A newspaper company financed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) is facing scrutiny after playing a role in a wide-reaching series of Clinton endorsements, which was handed down by local newspapers across the country.
A New York Times report published on Monday highlighted the backlash that many newspapers are facing after opposing Donald Trump’s presidential bid. The story honed in on one publication based in Oklahoma, whose editorial board took cues from their corporate parent company.
Influenced by the RSA-owned Community Newspaper Holdings Incorporated (CNHI), the paper issued a Clinton endorsement.
Montgomery-based CNHI owns publications that reach into over 130 communities in over 23 states. According to the Times, the company made it clear to all their publications that the Republican candidate did not have their blessing.
“It was our decision at the corporate level, which of course was made known to all of our papers, that Donald Trump did not meet our company and journalism values, particularly as they related to the First Amendment,” Bill Ketter, CNHI’s vice president for news, told the New York Times.
When asked if local editorial boards had the freedom to endorse Trump outside of the wishes of the parent company, Ketter said that they would have been “disappointed” if their papers didn’t abide by the “principles and standards” made clear by CNHI.
The irony is that many of the communities served by the company pulled heavily for Trump in the general election. CNHI’s Alabama-based papers includes the Cullman Times, which endorsed Clinton. Meanwhile, over 87 percent of Cullman County voters cast a ballot for the GOP candidate in November.
The media company has had deep-rooted ties to the Retirement Systems of Alabama since the 1980’s, when the pension management agency first invested in the company. Now, RSA has invested at least $627 million- mostly from their teachers retirement fund- in the company.
RSA CEO David Bronner has previously noted the influence that RSA has over the newspapers. During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October of 2015, he touted the reach of RSA-owned media.
“We put [ads] on our TV stations from Hawaii to Arizona, to California, to Florida. You name ’em, they’ve been there,” he said.
“They’re seeing ads in our hundred newspapers that go from Massachusetts to Texas,” he added. “They see ads every night on TV. If your sons or daughters go to Hawaii today, they’ll see ads in Hawaii. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer of Alabama a nickel, and we make a lot of money in the TV business.”
At the same meeting, Bronner also postured himself as an outspoken critic of Trump’s presidential bid.
“I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything,” he said. “I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”