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November 21, 2016 3:28 pm

How Did Jewish Newspapers Handle Presidential Endorsements, and What Price Are They Paying for Their Choices?

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Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org — Any newspaper that makes political endorsements runs the risk of alienating readers who disagree with the publication’s candidate of choice. Angry letters and canceled subscriptions come with the territory. Against that backdrop, hundreds of American newspapers still endorsed presidential candidates in 2016. How did Jewish community newspapers handle this choice, and what were the consequences for those who made endorsements?

Among the top 100 newspapers in the United States based on daily circulation, 57 endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton, two endorsed Republican Donald Trump and four endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson, according to the American Presidency Project. One of the more dramatic scenarios played out at the Dallas Morning News, which endorsed a Democrat presidential candidate in the general election for the first time in 75 years — and saw protests outside its building. Dallas editor Mike Wilson told Poynter.org, “Certainly we’ve paid a price for our presidential recommendation, but then, we write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost.”

To what extent did Jewish newspapers assume the same cost? A JNS.org analysis of website content from about 100 American Jewish news outlets found that Jewish media was more reluctant than its mainstream counterpart to make endorsements, with a total of eight Jewish outlets endorsing Clinton and three endorsing Trump. (The online analysis does not necessarily reflect the endorsements that appeared in Jewish newspapers’ print editions.)

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Clinton’s endorsers included the Baltimore Jewish TimesConnecticut Jewish LedgerDetroit Jewish NewsFlorida Jewish JournalJP UpdatesNew Jersey Jewish NewsThe Jewish Week (New York) and Washington Jewish Week. Trump’s endorsers were the Long Island Jewish WorldThe Jewish Press (Brooklyn) and The Jewish Voice (Brooklyn).

Endorsement aftermath

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, wrote in an op-ed that “more than a dozen readers called to cancel their subscriptions” over the newspaper’s first-ever political endorsement.

He added:

One reader commented: ‘The Jewish Week finally endorses, and chooses an anti-Semite.’ Another: ‘The Jewish Week is out of touch. Hillary Clinton should be in jail. She’s not pro-Israel, and Trump is not a racist’….And so it goes. Overall, a significant majority of the comments supported our decision, some eloquently expressed gratitude for it. But many of the ones that took issue with us were passionately opposed.

Gabe Kahn, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, penned similar reflections on the aftermath of a Clinton endorsement. Recounting a conversation he had at a synagogue event, Kahn wrote:

[S]omeone declared that any media outlet that endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was ‘corrupt.’ Well, what about me?’ I asked. ‘Our paper endorsed her. Am I corrupt?’ He didn’t respond, but the sheepish look on his face said it all: ‘If you endorsed her, then, yeah.’”

Among the comments posted on the website of The Jewish Press for its Trump endorsement, one user wrote, “Any Jew who votes for Trump is pissing on the ashes of Auschwitz.” Another declared, “The Jewish Press has always had a strong moral compass. But endorsement for Trump indicates that the compass has been set aside in this instance.”

Yet, not all Jewish newspapers’ endorsements came with a dramatic fallout. David Ben-Hooren, publisher of The Jewish Voice, told JNS.org that the reaction to the newspaper’s Trump endorsement was generally “favorable,” because the endorsement fell in line with the conservative political views of the outlet’s largely Orthodox readership in Brooklyn.

“I think [the endorsement] really helped in terms of enhancing the image of the paper,” said Ben-Hooren, adding that his publication “kind of became known as the conservative right-wing Jewish paper” because it backed Trump in May, months before any other Jewish outlet put out an endorsement.

Why choose to endorse (or not)?

The Jewish Week wrote that it made a political endorsement for the first time because “this election is an exception. It’s not just about politics. It’s about character, competence and compassion. It’s about values that are American, and rooted in the Bible.”

The Jewish Press wrote that it was reluctant to make an endorsement, initially urging readers “to make their voting decisions based on issues rather than personal foibles.” But the newspaper explained that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s reopening of its probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails “impelled us to cross the line and endorse Mr. Trump outright.” Meanwhile, The Long Island Jewish World cited Clinton’s “apparent inability to determine where the ethical ‘line in the sand’ starts, much less when she has crossed it.”

The Detroit Jewish News hinted that it took its cue from mainstream media when deciding whether or not to make an endorsement.

“In only the third time since the Atlantic’s founding in 1860, the magazine has endorsed a presidential candidate,” the newspaper wrote. “In its endorsement for Hillary Clinton in the November issue, the editors of the Atlantic write that Republican candidate Donald Trump ‘might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.’ We agree.”

Some other Jewish newspapers explained their decisions to stay out of the conversation.

“Issuing endorsements in political contests has produced unintended consequences by sowing further and unnecessary divisions among Jewish Houstonians,” wrote the Texas-based Jewish Herald-Voice in a post announcing a change in its decades-old endorsement policy. “Looking ahead, the JHV believes it is in the best interest of our community for the JHV to discontinue political endorsements, unless there is a particularly overriding need to do so in a certain race.”

The Atlanta Jewish Times counted its editorial board members “among the many Americans despondent at deciding between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.”

“Regardless of how extreme we may see the contrast between the candidates, we must not dismiss their voters as fools or deplorables,” the newspaper wrote. “In short, we must be better in all ways than the candidates the Republicans and Democrats have given us.”

Though the New Jersey Jewish News did make an endorsement, the newspaper’s editor issued a similar call for unity.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve expanded and prospered in this country so that the Jewish umbrella encompasses so many distinct groups,” wrote Gabe Kahn in his November 2 column. “Our only hope of staying dry underneath that massive parasol protection is to start with the mindset that our disagreements are just that, and while our views may be different, we are still one people, and we’re on the same side.”

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  • MikeBro

    Gabe Kahn, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, …. Recounting a conversation he had at a synagogue event, Kahn wrote: [S]omeone declared that any media outlet that endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was ‘corrupt.’ Well, what about me?’ I asked. ‘Our paper endorsed her. Am I corrupt?’ He didn’t respond, but the sheepish look on his face said it all: ‘If you endorsed her, then, yeah.’”

    My response would have been, “No, I have no evidence that you’re corrupt, but your endorsement suggests that you show poor judgment, in my opinion. When I read opinion, I expect sound judgment. Therefore, I have no need for my subscription.”

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