Is your not-so-liberal 'liberal media' less liberal in the Obama era?


The big picture is a little murky, but Editor and Publisher says there's some anecdotal evidence of a growing surge of interest, at least in terms of syndication and hiring, in conservative newspaper op-ed columnists, a development that won't come as much surprise to those of us here in Philadelphia who've been exposed to the prose and poetry of John Yoo and Rick Santorum in recent months:
At Creators Syndicate, "We're seeing a surge in sales of conservative columnists and editorial cartoons," says National Sales Director Margo Sugrue. "Pretty much anyone who's critical of the Obama administration is in great demand." Creators' bullpen of right-leaning columnists includes Linda Chavez, Thomas Sowell and Ben Shapiro, as well as Bill O'Reilly. "With the glowing coverage in the media of the current administration, conservatives are eager to find an outlet that expresses their point of view," she asserts.
Personally, I think the whole 20th Century concept of the newspaper op-ed page -- the vision-impaired tunnel through which some of these decisions are still being made -- clearly needs to be massively re-thought. Why continue to treat it like two stone tablets, one chiseled on the left and one chiseled on the right, when we have the technology for a running dialogue that includes both strong voices and rank-and-file readers, running the whole spectrum of ideas and ideology, mainly from the local community (which is yet another problem that I have with Berkeley's Yoo and Santorum of Leesburg, Va....but I digress.)
So there's definitely can and should be a prominent role for conservatives in that new world. But this knee-jerk notion that because the president is a Democrat that "pretty much anyone who's critical of the Obama administration is in great demand" is at the core of what is really killing journalism -- newspaper editors who are much more obsessed with being "balanced" than with being truly provocative or good.
For one thing, do you remember all the editors who rushed out to hire liberal op-columnists during the highly conservative regime of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and a right-wing dominated Congress? Me neither. (In fact, for a humorous exercise, change the quote to recall the 2000s success of "left-leaning columnists Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn, Jim Hightower and of course Michael Moore"....heh, indeedy.) Frankly, it plays out this way because a) too many editors feel great guilt about the bland, upscale-suburban center-left views of most reporters (pro-choice and pro-recycling is about as radical as that gets) and b) those same editors are way too easily bullied by conservative criticism and think they can prove their "fair and balanced" bona fides by kowtowing to the right and insulting the left.

Call me crazy, but shouldn't the goal of hiring op-ed columnists simply to be find great writers (preferably local for papers that aren't national like the Post or the New York Times) who make you think. I'm pretty sure that casting that wide net would pull in conservatives as well as liberals. The New York Times, in fact, with a false start or two, has done a fairly good job in getting David Brooks (whose conservative credentials are under review after his flirtation with Obama) and now Ross Douthat, who writes some weird stuff on sex but has been fairly readable on other topics; certainly you'll learn at least more from a typical Brooks column than from Maureen Dowd channeling the Beltway zeitgeist with her strained analogies, and have you noticed that some of the most pointed criticism of Obama has come from having a true liberal around in Paul Krugman? Here in Philly, Michael Smerconish -- who I profoundly disagree with on torture and a few other issues -- is at least a lifelong local guy who surprises and can be provocative -- but hey, it's a lot easier and less hassle (and cheaper, frankly) to get Linda Chavez to recycle whatever the oil-industry funded think tanks are gushing out this week.

But like I said, it's just a lot easier for editors and publishers to mindlessly try to big yellow line in the middle of the old worn-down highway than to search for a new route -- even when there's a 16-ton Mack truck barreling down the other direction.