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Newspaper Endorsements Are the Worst

Why are newspapers still trying to tell you who to vote for?
February 25, 2020
Newspaper Endorsements Are the Worst

1. Endorsements

I know, I know.

We’ve another of these debates tonight and America is careening toward a showdown between an authoritarian nationalist and an authoritarian-curious socialist.

But it’s not all bad news. Maybe the coronavirus will get us before November!

Can we say a word about endorsements? I hate endorsements. Or to be more specific, I hate media endorsements. Why in the world should anyone care who the editorial board of the New York Times or the South Saginaw Gazette thinks we should vote?

How unbelievably arrogant and self-important.

That’s the moral objection.

The practical objection is: Roughly how many votes have newspaper endorsements moved over the last, say, 20 years? I mean, you probably can’t count them on two hands but . . .

And yet, newspapers keep doling them out. Only we’ve now reached the point of absurdity where newspapers are making endorsements that cannot possibly matter.

Which is, I think, the actual definition of virtue signaling.

The first one of these head-scratchers was the NYT’s split endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. What in the world is the point of endorsing two competing candidates? At that point, you might as well endorse both the Republican and the Democrat in the general election. But even more ridiculous is that neither Klobo nor Warren had any real chance to win. So the NYT wasn’t just giving out competing endorsements. It was giving out competing endorsements to two candidates who had little-to-zero chance of being the nominee.

And now South Carolina’s paper, the State, has endorsed . . . Pete Buttigieg.

This Pete Buttigieg:

The Pete Buttigieg who has surged to the point where is only—only!—5 points behind . . . Tom Steyer.

In fourth place.

With no chance of winning the primary and almost no chance of even getting delegates out of the state.

Look, I’m not saying that if you’re going to endorse a candidate it should be the candidate who’s going to win. What I’m saying is that if you’re going to bother going to the trouble of endorsing a candidate, it ought to be someone who at least has a chance to be relevant in the race.

Because if you’re not endorsing a candidate who has a chance to be relevant, then all you’re doing is preening and talking about yourself.

Show. Don’t tell.

2. Anti-Bernie

As an academic matter, I am very curious about what arguments contra Bernie will resonate with Democratic voters.

There are four obvious lines of attack:

(1) He has a history of taking positions that are literally anti-American. These include support for various dictators, etc.

(2) He represents a large electoral risk against Trump, relative to other candidates.

(3) He is the preferred candidate of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

(4) His policy proposals are dangerous and unpopular even with Democrats—including, but not limited to, killing private health insurance, decriminalizing illegal border crossings, and the more extreme tenets of the Green New Deal.

There are other possible vectors. These are just the ones that come to mind first.

I have my own theory as to which of these is likely to be most effective.

But it would be interesting to be able to perform a data-driven experiment where we A-B-C-D test these messages in front of millions of voters and then optimize the the results in real time and see what the effects are.

Of course, that’s expensive. If only there was someone with a spare billion dollars to do the research.

3. Bo Jackson

I’m gong to keep linking to pieces from the Athletic because it’s such an amazing publication. I literally cannot believe how much value they give you for just $100 a year. Unbelievable reporting. Sharp analysis you won’t see anywhere else. And a breadth of coverage you simply cannot find anywhere else in sports media. At a time when everyone else is pivoting to fan-written clickbait and aggregation, the Athletic is unique and amazing. If you care about sports, it’s worth the money. You should subscribe.

Example 2,378 is this Jayson Stark piece about how Bo Jackson might have been a great pitcher:

The topic was Shohei Ohtani. But there was Joe Maddon, spinning a Bo Jackson folk tale that felt like something that should have sprung from the Marvel Superhero files. . . .

Bo knows Joe, and Joe knows Bo, because they were together in Anaheim in 1994. And if anyone had listened to Maddon back then, Bo might have become the Ohtani of his time, except there also would have been like 7,000 additional mesmerizing rushing yards added to his multi-tasking legend if you went all the way back to his Auburn days.

“I thought we should have attempted to make Bo a relief pitcher,” the Angels manager said, not that anyone had asked about Bo. “You know, when his hip was bad. (Because) this guy had the best arm I’ve ever seen in my life. I thought that would be interesting.”

Interesting? Holy crap. It would have broken the internet, except that nobody knew there was an internet in 1994. So it would have broken ESPN, at least. But there was a larger point behind this Bo Jackson tale that had nothing to do with that.

And that Joe Maddon point was: Nobody ever thought like that back then! Or even allowed their brains to open wide enough to think like that. Not in the way brains open these days, at least — in an era when everything is changing and Maddon now sees Ohtani as a potential culture-altering presence in sports, inspiring kids across the globe to reconsider what humans are capable of. . . .

Read the whole thing. There is something very interesting going on in baseball right now and it has nothing to do with rule changes and the pace of play. It’s that the world of sabremetrics has opened up whole new ways of thinking about the game, and that has led to guys like Ohtani and ideas like having an “opener” in addition to a “closer.” It’s led to the shift and thinking about launch angles and attack planes.

This might be the most exciting time, ever, to be a baseball fan. If only the people who run the MLB could stay out of the way.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.