Sunday, May 06, 2007

N&O public editor asks a question

N&O public editor Ted Vaden’s column appears every Sunday on the N&O’s op-ed page, opposite the editorial page.

Today Vaden asks: “Is [the op-ed] page tilting left or right?”

Just so you’re not left hanging in suspense, Vaden, a career employee of the liberal/leftist N&O, concludes there’s “not much” wrong with his employer’s op-ed page.

Here’s some of what Vaden says:

Does the page lean liberal or conservative? That's in the eye of the beholder. At the request of one reader, I've looked back at the columns over a six-month period to see whether the numbers skew one way or the other.

Here's the count of the most frequent columnists over the period from October 2006 to March 2007: George Will, 45; Rick Martinez, 38; David Broder, 24; Ellen Goodman, 24; Charles Krauthammer, 22; Thomas Friedman, 16; Paul Krugman, 12; Bob Herbert, 12; Richard Reeves, 9; Gwynne Dyer, 9, David Brooks 7.

The reader, Charlie Board, perceives that lineup as overwhelmingly "right wing or neocon." In that camp, he places Will, Martinez, Broder, Krauthammer, Friedman and Brooks (total 152 columns). To the left, he puts Krugman, Goodman, Reeves, Herbert and Dyer (66 columns).

We could debate the ideological spectrum all day, but I'd place Broder and Friedman more to the left of center than right (Vaden's got that right), which changes the count to 112 conservative, 106 liberal -- a virtual tie.
Some of you may be wondering who Rick Martinez is.

Martinez writes on local and state issues. His column appears only in the N&O. He’s described by the op-ed page editor as in certain respects a “counterweight” to the N&O’s liberal news columnists whose columns appear, appropriately enough, right beside the paper’s liberal/leftist news columns.

If the N&O had, as it should, reasonable political and ideological balance among its news columnists, Martinez’s columns would appear alongside the news columns.

So I’m subtracting the non-syndicated Martinez’s 38 columns from Vaden’s count of the other columnists who are all nationally syndicated. Leveling the playing field that way makes the count 106 liberal to 74 conservative.

Vaden goes on to say:
It's a fatuous exercise, trying to pigeonhole columnists politically and to gauge the page accordingly. Editors at The N&O are not keeping count, but they told me they would expect the syndicated columnists to skew slightly right, for several reasons. One, to balance the other articles, editorials and cartoons on the op-ed and editorial page. Another is that the stable of liberal columnists has been depleted with the losses of Molly Ivins, dead of breast cancer, and William Raspberry, retired.
This paragraph is worth examining.

Why does Vaden say it’s a fatuous exercise to pigeonhole columnists politically and gauge an op-ed page accordingly after he just did that?

As for the editors’ expectation the number of syndicated columns the N&O published during the October ’06 to March ’07 period skewed right, we’ve seen using Vaden’s own categorizations that the skew was 106 liberal to 74 conservative.

About those cartoons on the op-ed page: on any given day it’s not unusual to find three or four of them there. Invariably their skew is liberal or left, some of them so far left and harsh in their characterization of America that they easily fit within the ideological frame of a government sponsored Iranian or Syrian newspaper.

You rarely see a political cartoon on the N&O’s op-ed page with a conservative skew or extolling America.

The N&O’s op-ed page also carries the leftist Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury political comic strip.

I’d be surprised if in the October to March period, the combined Doonesburys and cartoons with liberal/leftist skews on the N&O’s op-ed page didn’t exceed 500.

I’d also be surprised if during that same period the N&O's op-ed page contained even 100 cartoons with a conservative skew.

Vaden tells faithful N&O readers:
Allen Torrey, op-ed editor, said his focus is not on ideology, but on ideas and issues. "I'd be very disappointed if anyone could say that I have some kind of ideological bias in picking pieces," he said. "What I'm looking for are interesting pieces that address important and timely issues from a variety of perspectives, with a leavening of the light and offbeat occasionally."
Given the op-ed pages that Vaden and Torrey view every day, can anyone explain why Vaden would seriously ask whether the page tilts left or right?

And can anyone explain why Torrey would say he’d be “very disappointed if anyone could say that I have some kind of ideological bias in picking pieces?”


Anonymous said...

Well, the communists knew that whoever got to choose the language and the meaning of words would always win the debate.

I guess Vaden and the other folks the local Pravda have relearned the lesson.

Good work in removing the non-syndicated local (as I recall) Pope Center guy, but even better finding the money quote about 'choosing for issues.'

I seem to recall a big local issue that was neither conservative nor liberal that didn't get much press play in the N&O, even while it was running like crazy in out of town papers.

So add not only 'incredibly liberally biased' to the charges, but Hoax/CYA as well.


scott said...

All newspaper reporters and editors feel they are fair and balanced. They do so because they are so inclined to tilt left (over 90% vote Democrat) that they can't see the bias for the trees. They actually believe their overwhelming liberalism puts them right in the middle.

Anyone who classifies David Broder and Thomas Friedman as right wing, as "reader Charlie Board" apparently did, can't be taken seriously. At least Vaden was willing to put them in the right category.

There are 3 well-known conservative leaning editorial pages among daily newspapers in the US -- The Wall Street Journal, the NY Post, and the Washington Times -- and probably a few other local papers of which I am not familiar. The vast majority lean liberal, many extremely liberal.

I've never read the N & O other than to follow the Nifong Scandal case in blogs such as this one, DIW, and LS, but if that body of work, taken as a whole, is any indication, the N & O is deluding themselves in thinking they aren't in the liberal camp. They totally give themselves away by doing what liberal newspapers elsewhere do -- putting Doonesbury on the editorial page. It's a comic strip, heavily ladened with liberal bias. No newspaper that wants to be evaluated as "fair and balanced" would consider putting it in the editorial pages.

Vaden has done here what all public editors do -- he kisses the ass that feeds him.

Anonymous said...

The whine of "liberal bias" is just as intelligent as the whine of "secret racism."