Editor’s Memo: McCain’s Curse

IF editorial endorsements of candidates in the US election next week really mattered, the Democrat candidate Barack Obama would win the poll over his Republican opponent by a country mile.

On the eve of the historic election next week Obama can claim a landslide, at least from approval of his candidacy by the media.
This is a rout for John McCain. As of yesterday, Obama was leading McCain 3-1. Major papers which endorsed incumbent Republican leader George Bush in the 2004 poll have turned their backs on McCain. In a strong statement of disapproval by the media last week, Alaska’s biggest paper, the Anchorage Daily News, endorsed Obama, abandoning Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. But here, who really cares what the media thinks about the candidates? In fact senior journalists have said they have nothing to do with the endorsements which are arrived at by editorial boards. Washington Post deputy managing editor Milton Coleman in a presentation to foreign  journalists covering the polls last week said the endorsements had nothing to do with journalism. To underline the hopelessness of the boards, he said tongue-in-cheek that he does not even read editorials in his paper.
Does he not lead a charmed life?
Research done by the Pew Research Centre for People & the Press early in the year concluded that an endorsement of a candidate by Oprah Winfrey or by “your minister, priest or rabbi” holds more influence than an endorsement by a local newspaper. Just over two-thirds of those Pew questioned said newspaper endorsements have “no effect” on their vote.
Newspapers in the US are aware of their falling influence in shaping and directing political agendas, but this has not deterred them from lining up behind their candidate of choice. Why partake in this exercise in futility?
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about newspaper endorsements in her 2000 book, Everything You Think You Know About Politics and Why You’re Wrong.
“The direct effect of editorials does not appear to be significant enough to find,” Jamieson said in an interview. “The effect of newspaper endorsements is largely created through advertising about them that is sponsored by the candidate.”
Editorial writers at US newspapers have explained endorsements with words like “conversation”, “values” and “credible”.
Said Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post: “An editorial board spends four years pontificating and telling public officials what to do. We come to an election, and it’s the one time it’s either A or B. Of course, a lot of times we’re not satisfied with the choice. We wish it was C…but we’re subjecting ourselves to the same binary choice that the voters are subjecting themselves to… It’s a humbling process.
“For once, we can’t get away with endorsing pie in the sky. We’re dealing with what the choices are, and if the person you endorsed wins, you have to live with that over the next years, just as all the voters.”
But newspapers matter. Only this week, the McCain camp was pushing the Los Angeles Times to release a tape which features Obama’s meeting with a Palestinian activist way back in 2001. The McCain camp has accused the LA Times of refusing to release the tape to protect Obama. The paper has endorsed Obama as president and has refused to release the tape on the pretext that doing so would violate an undertaking made with the source of the recording.
These are desperate times and there is all the evidence that McCain is clutching at straws to save the campaign. Barring any strange twist of fate in the next five days, opinion leaders and think-tanks here believe Obama will be President of the United States come next Thursday. They have reason to believe so considering Obama’s coherent and poignant political message of change which has resonated with national sentiment of a country leading the Western world into the depths of recession.
The battle for the White House has been fiery, crude and sometimes comical. What could it have been without Palin’s distractions? The riveting campaigns have refocused the attention of the nation from football, burgers and pop music. People are watching TV. The collective want of the Americans at the moment is to be governed differently. Obama and his Republican opponent McCain have change on the menu but opinion polls as of yesterday have amplified the gulf in the content of the change message between the two protagonists. Obama is leading McCain 50/44% and more democrats have turned out to vote in those states where voting started early.
Other opinion polls have given Obama the advantage in traditionally Republican states like North Carolina and Florida. All appears to be going well for the Democrats but there is a strong feeling among observers that a desperate McCain could turn to the courts to challenge the electoral process, thereby raining on the Democrats’ parade.
Obama, in the final leg of his campaigns, which has been dubbed the final argument, has worked feverishly to drive home the point that McCain is virtually a clone of incumbent President George Bush — the epitome of the current economic mess characterised by foreclosures, job losses, a bearish stock market and low confidence all throughout the economy.
This is McCain’s curse. His campaign has to a large extent been shaped by the Democrats’ onslaught. He has been forced to prove that he is not joined to Bush at the hip.
lKahiya is currently in the US.

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