Obama ahead in battle for press endorsements


US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are in a dead heat, tied at 47 per cent, according to a CNN poll average yesterday, hours before their final debate.

But Obama leads by another measure of opinion: newspaper endorsements. He has gained the support of 14 of the US’s top 100 daily newspapers; Romney has 11. Those supporting Obama represent a circulation of more than 3.4 million; Romney’s, 2.4 million.

Neither of the country’s two most widely read newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, endorse candidates, though the conservative Journal clearly prefers Romney. The highly influential New York Times has yet to make its endorsement, but is certain to support Obama. Of the US’s top 10 newspapers, only the Los Angeles Times has chosen, and it picked Obama.

The American Presidency Project reported that 12 of the 14 newspapers which have endorsed Obama supported him in 2008 against John McCain. Four of the 11 titles now with Romney sided with Obama in 2008.

In opinion polls, Romney has a slight lead over Obama in Florida. Newspapers too are divided in the largest swing state, which wields 29 electoral college votes. The Tampa Bay Times supports Obama, while the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel have come out for Romney.

The Sentinel’s explanation of its flip-flop from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012 expressed the sentiments of disillusioned Obama voters: “We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years,” its editors wrote. “For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race.”

Ohio is the second-largest swing state, with 18 electoral college votes. Obama leads there, but by a narrowing margin. Ohio’s newspapers, like Florida’s, reflect the state’s split, with the Columbus Dispatch supporting Romney and the Cleveland Plain Dealer opting for Obama.

In Republican red Texas, which will give all of its 38 electoral college votes to Romney, the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram endorsed him.

In Utah, the most Mormon state, the Salt Lake Tribune gave Romney a surprisingly mixed review. Nowhere had his candidacy “been more warmly welcomed or closely followed than here in Utah”, it said, noting that Romney inspires “admiration and hope in our largely Mormon, Republican, business-friendly state”.

But the Tribune went on to accuse Romney of engaging in a “servile courtship of the Tea Party in order to win the nomination”, called him “the party’s shape-shifting nominee” and said he “has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: ‘Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?’”

The Denver Post said it takes a leap of faith to vote for either candidate, because they have not explained where they would take the country. The Post nonetheless endorsed Obama, saying: “It would be a stretch to say we are bullish on the entirety of his first term. There have been notable accomplishments: rescuing the nation’s auto industry, passing comprehensive (though contentious) healthcare reform, and delivering justice to Osama bin Laden. But those accomplishments are juxtaposed against a sluggish economy and less impressive performances in tackling the federal debt and deficits, reducing unemployment and bolstering the housing market.”

Two newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, have broken new ground in the saga of the September 11th attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which was expected to figure prominently in last night’s debate.

Both papers quoted reports and White House briefing papers which indicate that the CIA did not change its assessment that the attack was carried out by a “flash mob” responding to a video that insulted the prophet Muhammad until September 22nd.

This means that UN ambassador Susan Rice, Obama and other officials were truthful in public statements, based on what they were told by intelligence agencies.

The Romney campaign has accused the administration of distorting events rather than discredit the belief that Obama has made substantial gains in the fight against al-Qaeda.

A spokesman for the director of national intelligence evoked a “deliberate and organised terrorist attack” on September 28th, but intelligence officials say it takes a great deal of time to collect and sift evidence and have since reverted to the earlier explanation of an “opportunistic” attack mounted when news of the assault on the embassy in Cairo reached Benghazi.

Republicans nonetheless cling to their condemnation. “This was not a spontaneous riot. There never was a mob,” said senator Lindsey Graham. “It was a seven-hour planned attack, pre-planned.”

On television talkshows, Democrats have taken to reminding Republicans that the greatest intelligence blunder, with far worse consequences, occurred under George W Bush’s presidency, when false reports of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction led the US to invade Iraq.

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