Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

John Baer | Press, polls didn't help Nutter win the election

TWO FINAL - I promise - thoughts on the mayor's race. First, there was no media conspiracy to elect Michael Nutter, despite whining from Chaka Fattah, Tom Knox and others.

TWO FINAL - I promise - thoughts on the mayor's race.

First, there was no media conspiracy to elect Michael Nutter, despite whining from Chaka Fattah, Tom Knox and others.

Whether it's Fattah telling a news conference that "the press wants Mr. Nutter to win" or Knox telling me that the Inky and Daily News "favored" Nutter in photos, story play and more, it's all a great load of crap.

The media, especially the print media, couldn't conspire to raffle off a turkey, let alone cook an election.

Anyone who's ever been in the vicinity of putting out a daily newspaper knows this to be true.

If newspapers could conspire, I suspect they might have done something to prevent nosedives in circulation (10 million nationally) since the circulation peak in 1984; or, if my friends on the right are right, prevent the election or re-election of George W. Bush.

Also, editorial endorsements are separate from campaign coverage - by a lot. Reporters covering candidates are not editorial writers praising candidates. The twain, as they say, never meet.

Think of it this way: Reporters slog through forest and field in search of game; editorial writers use that game, and whatever else is in their kitchen, to offer well-prepared dishes served on silver platters.

Both, in short, work the product but at different ends of the line.

And nobody issued orders to write about, photograph or treat Nutter different from any other candidate.

Plus, in a strictly selfish sense, the novelty of covering a Knox mayoralty or the malaprops of a Mayor Brady, were feasts in waiting that I, for one, would have happily welcomed.

I wish mainstream print had the power often ascribed to it by losing campaigns.

I won't deny there's sway. Or that some think there's undue sway.

A Pew Research Center opinion survey of registered voters around the '04 races said 62 percent claim news organizations have too much influence in determining election outcomes.

But if we overly influence how people vote, why can't we influence when people vote?

Why, despite constant media drumming about the importance of voting, do we get an election in a city in need of leadership, after a campaign of issues with five real candidates, in which only about 40 percent of eligible voters vote?

And if the answer is too many people are too despairing of democracy, then we have more to worry about than made-up media conspiracies.

Now, here's the second thought: Independent polling doesn't determine election results.

Polls are snapshots of the moment, and three candidates - Fattah, Knox and Nutter - had moments in which they led.

If published polls, as some suggest, freeze voters, Nutter never would have moved from fourth place, where he sat last month.

When I ask Jonathan Saidel about the issue (and, by the way, "Oh, yeah," he now regrets not running), he says there are too many polls and too many small-sample polls, but polls "don't affect the outcome . . . people make a decision and you have to respect that."

I think he's right.

Dwight Evans contends, probably correctly, that many of his supporters voted for Nutter because Nutter's late surge in the polls changed the question to one of "winnability, not who's best."

But Evans never was higher than fourth and usually polled fifth. Even if poll results cost him some support at the end, polls did not, in my view, cost him the election.

Many factors figured in to Tuesday's outcome. And most have been hashed and rehashed here and elsewhere.

But just as this race was not determined by who had the most money or the most TV, by racial politics or field organizations, neither was it determined by conspiring media nor public opinion polls. *

Send e-mail to

For recent columns, go to