Papers punished for endorsement of Clinton, not GOP
Over the past month, traditionally conservative newspaper editorial boards across the country have rejected Donald Trump and instead lined up behind Hillary Clinton — and some are facing vicious backlashes.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, which hadn’t endorsed a Democrat in almost a century, and The Arizona Republic, which had backed only Republican presidential candidates in its 126-year history, said they had lost subscribers and received angry letters from readers since coming out in favor of Mrs. Clinton.
The Republic said it even received a death threat as a result of its endorsement, laid out in a scathing editorial this week that painted the Republican presidential hopeful as unqualified and not a true conservative.
At the Enquirer, editors said they understood that breaking with a 100-year tradition could lead to an uproar.
“In making the decision to endorse Clinton, caring about that legacy and respecting that legacy was an important part of the conversation, and just knowing that a certain percentage of our readers would be upset by that,” Peter Bhatia, Enquirer editor, told The Washington Times on Thursday.
Since the endorsement last week, Mr. Bhatia said, the paper has received angry letters and subscription cancellations “in the triple digits.”
“The only thing I don’t particularly care for is some of the language people have used,” he said. “The anger, the vitriol, whatever you want to call it.”
The backlash, presumably from ardent Trump supporters, shouldn’t be surprising, analysts say. Mr. Trump has made anti-media sentiment a centerpiece of his campaign, and the billionaire businessman will be able to brush off Clinton endorsements by saying they are more proof that the establishment, which includes top news outlets, is against him.
“Trump will try to rebut the editorial [endorsements] with this criticism” of the media and its perceived liberal bias, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University and formerly a top reporter and editor at Iowa’s Des Moines Register.
Mr. Bhatia said the Enquirer was well aware that its Clinton endorsement could backfire in the form of strengthening Mr. Trump’s support.
“I’ve certainly thought about that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we felt we had an obligation to our community to make a statement about the presidential race.”
At least a dozen major American newspapers have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, but none has backed Mr. Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson has scored at least four major endorsements, including that of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the New Hampshire Union Leader.
In addition to The Arizona Republic and the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Dallas Morning News and USA Today broke decades of precedent in their presidential endorsement decisions.
In its 34-year history, USA Today had never endorsed any presidential candidate, and it still technically didn’t in Thursday’s stinging editorial calling Mr. Trump “unfit for the presidency.” It urged readers to vote, whether for Mrs. Clinton or a third party, or in down-ballot races — “just not for Donald Trump.”
The Morning News, which hadn’t endorsed a Democrat since World War II, was more explicit, urging readers this month to back Mrs. Clinton. “Clinton has made mistakes and displayed bad judgment, but her errors are plainly in a different universe,” the Morning News editorial board wrote. “Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism.”
Since the Sept. 7 editorial — which former President Bill Clinton has touted on the campaign trail as evidence that support for his wife is growing in conservative circles — the paper is reporting a drop in subscriptions.
In Arizona, Republic editors said they have a deep “philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals” but that Mr. Trump doesn’t meet their criteria. “This year is different,” the paper wrote in its endorsement this week. “The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified. That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.”
Since the editorial was published, the paper’s editors said, they have lost subscribers and received at least one death threat, though that hasn’t caused them to rethink their decision.
“We know we’re doing the right thing,” Phil Boas, director of the paper’s editorial page, told The New York Times.
While endorsements clearly are having an impact on newspaper subscriptions, there are questions about how much they affect the presidential race itself. Analysts say endorsements, in a broad context, do little to change the trajectory of a race, though they may play a role in pulling some voters away from long-shot third-party candidates.
“Where I think newspaper editorials might also have an impact is on those thinking of voting Libertarian or Green,” Mr. Yepsen said. “A lot of thoughtful voters are thinking about those options now, and a newspaper editorial might encourage them to stick with one of the candidates who actually has a chance of winning rather than casting a protest vote.”