Friday December 08, 2017
Alabama's biggest newspapers say Roy Moore is unfit for office
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Despite weeks of controversy, Republican candidate Roy Moore remains in the race for Tuesday's Senate special election in Alabama with the support of not only the Republican National Committee, but of U.S. President Donald Trump as well.
Moore is running slightly ahead of Democrat Doug Jones in the polls, despite at least eight women accusing Moore of sexual misconduct. Several of his accusers were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents, sparking other stories about Moore allegedly targeting minors.
Alabama is a Republican stronghold, and many of Moore's supporters continue to back him because of his strongly held conservative views.
'Stand for decency'
In November, three of Alabama's major newspapers took the unprecedented step of endorsing a Democrat. The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and The Huntsville Times, all owned by the Alabama Media Group, ran the same tough editorial on their front pages with the headline: "Stand for decency, reject Roy Moore."
"There is only one candidate left in this race who has proven worthy of the task of representing Alabama. He is Doug Jones," the editorial board wrote.
The papers had previously said that Moore was "grossly unfit" for office, but had earlier stopped short of throwing their support behind Jones.
"It was a matter for us of standing up for right in a place that really needs it at this time in Alabama politics." - Michelle Holmes, Alabama Media Group vice-president of content
"Traditionally, most of Alabama has been a conservative-leaning state over the last few decades," explains Michelle Holmes, vice-president of content for the Alabama Media Group and a member of its editorial board.
"We did urge our voters to not support Donald Trump in the previous election, however, so this doesn't come as a major surprise," Holmes tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
However, the editor of the Opelika-Auburn News, a small-town daily in eastern Alabama, told the Washington Post that he "would have bullet holes in my windows" if he had run such an editorial in his paper.
"This was the right thing to do, and this wasn't about fear," Holmes explains. "This wasn't about playing to the worries of the worst-case scenario. It was a matter for us of standing up for right in a place that really needs it at this time in Alabama politics [and] in American politics in general."
Given how close the race still appears to be and how polarized Alabama voters are when it comes to Tuesday's election, staff at the papers anticipated that the editorial would prompt reader reaction on both sides.
"Certainly a surprising number of them thanked us for standing up. A surprising number told us that they are more proud of the journalism that we're doing now than any time in recent memory," Holmes says.
"There were some on the other side as well. We had angry people who said: 'We will never support someone who supports abortion. And this is a horrible thing and you don't speak for us'. And certainly we've heard that sentiment, but much less than we expected."
The Alabama Media Group decided not to endorse Moore because they felt it was "unconscionable that he could be sent to the United States Senate," Holmes notes.
"Roy Moore has a deep and long history of attempting to deny, at every turn, the basic fundamental human rights of the people of this state, and forthcoming, the people of the United States of America. His position on gays, and Muslims, and transgender people, and on and on has been wildly out of step with modern America," she says.
"In this case, what really propelled us to splash this in huge type across the front page of our state's newspapers is the outrageous behaviour that Moore apparently carried out through much of his 30s, with preying on young women. This is a pattern, this is not a one-off thing — many, many women have come forward and told these stories."
And yet, recent polling shows that Moore has the support of four in 10 women who are likely to vote in Tuesday's special election.
"Well, first of all, that's the polling," Holmes counters. "We don't know for sure that that's the case. Secondly, I think it is an important thing to understand the evangelical base here for whom an issue like abortion is a prime driver in voting decisions."
"Many women in Alabama will say it means our voices don't matter. But for those women who have publicly stood up, to hear that, it's deeply depressing." - Michelle Holmes, Alabama Media Group vice-president of content
"Alabama has long had a terrible chip on its shoulder about the rest of the world coming in and trying to interfere in Alabama's business," Holmes continues. "There are many people of good conscience in this state who are really struggling with their abortion views and what the right thing to do in this election will be."
While Moore's supporters have brushed off the allegations against him as unfounded, how could his potential victory affect the women who came forward?
"That's an excellent question, and one which I don't think enough people are asking," Holmes says. "I think it's a horrific statement to those women, many of which are conservative Christian Alabamians, which is painfully ironic here. I think many women — not just them, many women in Alabama will say it means our voices don't matter. But for those women who have publicly stood up, to hear that, it's deeply distressing."
Holmes says that whatever happens in Tuesday's election, she's hoping Alabama voters will think long and hard before casting their ballot.
"I hope that many people who have been silent are going to show up and vote for decency, are going to vote for respect for women, are going to vote for the very Alabama values that say 'love your neighbour'," she says. "And I'm going to hold onto the belief that that will prevail."
For the full conversation with Michelle Holmes, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.