Looking to Ride a Wave of Newspaper Endorsements: Can the Pen Empower Ciattarelli in an Era of ‘Fake News’?


The Stockton Poll buzzkilled the Ciattarelli Campaign for 48 hours, but they refused to acquiesce to the posture of roadkill, propelling the candidate out onto the boardwalks and beaches for Memorial Day handshaking and politicking. On the campaign’s march northward up the Jersey shore, the candidate crossed paths with his rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.

It was in Point Pleasant, when the assemblyman and LG hit the boardwalks at the same time, and the Guadagno Campaign made certain to avoid Ciattarelli. Although the Stockton Poll puts Guadagno 37-18% ahead of her rival, sources close to the assemblyman’s campaign insist they see only a 7-8 point advantage for the LG and remain undeterred by what they say is simply Guadagno’s aposematism-mimic afforded by the poll.

But above and beyond those internals they swear they possess, they had something more to celebrate this past week, something tangible, something that appeared – or perhaps should have appeared – significant.

The fact that Ciattarelli nabbed three big newspaper endorsements in  one week – The Star-Ledger, Bergen Record, and Philadelphia Inquirer – did buck up the troops, sources close to the campaign told InsiderNJ. They felt they could rejoice in the confirmation of their belief that Ciattarrelli is a better candidate than Guadagno, which those papers independently concluded. “An easy choice,” the Ledger noted. And yet, and this was a question to be asked in horror – did anyone still read? How many people actually took the time to sit down and critically digest those editorials?

There was a time when newspaper endorsements really meant something in this state, when the care, and excellence and attention to detail and intellectual honesty and independent criteria we saw applied in those editorials just this week almost had the power to swing an election.

Even as recently as 2012, the Bergen Record coming out with its endorsement of Bill Pascrell in his Democratic primary tilt with Steve Rothman had the effect of making Pascrell look like the boss of that cycle, which of course he was come Election Day. It was a great, biting piece, which identified the white-haired Italian American as having been a great congressman for Paterson and Passaic who was now prepared to lead the region.

But that was five years ago, before the even greater acceleration of illiteracy and apathy and the election of a President who refers to terrorists and reporters and television game show contestants alike as losers, and who fire blankets the media as the enemy of the people. In such an atmosphere, the question becomes whether indeed the endorsements (and you can read them here and here and here, they’re all excellent, in-depth and devoid of any imbecilic shade of bias; indeed, if those papers were in the tank for Democrats they’d back Guadagno, because Guadagno is universally regarded, and confirmed by the polls, as a far easier general election opponent for Democrat Phil Murphy) actually hinder Ciattarelli?

Those liberal fake news rags all backed Ciattarelli? I’m votin’ for what’s her name?

We asked Dr. Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair University, what she thought of Ciattarelli’s string of editorial board successes, and whether – what a question to have to ask! – it helps or hurts him.

“In modern times, when voters have access to high levels of information about candidates, endorsements matter less, and people are less likely to rely on them,” Harrison said. “That said, the unanimity of the endorsements brings a level of gravitas, legitimacy and clout to Ciattarelli.”

She noted though, that they are not “game changers ” in this environment.

“The media has been particularly de-legitimized – the phrase liberal media bias has so saturated the culture, particularly in a Republican Primary, that there might be some who look at the endorsements with skepticism,” the political scientist said.

For Harrison, this election is likely to come down to that which has long defined New Jersey politics going back to Hap Farley and Frank Hague: the machine.

“I think clearly Guadagno has the upper hand as a consequence of her advantage in county lines in those counties with larger Republican populations [namely Ocean and Monmouth],” she said. “If the campaign were a little longer, with Ciatterelli clearly developing momentum and Guadagno relying on pat answers and a lack of specificity, and lacking command of the issues, he would have perhaps exploited that weakness. Ciattarelli’s running against the Christie record, and for those Republicans who remain loyal to Christie, her lack of command may sway them, but Ciattarelli doesn’t have the time or resources. Yet – unlike someone like Joe Kyrillos [who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012] – it’s clear that win or lose, Jack Ciattarelli will be a very important part of rebuilding the New Jersey Republican Party.”

This is a moment.

This is a moment when people who care about politics – and ultimately who care about our state and the condition of our government and how it serves the people, because these interests all intertwine – should consider that vital role newspapers, however watered down and weakened, still play in our process, mostly the consequence of the old institutional hounds who once sat behind typewriters and only have noses for news.

The endorsements for Ciattarelli do not constitute fakery.

They do not constitute liberal bias.

They are the independent conclusions of editorial boards that did their due diligence by interviewing the candidates, examining their records, talking to the reporters who cover them professionally, and contextualizing the policy and professional demands of the difficult job they seek.

It should be significant – perhaps significant enough for those similarly independently disposed individuals to buck that other longstanding influencer in New Jersey politics, which renders a decision that the press must always view with a jaundiced eye, given the history, and given those fundamental antagonisms between independent thought and group think, so often best epitomized in this state by the tenuous relationship between the individual – and the party machine.

Of course, this is not to say that newspapers don’t frequently get it wrong. It is hard to even say the word sometimes without remembering The Hurricane, when Bob Dylan condemns the coverage of the Ruben Carter murder trial with the single, withering phrase: “the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.” But, putting individual policy perspectives aside for a moment, remember this: the last time the New Jersey Press Corps piled on a candidacy as it has with Ciattarelli, it was 2000, when the dailies – sizing up the U.S. Senate race- went overwhelmingly for Jim Florio over Jon Corzine – and got it wrong.

Or did they?

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