Pa­pers pun­ished for en­dorse­ment of Clinton, not GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLFGANG

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.”

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