If you didn’t know better, you would have thought George F. Will was a run-of-the-mill liberal when he scolded Senate Republicans this week for their refusal to consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee and Merrick Garland in particular. But Will is well-established and world famous, so it’s doubtful many readers were unaware of his generally conservative politics.
That may not be true, however, for every opinion columnist we publish, and we occasionally hear from readers who think that we should do more to identify where given writers stand on the liberal-to-conservative continuum.
That’s a reasonable thought but not as simple an option as it might first appear. For one thing, columnist space is at a premium and we frequently must edit columnists to fit them into our available print space. We run their columns in full on our Web page, but if we added three or four lines describing their political backgrounds in print, those are three or four lines of their reasoning that print readers would lose.
Even more pertinent, though, is the difficult ambiguity inherent in any short description of a columnist. Readers of Kathleen Parker, for instance, know that she at times can be harshly critical of the Republican Party and at other times full of praise for a particular Republican leader or idea. Do we call her conservative, liberal or middle of the road? If we describe her as “a columnist for The Washington Post whose work has appeared in such other publications as Time, Cosmopolitan, The Weekly Standard and Fortune Small Business magazines,” does that really help?
It can be a little clearer in cases like those of Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for George W. Bush (and, by the way, Wheaton College graduate and fellow), or Donna Brazile, a former Democratic political adviser, but such clear markers are rare and, for that matter, can even serve to prejudice a reader’s assessment of an individual’s views. So, we prefer to let you do the labeling. After you read a Kathleen Parker column, or several, you will know how her views compare to yours, and whatever your general perspective, we hope you find her thoughts engaging, if not inspiring or persuasive. Ditto with all our other syndicated columnists.
That said, we handle guest columnists differently, always providing at least some description of their background relevant to the topic they are writing about. This is because our guest views are intended to provide reflections on state, regional or local topics from individuals with a particular expertise or affiliation with the subject. So, it’s important for you to know that background in assessing the credibility of the writer.
In all cases, we aim to present ideas that over time run the gamut of political and social thought, and our columnists’ ideas generally speak for themselves insofar as political leanings go. George Will may surprise you now and then with a tongue-lashing of the GOP, but, like all our columnists, he isn’t shy about letting you know where he stands on the issues of the day, and we’re happy to let you decide what label to put on his perspectives.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.