The Las Vegas Review-Journal — owned by the politically active casino owner Sheldon Adelson — just became the first major newspaper to endorse Donald Trump. Endorsements are supposed to be biased, but the more over-the-top they are, the less persuasive they are. This endorsement is so full of florid language that it strains credulity.
To understand the story here, you need a little background. Here is is:
- No major newspaper has endorsed Trump before this, because sober newspaper editors, even conservative ones, can’t bring themselves to back Trump. According to Mother Jones, which keeps a running tally, 13 of the nation’s 100 top newspapers endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, but this year, 10 of those papers have endorsed Hillary Clinton and two have endorsed libertarian Gary Johnson. The Review-Journal stands alone.
- When an unknown party bought the Review-Journal in 2015, journalists, including those at the paper itself, had to investigate to figure out that the Adelson was the buyer. Since then, journalism watchers like Jay Rosen have caught the paper in questionably biased activities, like investigating the judge presiding over a case involving Adelson.
- Adelson is a politically active billionaire who spent $93 million to influence elections in 2012.
The Review-Journal‘s endorsement is a screed
The endorsement is not really a surprise. It’s the wording that makes it seem Soviet. The language includes no only weasel words but lots of florid language. Here are some excerpts (you can read the whole thing here). I’ve highlighted questionable words in bold italic and added my own translation:
EDITORIAL: Donald Trump for president
These are turbulent times.
More and more Americans express frustration and disillusionment today with the political institutions that govern the nation. They clamor for an alternative to the incestuous and pernicious atmosphere dominating the capital. They see a vast array of lobbyists, elected officials and entrenched interests manipulating the levers of power for their own enrichment at the expense of ordinary citizens. . . .
Translation: Politics is corrupt.
History tells us that agents for reform often generate fear and alarm among those intent on preserving their cushy sinecures. It’s hardly a shock, then, that the 2016 campaign has produced a barrage of unceasing vitriol directed toward Mr. Trump. But let us not be distracted by the social media sideshows and carnival clatter. Substantive issues are in play this November. . . .
Translation: Trump is a threat to the status quo, so lots of people hate him.
Mr. Trump . . . brings a corporate sensibility and a steadfast determination to an ossified Beltway culture. He advocates for lower taxes and a simplified tax code, in contrast to his opponent’s plan to extract another $1 trillion from the private economy in order to enlarge the bureaucracy. Mr. Trump understands and appreciates the conditions that lead to prosperity and job creation and would be a friend to small business and entrepreneurship. Mrs. Clinton has spent most of her adult life on the public payroll. . . .
Translation: Business people good. People in government bad.
Make no mistake, a Hillary Clinton administration would indulge the worst instincts of the authoritarian left and continue to swell the bloated regulatory state while running the nation deeper into the red in pursuit of “free” college and health care.
Translation: Hillary very bad. Will take your money and spend it.
Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave. But he promises to be a source of disruption and discomfort to the privileged, back-scratching political elites for whom the nation’s strength and solvency have become subservient to power’s pursuit and preservation.
Translation: Disruption is necessary, and only Trump, warts and all, will provide it.
It is the pileup of weasel words, vivid adjectives, and code words like “privileged,” “elites,” “bloated,” “authoritarian,” “ossified,” and “sideshow” that characterize this editorial. If you’re out for red meat and hate government, these are the lyrics to your fight song. I appreciate it as a piece of narrative, but the more of this stuff you put in one piece, the less credible it is to anyone who’s not already an enthusiastic Trump voter and Clinton hater.
Is this typical for editorials?
Editorials are not articles. They’re biased; they have to be. Are they all written like this? Let’s look at some other endorsements. Here’s the most extreme paragraph in Hillary Clinton’s New York Times endorsement:
Similarly, Mrs. Clinton’s occasional missteps, combined with attacks on her trustworthiness, have distorted perceptions of her character. She is one of the most tenacious politicians of her generation, whose willingness to study and correct course is rare in an age of unyielding partisanship. As first lady, she rebounded from professional setbacks and personal trials with astounding resilience. Over eight years in the Senate and four as secretary of state, she built a reputation for grit and bipartisan collaboration. She displayed a command of policy and diplomatic nuance and an ability to listen to constituents and colleagues that are all too exceptional in Washington.
Biased? Yes. Florid? Not so much.
Here are a few choice passages from the Chicago Tribune‘s endorsement of Gary Johnson:
How has our country fallen so inescapably into political and policy gridlock? How did pandering to aggrieved niche groups and seducing blocs of angry voters replace working toward solutions as the coin of our governing class? How could the Democratic and Republican parties stagger so far from this nation’s political mainstream?
Clinton’s vision of ever-expanding government is in such denial of our national debt crisis as to be fanciful. Rather than run as a practical-minded Democrat as in 2008, this year she lurched left, pandering to match the Free Stuff agenda of then-rival Bernie Sanders. She has positioned herself so far to the left on spending that her presidency would extend the political schism that has divided America for some 24 years.
Vivid, but not a screed. More of a whine, actually.
I think the difference here is where these pieces are written from.
The New York Times‘ Clinton endorsement is written from hope.
The Chicago Tribune’s Johnson endorsement is written from desperation.
And the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s Trump endorsement is written from anger.
I’ve got no problem with vivid language. High dudgeon is a fine place to write from. But remember your readers. The more serious the issue, the more factual and and sober your writing should be. Bias in editorials is fine, but writing that crosses the line into rabble-rousing destroys credibility. If your job is to persuade, evidence helps.
There enough of a sideshow in this election already. Let’s not extend it into our nation’s newspapers.