By Erick Johnson (From the Chicago Crusader, NNPA Member)
Forget it Hillary. Sorry Bernie.
When the time came for the Florida Courier to endorse either candidate, the edgy Black newspaper dropped a bombshell with a large headline just five days before the crucial primary elections in the sunshine state.
“NONE OF THE ABOVE,” the headline read in caps. It was a much different response nearly 1,000 miles away at the historic New York Amsterdam News. The newspaper’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton drew numerous praises and racked up nearly 47,000 likes on Facebook as of April 11.
It’s a testament to the enduring power of the Black Press, particularly, Black newspapers. But in the past decade, their influence have been challenged by other mediums, changing times and attitudes among a new generation of voters.
For Clinton, the endorsement was her latest coup d’état to win Black voters in New York, where they helped her seal her Democratic nomination for president. On Tuesday, April 19, she deflated the momentum of her opponent Bernie Sanders, who in the last several weeks, swept the primaries in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Washington and Hawaii.
Despite Sanders’ momentum, the 107-year old New York Amsterdam News stood behind the former first lady. In light of escalating racial problems around the nation, many of the nation’s major Black newspapers are not endorsing any presidential candidate this election season, according to a survey by The Chicago Crusader. Many are also not endorsing candidates running for local, state and Congressional offices. Some cite longstanding editorial polices that prohibit endorsements during elections. Other Black newspapers are cutting their support to express their disappointment with the political establishment.
Out of 26 major Black newspapers surveyed by the Crusader, 19 publications are not endorsing any candidate this year. Only seven have blessed Clinton or any candidate with an endorsement. In addition to the New York Amsterdam News, they include The Jacksonville Advocate, The Michigan Chronicle, and The St. Louis American. All of the papers endorsed Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In Chicago, Clinton bagged endorsements from the city’s three major Black newspapers, the Crusader, the Defender and the Citizen. The Chicago Crusader sister paper, the Gary Crusader also endorses Clinton as that city prepares to hold their primary May 3.
Unlike other newspapers, the Chicago Crusader did not endorse Rahm Emanuel in his reelection campaign in 2014.
None of the Black newspapers surveyed endorsed Sanders, a candidate who has been supported by a host of Black celebrities, including Spike Lee, Kanye West and scholar Dr. Cornel West.
Among the Black newspapers that are not endorsing any candidates in this year’s primaries are The Philadelphia Tribune, New Pittsburg Courier, The Florida Courier, Tri-State Defender, The Washington Informer, The Atlanta Voice, The Los Angeles Sentinel, The Indianapolis Recorder, The Carolina Peacemaker, The Charlotte Post, The Cleveland Call and Post, The Final Call, The Houston Forward Times, the LA Wave and the Richmond Free Press.
With racial and social issues boiling over in the Black community, Black newspapers editors are making tougher decisions about granting political endorsements. Many Black publishers and editors aim to send a message to candidates whose platforms do not offer any sound solutions to longstanding problems in the Black community.
One Black newspaper that’s not giving out presidential endorsements, The Tri-State Defender, made the evening newscast in Memphis when it decided not to support two opposing Black candidates for mayor last October. One failed to show up for an interview with the newspaper’s editorial board while the other candidate did not impress the staff with his platform.
The Atlanta Voice said that it does not endorse political candidates, because of their editorial policy. The city’s mainstream daily newspaper, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, ended its practice of giving political endorsements in 2010 after complaints from its readers who didn’t want to be told how to vote.
On its website, The Charlotte Post explained its decision to hold back on its endorsements.
“In a presidential election cycle, local elections are often overlooked. However, the people who earn out votes in the March 15 primary are the people who are the most responsible to local interests,” the statement reads.
In an unusual twist, rather than endorsing one Democratic presidential candidate, The Richmond Free Press in Virginia encouraged its readers to vote for either Clinton or Sanders.
On March 10, The Florida Courier voiced its frustration on why the newspapers refused to back any political candidate this year.
“Too often, we as Black people allow ourselves and our services to be devalued because we have become so used to working with little, and making something out of nothing. No more,” the editorial read. “Effective immediately, we will not consider… candidates for endorsements who do not use Black-owned media outlets to seriously solicit votes from Florida’s Black communities.”
This wasn’t the first time The Florida Courier withheld its endorsement. The newspaper also made headline when it decided not to endorse the Democratic candidate Charlie Crist or incumbent Florida Governor and eventual winner, Republican Rick Scott.
The New York Amsterdam News also takes its endorsements seriously. Weeks before making its decision to endorse Clinton, an editorial staff member told a Crusader reporter, “We are not endorsing Hillary or anyone until they come in and meet with our editorial board.”
Though many Black newspapers are not making any endorsements, most publications are maintaining their traditional advocacy roles as Black journalists. Many are providing favorable and expanded coverage of Clinton’s campaign promises to help Blacks gain more economic opportunities and boost funding to historically Black colleges. Black newspapers are also providing much ink to denounce Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
During Barack Obama’s campaign for president against John McCain in 2008, many Black newspapers threw their weight behind him to help him become the nation’s first Black president. This support also came from some mainstream conservative newspapers, which for the first time in their history, endorsed a Democratic candidate for the White House, including the 169-year old Chicago Tribune. Other conservative mainstream papers that traditionally support Republican candidates, declined to give any endorsements in 2008.
In fueling Obama’s rise to the White House, Black voter turnout was the highest in U.S. history, surpassing White participation for the first time.
Historically, the Black Press has played a significant role in deciding presidential and political elections. The once mighty Pittsburgh Courier fueled President Franklin D. Roosevelt reelection bids after he made promises to desegregate the military prior to World War II. In Florida in 1984, The Miami Times pushed Black voters to polls to oust then Mayor Maurice Ferre, who fired the city’s first and only Black city manager, Howard Gary.
That was decades ago. Today, the influence of Black newspapers has been challenged as more Blacks use mainstream newspapers and other sources to examine and choose their political candidates. Despite the competition, endorsements and editorial coverage from Black newspapers are still being sought out. During the campaign for the Illinois Primary, Clinton, along with a handful of congressional, state and judicial candidates sought endorsements from Chicago’s Black newspapers.
To beef up her exposure, Clinton hired Delmarie Cobb, a Black seasoned public relations guru with strong ties to the city’s Black newspapers. As it turned out, Clinton swept Chicago’s heavy Black electorate along with a handful of white candidates who received endorsements from the city’s Black newspapers.