HATE LITERATURE IN THE LOCAL DAILY
by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif
LOS ANGELES, July 4, 2005 -- Last Monday, my local newspaper ran a column by Mona Charen titled, "How can liberals so hate America?" Such is the currently acceptable level of hate literature in America, remarkable only for its being printed in a supposedly decent paper such as Copley's Daily Breeze.
The column, as we shall discuss, is one part irrelevancy and innuendo, one part distilled essence of Charen nastiness, and, it must be said, one part uncomfortable truth.
We therefore have before us a discussion that relates not only to the fact that the editors of the Daily Breeze chose to run this column, but how it's substance relates to our current liberal condition, that is to say, our status as a declining minority within the body politic.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist represented by Creators Syndicate and is reportedly featured in about 200 newspapers. The piece in question can be found at various places on the Internet, including creators.com or townhall.com.
The discerning mouse-clicker will notice something: The column's title featured on internet sites is different from the one the Daily Breeze chose to run. The original presumably is "Questioning Their Patriotism"; that is how it is presented on the Creators Syndicate web site as well as many others.
Newspaper folks understand that headlines are written by editors; after all, they have to make things fit. It's a little different in the current situation, though. The headline writer has changed the meaning by taking the liberal-hatred beyond even Charen's original intent.
In the column, Charen begins by referring to Sen. Richard Durbin, then by quoting Sen. Edward Kennedy and director Michael Moore, both of whom have been critical of American treatment of prisoners in the War on Terrorism. Charen writes:
These comments are not aberrational. A measure of anti-Americanism has come to infect the left worldwide, and American liberals not only partake, they are the most assiduous popularizers of America hatred this side of Al-Jazeera.
Careful readings of the column as printed in the Daily Breeze and as offered online show some significant differences. In the presumptive original version (now online), the part quoted above has an additional little zinger. Right after the remark that "hostility and suspicion of America are positively mainstream in liberal precincts," the online version adds, "the Democratic Party, the universities liberals control, and in many crucial areas of American cultural life."
The Breeze editors have managed not only to add an insulting headline, but also have decided to censor out an even more insulting remark, something that just wouldn't play well in the paper's backyard. For one thing, there are lots of Democratic Party members, university graduates and even liberals around here, and experience shows that very few of us hate America. Actually, we take it as a grave insult and evidence of the grossest kind of ignorance. To argue that hostility to our country is mainstream liberalism is to smear the hundred-million plus Americans who are loyal, patriotic American liberals.
Of course liberals don't subscribe to the idea that it is out of order to criticize national policy. We consider appropriate consideration of our policies to be the essence of patriotism. There is even some precedent for this point of view. Or, to put it another way, perhaps Mona Charen and her ilk have forgotten the text of the document we celebrate each July 4.
So much for Mona Charen for the moment. Let's consider the rest of the op ed page and then look at another local daily from across the harbor.
Joining Charen on that same Breeze page last week were Deroy Murdock and Tom Elias. Murdock's op ed, "Bombers doing far worse to Quran," is another defense of American actions. Elias, alone among that day's columnists, fails to attack liberal critics of American policies. His "Supreme Court sows medical marijuana confusion" is a libertarian argument about drug policy.
Considering the broad range of political views that are available to newspaper editors, it is noteworthy that the Breeze maintains such a generally conservative tone on its editorial pages. Looking at another day's contributions, one finds William F. Buckley, Jack Kemp, and, apparently for contrast, Paul Krugman. It is true that Krugman is a certified liberal, but it is also noteworthy that the Breeze rarely runs his columns. This one happens to be about the economic effects of Chinese imports, a subject of great interest for a port town.
The other two names are self-explanatory. Kemp is a regular feature in the Breeze. For a newspaper to feature his cultish supply side economic views is akin to hiring Tom Cruise as editor of the health section, but Kemp appears week after week.
By contrast, let's consider another local daily of medium circulation, the Long Beach Press Telegram, which serves the communities just over the Vincent Thomas Bridge on the other side of the bay. Picking one day last week, we find George Will, Paul Krugman, and Sacramento based political writer Dan Walters on its op ed page.
At the superficial level, we have roughly the same breakout of conservative to liberal. Walters' piece is critical of the largely-Democratic state legislature: "When Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Legislature is insular, ineffective and beholden to special interests, he's absolutely correct." Will is, well, Will; he's Mr. Conservative in life and on paper, as he defends the place of religion in American public places. Krugman's column is the very same that appeared in the Breeze.
Just like the Breeze, the Press-Telegram runs two conservatives and one moderate on this particular day. It sounds like it's equivalent, but actually it's all the difference in the world. Where Mona Charen is shrill and illogical, a perfect shill for the right wing noise machine, Will has enough intellectual and moral integrity to think for himself. He usually thinks conservatively, but at least he is interesting to read. Dan Walters has typically been an equal opportunity critic of Republicans and Democrats alike.
The other noteworthy point is that where the Breeze serves up a dreary menu of Kemp and Charen week after week with a little bit of Tom Elias tossed in, the Press Telegram offers a more balanced mix. Long Beach readers get to read the liberal Molly Ivins along side conservative Thomas Sowell. Ivins is hardly ever picked up on this side of the bay.
There is one other difference between the two editorial pages that really stands out. It's hard to put this delicately, but Kemp and Charen are just a lot less smart than Will and Sowell and Ivins. Of course there is the element of shilling vs intellectual integrity, but it is more than that. Kemp is probably the worst prose stylist I have ever tried to read in a newspaper columnist. His work is all but incomprehensible much of the time. Charen is so busy getting in the rhetorical digs that she neglects logic. For some reason, the editors of the Breeze either haven't figured this out or just don't care that much.
In summary, we have two local dailies, each of moderate circulation, each with a mixed readership that includes liberals and conservatives, business owners and union members. Although the two papers serve similar demographics, they make editorial choices that are distinctly different. I don't have a convenient explanation for the difference. Perhaps the conclusion is trivial, that readers of local papers put up with irritating editorial policies in order to get the local news, and editors can play with their readers' minds as they see fit.
To shift gears once again...
We still have that uncomfortable truth in Mona Charen's column to consider. As liberals, we know lots of people who fit into the insulting description above. They are the people who distrust our country to a point that sometimes seems positively paranoiac; they concentrate on the bad and ignore the good, even as they live the comfortable life. By their speech and their writings, they provide ammunition for the right-wing attack machine.
They are not, however, Sens. Durbin and Kennedy, nor are they the voters who gave Sen. John Kerry the Democratic nomination (nor, for that matter, the same liberals who voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger).
We all know a few of the people I have referred to as the "hard left." They despise capitalism and the corporate state, even though they tend to have a profound ignorance of economics. They confuse ideology with scientific principles, particularly when it comes to environmental questions. They find nothing right with our foreign policy, ever. And, they seem to scare a lot of conservatives silly.
The critical test for op-ed writers and newspaper editors alike is making the distinction between the hard left and the vast majority of liberals. It is a test that they flunk most of the time.
What is missing in so much conservative rhetoric is any distinction between the two, between the hard left and the standard, run-of-the-mill centrist liberals. It's curious that they miss the point so badly.
My estimate is that the hard left is less than five percent of all left-wingers combined, a twentieth part of everybody that Mona Charen and the Republican Party so blithely refer to as "liberals." I say this from long experience hanging around with Democrats and independents in the Midwest and on both coasts.
Even more to the point, the conservatives fail to understand that most centrist liberals largely ignore the hard left, but only because we don't see them as any kind of a threat. We see them as having essentially no political clout. We endure them because they supply a few votes that might turn a close election, not unlike the way the Republicans pander to their own unreconstructed segregationists. It may not be pretty, but it's real-life politics.
Meanwhile, the right-wing noise machine and its Mona Charen clones always manage to find some minority opinion to be outraged about, even though it hardly ever represents the views of the majority of Americans of the moderate center. I continue to wonder why the editors of the Daily Breeze allow their editorial pages to be so irritating, and yet so dull.