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Jewish community newspapers deal with aftermath of election endorsements

By Jacob Kamaras/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 Democratic presidential candidate in the general election for the first time in 75 years — and saw protests outside its building. Morning News 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 were more reluctant than their mainstream media counterparts to make endorsements, with a total of eight Jewish outlets endorsing Clinton and three endorsing Trump. (The online analysis does not necessarily completely reflect the endorsements that appeared in Jewish newspapers’ print editions.)

Clinton’s endorsers included the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Baltimore Jewish Times, Detroit Jewish News, Florida Jewish Journal, JP Updates, New Jersey Jewish News, The 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).

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. 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,” Rosenblatt wrote.

Judie Jacobson, editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, said reaction to the paper’s first-ever presidential endorsement seemed evenly split between those who supported the Ledger’s pick of Hillary Clinton and those who opposed, with a few threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

One Ledger reader lauded the weekly for its “well-reasoned and principled stand,” noting that “As Jews we know only too well the horrible consequences when a demagogue’s rantings are met with silence.” Another called the Ledger’s endorsement “disgusting,” accusing the paper of supporting “an antisemite with a Muslim Brotherhood adviser, who has bullied and cowed women her husband abused for her entire married life.”

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.

Of its decision to issue a presidential endorsement for the first time in its nearly 90-year history, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger wrote, “If this were a normal election year, we might have continued our editorial policy of not making an endorsement in the presidential race. But this is no ordinary election.”

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 not to make endorsements.

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

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 the paper. “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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