How Newspapers Came To Endorse Anyone But Trump

No major newspaper has endorsed Donald Trump four weeks out from election day

Extry! Extry! Read all about #nevertrump. — Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Oct 17, 2016 at 8:38 AM ET

In what’s got to be the most unconventional election year in U.S. history, newspapers have found themselves in a somewhat precarious position. They’re attempting to divvy up coverage to the different candidates in equal measure (something which has proven contentious), while continuing to investigate what needs investigating. Trump’s history is a gold mine that’s still rich with nuggets, and so newspapers have regularly unearthed major scoops like Trump’s tax-evasion and torrid history of sexual assault brags, earning them scorn from his supporters. But that’s just part of the reason their presidential endorsements are under such scrutiny this year.

These op-eds rarely make news in and of themselves, because in any normal year, they simply reaffirm the traditional politics of the paper that issues them. This year has been a little bit different. Faced with the potential reality of having to endorse Donald Trump, many newspapers that typically endorse Republican candidates have instead chosen to make a sharp about-face from and go rogue. With the exception of supermarket tabloid National Enquirer — which is owned by one of Trump’s personal friends — and the New York Observer — owned and published by his son-in-law — not a single major paper has endorsed the candidate. He has, however, gleefully retweeted the endorsements of some notable, if not necessarily influential celebrities, including political kingmaker (?) and Orange County Choppers boss Paul Teutel and actress Kirstie Alley.

The reticence of newspapers to endorse him is hardly surprising: in addition to the standard political issues that editorial boards consider in making an endorsement, there are additional concerns at play. Following months of mocking, denying credentials, and threatening to sue members of the press, Trump has been officially declared a “threat to press freedom,” by the chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“I don’t think it’s a determining factor [in editorial board endorsements], but it might help,” David Chavern president and CEO of News Media Alliance, told Vocativ. He added that editorial boards tend to be more focused on issues rather than political affiliation than some private citizens or, say, members of political parties, as a reason for these unexpected endorsements.

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Though newspaper endorsements arrive on a rolling basis, with many major papers historically choosing to wait until it’s down to the wire, the ones that have already announced have spoken volumes in their resounding message that crosses party lines: do not vote for Trump.

The Houston Chronicle was among the first to break rank, endorsing Clinton for president back in July — it has historically favored Republicans but also endorsed Obama in 2008, before returning to form by supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. The Chronicle was followed by The Arizona Republic, which endorsed a democrat for president for the first time since 1890, prompting people to issue death threats against its editorial board. The Dallas Morning News, which hadn’t supported a democrat for president in almost 20 elections, has also “paid a price” for its endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the form of mass subscription cancellations. The San Diego Union-Tribune also made a massively uncharacteristic decision by endorsing the first democrat for president in its 148 year history.

Some, like the South Florida Sun Sentinel, seem to be taking their lost support in their stride.

Granted, hardly any of the editorials from these papers or other conservative publications going blue could be considered ringing endorsements. Most feature language like: “Presidential elections should be about who’s the best candidate, not who’s the least flawed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year,” and “The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not pleasant, but it isn’t difficult.”

Other papers simply can’t bring themselves to support Clinton, instead choosing to simply advocate for “not voting for Trump” or advocating for third party candidate Libertarian Gary Johnson. Yes, Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson. It has come to the point that some papers are choosing to throw their support behind a candidate that has proven himself completely incapable of naming a single foreign leader he admires in 25 seconds, instead stating a vague “the former president of Mexico.”

Even USA Today, which traditionally does not endorse candidates, felt compelled to make a strong non-endorsement of Trump, calling him “unfit for the presidency.”

Another notable change in the way papers are endorsing this year is earlier rather than later. Compared to 2012, far more papers were early to jump on the Clinton train, presumably because they correctly assumed that the buzzing of impropriety surrounding the Trump campaign would only get louder as the elections drew closer.

“Endorsements usually come later with the idea that [boards] want all the evidence,” Chavern said. “You want to know exactly who you’re endorsing. With Trump, people already knew.”

Early voting deadlines may have also played a role in the urgency some editorial boards faced. For boards with a firm stance in either direction, hope that their endorsement could play a role in the minds of their undecided voters may have spurred early movement. The reason that any paper is still waiting is a bit of a mystery. While the Las Vegas Review Journal put out its endorsement of Mitt Romney on October 7, 2012, it is among over 25 other major national dailies that have yet to publish its 2016 choice, something editorial writer John Kerr only attributed to his status of “flying solo” and the time consuming nature of writing endorsements in an e-mail with Vocativ.

“For the papers that haven’t yet picked a candidate, I don’t know what they think is going to change in the coming weeks,” Chavern said.

As of Sunday, “The St. Joseph News-Press” has endorsed Donald Trump. Due to its circulation size, the News-Press didn’t fit the category of major newspapers, a determination made based on the top 100 most-circulated newspapers of 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.