'Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore': Did editorial dismissing Moore on newspapers' front pages go too far?

Three major Alabama newspapers all published the same editorial and blunt headline on their front pages last Sunday, urging voters in next month's state Senate election to "Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore."

The Alabama Republican senate candidate is accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage females

During a Nov. 16 news conference, Republican senate candidate Roy Moore refused to answer questions regarding sexual harassment allegations and pursuing relationships with underage females. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

"We had a statement to make as an organization and as an institution. We had a statement to make about right and wrong."

As the rest of her colleagues were at home enjoying American Thanksgiving on Thursday, Michelle Holmes was in her company's Birmingham, Ala., office defending a controversial publishing decision in an interview with The Investigators (This week's episode airs Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBC News Network).

"This [editorial] message is actually trying to mobilize Alabamians on the side of justice. And that's what we're doing," says Holmes, who is vice-president of content at the Alabama Media Group, which owns the state's three largest newspapers.

The newspapers all published the same editorial and blunt headline last Sunday, urging voters in next month's Senate election to "Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore."

The editorial stressed that Republican candidate Moore has recently been accused by at least eight women of pursuing them sexually several years ago, when they were between the ages of 14 and 19, and he was in his 30s.

The damaging allegations have led to a national firestorm of accusations from some Democrats and Republicans over Moore's fitness for office, and retorts from his supporters that the stories are driven by a politically-motivated smear campaign.

'An opportunity to really push this issue'

While newspapers routinely endorse or urge voters to reject candidates in editorials published on an inner page of the newspaper, the Alabama Media Group made the far-less usual decision to post their withering rejection of Moore in the most prominent spot available: on the front page above the fold, a place normally reserved for the day's top news stories.

"We believe that people of Alabama do not want Roy Moore. We believe that we had an opportunity to really push this issue out into both the spotlight here in Alabama, and the spotlight nationally. And so we made the decision to put the editorial — well-labelled as an editorial — at the very top of the newspaper," Holmes says.

Alabama Media Group's Michelle Holmes defends her company's decision to publish a front-page editorial rejecting Republican candidate Roy Moore for senate. (CBC)

Holmes dismisses critics, including those from Moore's own team, who say the move is evidence of a liberal bias in the news media, or that the decision blurred the line between the newspapers' journalism and editorial position.

"We know that we're standing for both editorial truth and justice in Alabama, and also for facts. So, I think the people of Alabama are smart enough to know the difference," she says.

Reporting by the newspapers' journalists has convinced the editorial board that the women's stories are credible in spite of Moore's denials, Holmes says. Even though Moore hasn't been charged with a crime, she says she believes the mounting accusations warranted the rare move of publishing the editorial at the top of the front page.

"This is the American democratic system. You don't need a jury and a judge to have a point of view as a voter. Nor do we as an editorial board."

Also this week on The Investigators with Diana Swain: CNN senior foreign correspondent Nima Elbagir talks about her stunning exposé on the underground slave trade in Libya. And writer and co-executive producer of The Simpsons, Joel H. Cohen, talks comedy and satire in the age of Donald Trump.

Roy Moore denounced by Alabama newspapers: Michelle Holmes of the Alabama Media Group talks about their decision to run front-page editorials condemning senate candidate Roy Moore amid allegations of sexual impropriety. Watch The Investigators Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network. 3:27

About the Author

Diana Swain

Multi-award-winning journalist Diana Swain is the senior investigative correspondent for CBC News and host of The Investigators on CBC News Network.