Last year, during the never-ending U.S. Senate special election cycle, the editorial board for the Alabama Media Group (the company that ran into the ground the once-proud, formerly daily newspapers for Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville) abandoned all pretense of objectivity.
The paper endorsed Democratic then-candidate (now Senator) Doug Jones on the front page of its Sunday edition.
The message was clear: Roy Moore was so unacceptable that the joint editorial board for Alabama’s three major newspapers was united with the voters and their readers in opposition to the Republican candidate.
As it turned out, they were right, but just barely — by a 1.5 percent margin.
But was a roughly 20,000-vote difference out of 1.34 million ballots cast worthy of an over-the-top breach of the hypothetical wall that exists between a newspaper’s news and opinion pages? The implication was, of course, that Moore’s unpopularity and unfitness warranted this display, and the papers were merely reflecting and serving their audiences. The close vote totals, however, did not validate that position.
That did not stop our friends in charge of the Alabama Media Group from patting themselves on the back and taking some credit for that election’s outcome.
Nonetheless, the takeaway was clear: Last year’s special election was roughly a 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent Jones-Moore split in the state of Alabama, but the combined effort of the Mobile Press-Register, The Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times was 150 percent Jones.
This midterm election cycle is not any different for the legacy print media of Alabama. The editorial hierarchy, from publisher to beat reporters, continues to show it couldn’t care less about the politics of the constituency it supposedly serves.
Last week, the joint editorial board for North Alabama’s Decatur Daily and Shoals’ TimesDaily called on voters to oust incumbent Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville). Keep in mind, Brooks has won every one of his congressional elections by more than 15 percentage points, including a 50 point margin in 2014.
It’s safe to say the people in Alabama’s congressional 5th District approve of their congressman even though those two newspapers do not.
Also last week, The Anniston Star, the gold standard for a newspaper completely untethered to the political reality of its readers, endorsed the entire Democratic slate in the top-tier of statewide Alabama office — with one exception.
Incumbent Republican Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill was that exception.
“John Merrill is Alabama’s secretary of state,” the Oct. 24 endorsement read. “He’s also a mixed bag of wise policy and regrettable stances. We wish that weren’t the case.”
The obvious victim here is Democratic Secretary of State nominee Heather Milam. How would you like to be the only Democratic candidate not acceptable for the house that Col. Harry M. Ayers built?
As more of these editorial board endorsements come out between now and Election Day, we’re likely to see a lot of the same — Democratic Party upstarts endorsed over Republican incumbents and newcomers.
It’s not a new phenomenon. The media, generally, are unabashedly liberal. It takes a particular type of person to go into a profession it views as high-minded social work. The politics of individuals who study journalism and go work for an old-school establishment media outlet like the Montgomery Advertiser or the Tuscaloosa News are not going to be conservative.
And they’re certainly not going to be pro-Donald Trump.
To them, it’s just too bad that two-thirds of the state voted for Trump. Apparently, they weren’t taking in the wisdom on the pages of these newspapers, all of which endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
To Alabama’s media: Maybe it isn’t this state’s voters. It’s you.
If you look at the major newspapers in Alabama, you cannot find a regularly occurring pro-Trump voice, with the exception of perhaps an out-of-state syndicated or guest columnist. It is as if such a viewpoint does not exist in this overwhelmingly Republican, pro-Trump state.
We all know this is not the case.
This suggests these outlets are irrelevant in the political discussion. All the papers and journalists in Alabama that participated in the political endorsement game endorsed Hillary Clinton. She lost Alabama by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
If we are to believe the left-wing bromide that diversity is our strength, the mainstream print media in Alabama is pretty darn weak.
If The Birmingham News, Press-Register, Huntsville Times, Montgomery Advertiser, Tuscaloosa News, Anniston Star, Gadsden Times, Decatur Daily, TimesDaily, Opelika-Auburn News or Dothan Eagle cannot seem to find one right-winger to offer the mainstream Alabama Republican viewpoint in this red state, what does that say for their hard news coverage?
Maybe your reporter is writing and filing unbiased copy, but the people who decide what stories are important are looking at the world through a pro-Democratic Party lens. Not necessarily a pro-Alabama, or even a pro-what-Alabama-residents-want-to-read lens.
That’s how we wind up with matters like the dopey “Will Kay Ivey participate in a gubernatorial debate?” question as the most pressing issues, according to newspaper political coverage.
Dismiss this criticism as a diatribe from some right-wing, pro-Republican guy if you must. But do so at your peril, because a business model that sells one thing in a marketplace that demands the polar opposite is not long for this world.
Editor’s note: Lagniappe, the largest weekly newspaper in Alabama, does not endorse candidates for political office. All columnists’ opinions are their own.