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Margaret Sullivan: How Alabama media is covering Roy Moore, Doug Jones Senate race

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, found herself in a much smaller newsroom recently when sh...

Posted: Dec 9, 2017 2:30 PM
Updated: Dec 9, 2017 2:31 PM

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, found herself in a much smaller newsroom recently when she made a trip to Alabama to see for herself how local media was covering Roy Moore's Senate race against Democrat, Doug Jones.

At first, she wanted to visit the newsrooms of the state's three big-city papers, all of which are owned by Alabama Media Group. All three papers splashed an anti-Moore, pro-Doug Jones editorial on their front pages few weeks ago. It was "highly unusual" for a paper to do that, Sullivan said, because editorials don't often end up on the front page.

"I thought that would have been an interesting story," Sullivan told Brian Stelter in this week's Reliable Sources podcast. "But I also thought it would be really fascinating to go to a small paper."

Sullivan ended up spending time with the top editor of the Opelika-Auburn News, Troy Turner, and she went on a reporting trip with one of the paper's reporters, Kara Coleman. The newspaper is staffed by 11 people and has an estimated circulation of 12,000, Sullivan said.

"I thought it would be a good lens into the whole situation and it did turn out to be fascinating," Sullivan told Stelter. She wrote about her trip to Alabama in a recent column for her own newspaper. The Washington Post column was published on December 3 under the headline, "A small-town Alabama newspaper takes a stand on Roy Moore. A very careful one."

"Careful" because editorials like the ones printed on the front pages of Alabama Media Group's newspapers would not have worked for a small-town paper like the Opelika-Auburn News. Turner had to tread carefully.

"I would have bullet holes in my window," Turner told Sullivan. The paper ended up publishing an editorial that called for Moore to drop out of the race. There were no bullet holes in Turner's window, but there were "some ticked-off readers," Sullivan wrote in her column.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

The December 12 special election between Moore and Jones has made major headlines in recent weeks, especially in light of the Washington Post's investigation into the accounts of women who accused Moore of pursuing sexual relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Since then, a number of Republicans and Democrats have called for Moore to drop out of the race. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has reiterated his call for Moore to step aside, while President Donald Trump has maintained his endorsement of Moore.

Sullivan said Coleman, the reporter, was "perfectly impartial" in how she covered the embattled Moore, even though Coleman came from the same town as the candidate and worked with one of his sons as a lifeguard. The community is tight, to say the least.

"They're very connected to their audiences," Sullivan told Stelter. "The people I spoke to at [the Opelika-Auburn News] attend church with their readers. They're going to the grocery store... It's very -- as Troy Turner said to me -- it's very close-knit, which is part of the reason they really didn't want to take... an endorsement stand for Doug Jones."

Moore has denied the allegations published in the Post and his supporters have slammed the report. But Sullivan said her connection to the Washington Post did not cause a problem during her visit in Alabama.

"People definitely recognized why I was there and they sort of, you know, they got it," Sullivan said. "They nodded. But I didn't feel like I was about to be run out of town on a rail or anything like that. And some people definitely appreciated the reporting."

Sullivan added that those she met in Alabama didn't entirely seize on what some have considered Moore's run against the media.

"It's there, but you know, on the reporting trip that I was on, I didn't hear too much of it," she said. She did state, though, that the Opelika-Auburn News' Facebook page included some "really strong anti-media and anti-liberal sentiments" from readers, but cautioned that "you don't want to paint everybody with the same brush."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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