving us wrong by losing even more perspective. The latest example is a breathless Wednesday-afternoon tweet from Dylan Byers, who covers the media for CNN: “just got off the phone with @JeffreyGoldberg, who drafted The Atlantic’s historic endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Full story TK…”

“TK” is journalese for “to come,” and the story kame as promised a few minutes later, with “Historic” in the headline:

Driven by its staunch opposition to Donald Trump, The Atlantic has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, marking just the third time in the magazine’s 160-year history that it has made a presidential endorsement.

Labeling the Republican presidential nominee “a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar,” The Atlantic’s editors encouraged their readers to “act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.”

So the editorial is “historic” only in the sense that the magazine has been around for a long time. (A headline last year from Scientific American read “Atlantic Circulation Weakens Compared with Last Thousand Years.”)

“Unusual” would be a more apt description. As Byers notes, the Atlantic has endorsed only two presidential candidates before: Lincoln in 1860 and Lyndon Johnson 104 years later. As this year’s editorial notes, the one in 1964 “was focused less on his positive attributes than on the flaws of his opponent, Barry Goldwater.”

Curiously, this year’s editorial cites no second thoughts about 1964’s, even though LBJ’s presidency was anything but an unqualified success and Goldwater went on to become an elder statesman respected across party lines. But we suppose such reconsideration would raise the possibility that the magazine is mistaken in declaring that Trump “might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.”

To anyone who reads the Atlantic—this columnist often looks at it online—the magazine’s position is a classic dog-bites-man story. We’ve read more or less the same anti-Trump claims under Goldberg’s byline and the bylines of many of his colleagues. The only thing pro-Trump we recall reading in the Atlantic is a long letter from a supporter to Conor Friedersdorf, which we discussed in a June column.

Yet the editorial’s praise for Mrs. Clinton is faint:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency.

The same is true of many of the newspaper endorsements of Mrs. Clinton. The Hillreports that not one of the top 100 U.S. newspapers by circulation has yet endorsed Trump. A few—the Dallas Morning News, Cincinnati Enquirer and Arizona Republic—have endorsed Mrs. Clinton after backing Republicans for many decades.

These papers are even more unenthusiastic about Mrs. Clinton than the Atlantic. Some of their editorials contain passages that could have appeared in a Trump endorsement. From the Enquirer:

We have our issues with Clinton. Her reluctance to acknowledge her poor judgment in using a private email server and mishandling classified information is troubling. So is her lack of transparency. We were critical of her 275-day streak without a press conference, which just ended this month. And she should have removed herself from or restructured the Clinton Foundation after allegations arose that foreign entities were trading monetary donations for political influence and special access.

But our reservations about Clinton pale in comparison to our fears about Trump.

Does any of this matter? Poynter reports the Morning News has lost subscribers over its endorsement of Mrs. Clinton:

“Certainly we’ve paid a price for our presidential recommendation, but then, we write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost,” [editor Mike] Wilson said in an email to Poynter. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with readers lately, and I respect their views and their right to disagree with us. The most important thing to us is that they vote, even if it’s not for our favorite candidate, because democracy doesn’t work if people don’t vote.”

There’s a bit of a contradiction between the piety that everyone should vote and the view that Trump is a threat to civilization: If the latter is true, wouldn’t it be better if his supporters stayed home?

Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times’s media columnist—who argued in August that Trump is such a menace that news reporters should refuse to cover him fairly—tries and fails to quantify “how many minds it all changes”:

Searches [on Google] for Mrs. Clinton spiked by nearly 50 percent in Dallas County after the Dallas Morning News recommendation in early September, though not as much as they did for the American swimmer Ryan Lochte—after his legal trouble in Brazil—or for the game between the Cowboys and the Giants. She trended in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County after The Enquirer’s endorsement, and in all of Arizona after The Republic’s endorsement, though data from Hamilton County shows she was behind subjects like “Clown Sightings” and “National Coffee Day” on the list.

But the editorials needn’t change minds to have an influence. Suppose you’re an undecided voter who finds Trump appealing in some ways but scary in others. Perhaps an editorial that reinforces your misgivings will help nudge you from Trump-curious to anti-Trump.

Even though the big-newspaper endorsements so far are unanimously against Trump, not all are for Mrs. Clinton. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Detroit Newsand Chicago Tribune urge readers to cast a protest vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson. (The Richmond and Detroit papers usually endorse Republicans, but the Tribune backed Barack Obama twice.)

Then there’s USA Today, which customarily does not endorse candidates. Last week it issued its first ever anti-endorsement—disdorsement?—titled (in the print edition) “Don’t Vote for Trump”:

Our bottom-line advice for voters is this: Stay true to your convictions. That might mean a vote for Clinton, the most plausible alternative to keep Trump out of the White House. Or it might mean a third-party candidate. Or a write-in. Or a focus on down-ballot candidates who will serve the nation honestly, try to heal its divisions, and work to solve its problems.

Whatever you do, however, resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump.

This week USA Today ran an op-ed by Richard Benedetto, a retired correspondent who was with the paper at its 1982 founding. “I view the board’s decision to take a stand in the 2016 presidential race as a rejection of the bedrock principles upon which the late Gannett chairman and CEO Al Neuharth created USA Today,” Benedetto writes:

Neuharth often said he created USA Today to help rebuild public trust in the news media. . . . The key way to build public trust, Neuharth preached to his reporters and editors, was to present the news as objectively as possible. It was the foundation upon which USA Today built its reputation for fairness. . . . Even on the editorial page, where opinions are expressed, Neuharth ordered balance. Nearly all USA TODAY editorials are accompanied by an “opposing view.” . . .

He also believed endorsements might taint the objective reporting we were trying to do in the rest of the newspaper. Moreover, he felt it was elitist to assume we know better than everyone else when it comes to voting.

He once said to me, “People don’t need us to tell them how to vote.”

Strictly speaking, though, USA Today’s editors aren’t telling readers how to vote, only how not to vote. Moreover, the “opposing view” last Friday was a pro-Trump op-ed from running mate Mike Pence. So the paper published arguments both for and against Trump. The only thing missing was a case for Mrs. Clinton.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.