Less than a month ago, the historically conservative editorial board of the Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
It was the first time in its 126 years that the newspaper backed a Democrat over a Republican for the country’s highest office.
The editorial said the GOP candidate, businessman Donald Trump, was “not conservative” and “not qualified” and that his insults toward women were evidence of his “deep character flaws.”
And that was weeks before a 2005 recording surfaced of Trump bragging that, because of his celebrity, he could “grab” women “by the p—y.” The leaked tape prompted a journalist, former pageant contestants and strangers across the country to step forward with claims that Trump had sexually assaulted or harassed them in the past.
Since the recording was published by The Washington Post and the accusations verbalized, scores of Republicans — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — have distanced themselves from their party’s nominee. But it was the editorial boards of newspapers, many of them historically right-leaning like the Republic, that first denounced Trump’s presidential candidacy.
None of those declarations seemed to anger readers more than the Republic’s. Within hours of publication, on Sept. 27, the newspaper’s Facebook link to the editorial was flooded with outraged comments, threats to cancel subscriptions and proclamations of perceived betrayal.
In the weeks since, that resentment morphed into something more sinister. Reporters, editors and even those who travel door to door to sell newspaper subscriptions were hit with screams and vitriol.
There were even death threats.
Some left the newsroom without words, wrote the Republic’s president and publisher Mi-Ai Parrish in an emotional column published Sunday:
As someone who has spent a career in the business of words, it’s unusual to find myself speechless.
Yet, there I was, a little more than two weeks ago.
What is the correct response, really, to this?
YOU’RE DEAD. WATCH YOUR BACK.
WE WILL BURN YOU DOWN.
YOU SHOULD BE PUT IN FRONT OF A FIRING SQUAD AS A TRAITOR.
Parrish, who worked in Kansas City, Mo., and Boise, Idaho, before joining the Republic last year, explained in the column that this election put the board in a trying position. After a year of columns and editorials criticizing Trump’s campaign, they had to ask themselves: Should we endorse no one, or, for the first time in history, go with the Democrat?
We made our choice soberly. We knew it would be unpopular with many people. We knew that, although we had clearly stated our objections to Trump, it would be a big deal for a conservative editorial board in a conservative state to break ranks from the party.
We chose patriotism over party. We endorsed the Democrat.
Then came the threats against the businesswoman and her staff. After weeks of pondering how to respond to such hatred — levied against, of all things, free speech — Parrish finally penned the passionate column published Sunday.
In it, she first addressed those who rang the office with ominous threats, such as an anonymous caller who threatened that because of the Clinton endorsement, more reporters would be blown up — more, because 40 years ago, a Republic investigative reporter named Don Bolles was assassinated by a car bomb.
To that person, Parrish wrote, “I give you Kimberly.”
“She is the young woman who answered the phone when you called. She sat in my office and calmly told three Phoenix police detectives what you had said. She told them that later, she walked to church and prayed for you. Prayed for patience, for forgiveness. Kimberly knows free speech requires compassion.”
To those who accused the Republic of biased election reporting in its news pages because of the opinion of its editorial board — an entity independent of the newsroom — Parrish introduced Nicole, the publication’s news editor.
After your threats, Nicole put on her press badge and walked with her reporters and photographers into the latest Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz. She stood as Trump encouraged his followers to heckle and boo and bully journalists. Then she came back to the newsroom to ensure our coverage was fair. Nicole knows free speech requires an open debate.
Parrish continued, presenting Phil, the editorial page editor who is a “lifelong Republican, a conservative and a patriot” who was one of the first to speak out against Trump. “Phil understands that free speech sometimes requires bravery,” Parrish wrote.
She reminded readers that the young people who sell subscriptions door to door, who have been spit on and threatened, are trying to pay their way through school. They were too afraid to give Parrish their first names, for fear of retribution.
She invoked Dennis, a different investigative reporter who first revealed the “despicable mistreatment of our veterans at the VA hospital.”
“Dennis knows that free speech is sometimes the only way to hold the powerful accountable,” Parrish wrote.
She named the wife of longtime publisher Gene Pulliam, Nina, who sat at the bedside of reporter Don Bolles after the car bomb, weeping at his hospital bed for 12 days before he died. “The Pulliams understood that free speech, and a free press, come at a cost,” Parrish wrote.
Lastly, she got personal.
Parrish talked of Jobe Couch, the Alabama professor and Army cultural attache, she wrote, who sponsored her Korean mother and aunts when they landed in the United States after World War II, and her pastor grandfather, who was tortured and imprisoned for being a Christian.
Those men, she wrote, understand the importance of America’s melting pot and the gift of freedom of religion.
Parrish closed with this:
Don Bolles and Nina Pulliam are gone now, and Uncle Jobe is, too.
But the journalists I introduced you to here walk into the newsroom every day to do their jobs.
When they do, they pass by an inscription that fills an entire wall, floor to ceiling. It is 45 words long. It is an idea that is in my thoughts a lot these days.
It is the First Amendment.
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