Don’t read this

Who cares?

About what newspapers have to say about politics, that is. Has a newspaper editorial changed your mind about who you will vote for? Has a columnist ever truly changed one of your long-held views?

Now, based on a quick read of the unmoderated comments below the stuff I’ve written so far for the Sun suggests quite a few folks do give a hoot about contrary opinions. (A favourite, from “Jim”: “Why in the name of Zeus is a Liberal automaton like Worn Kantsellit writing for The Sun?!?”)

Good question, Jim. Investigate spellcheck, big guy.

Recent evidence suggests media cheerleaders do little to change the outcome of political contests, however.

Take a look at the myriad municipal races that have happened across the country this fall. In Toronto, the Star and Globe urged readers to vote for George Smitherman. Rob Ford won, by a landslide.

In Calgary, the Herald threw its support behind alderman Ric McIver, who went on to be clobbered by Naheed Nenshi by nearly 30,000 votes.

In Winnipeg, The Free Press — perhaps seeing the writing on the editorial boardroom wall — played it safe. It said the city would be “well-served” by either Sam Katz or Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Chickens!

(The local Sun papers, meanwhile, endorsed Ford, Nenshi and Katz. All won. Not a bad record, eh?)

One of the smartest political scientists on the planet is Kathleen Hall-Jamieson. The University of Pennsylvania professor has written extensively on the relevance of the media to politics. Her view on newspaper endorsements: They don’t matter much, if at all.

“The direct effect of editorials does not appear to be significant enough to find,” Jamieson has concluded.

The only value a newspaper editorial may have for a candidate, she says, is in a campaign ad or pamphlet. It creates the impression of momentum, but not much else.

That’s not all. A fairly recent analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Centre also found Joe and Jane Frontporch entirely unmoved by editorial urgings. In fact, the non-partisan centre said, such endorsements tend to anger a lot of voters, and “dissuade as many as they persuade,” said the Pew study.

Just study the case heretofore be known as the Toronto Star, et al. vs. Rob Ford.

The Star threw everything it had against Ford — and everything it had behind Smitherman. The Star — which still has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the Greater Toronto Area, and therefore some degree of clout — laboriously chronicled every one of Rob Ford’s misdeeds.

His mug shot from a Florida bust (a Sun scoop, by the by). His drunk-driving record. His drug possession charge. Even unsubstantiated suggestions that he had gotten too physical with others.

Simultaneously, the Star openly offered campaign advice to Smitherman. In one now-infamous column, the newspaper’s director of communications and community relations — whatever the heck that is — offered detailed campaign advice to Team Smitherman, from advertising to staff. A Ford victory, said this fellow, would “embarrass the city (of Toronto) around the world.”

Anybody in Toronto receive any e-mails or worried calls from friends and family abroad, worried about how you’re now a global laughingstock? Didn’t think so.

As Jean Chretien did with Conrad Black in the 2000 federal election campaign, Ford’s campaign team didn’t complain about the Star’s shameless support of their principal opponent — they drew attention to it. And they refused to grant interviews to the Star. As Jamieson and the Pew Centre folks concluded, not only did the Star’s anti-Ford proselytizing not hurt Ford — it may have helped him.

Basement bloggers, wearing their tinfoil hats, will take all of this as evidence that the so-called Mainstream Media don’t matter anymore, blah blah blah. But that’s silly.

Newspaper coverage matters. Nothing shapes a candidate’s reputation more than day-to-day news reports. But editorials? Not so much.

So … why are you still reading Worn Kantsellit?

warren.kinsella@sunmedia.ca

2 Comments

  1. patrick says:

    Well, since you just published a book – Worn Kant Sell it – is pretty clever by Sun blog standards. As for editorials, don’t most people read to confirm their opinions as opposed to change them? An editorial that doesn’t confirm you opinion is easily ignored.

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