On Balance, Posthas Less

Recount of columnists tips the content scale to News

March 26, 2005

by David Kopel

Last week, my counterpart Jason Salzman counted the number of "liberal" and "conservative" columnists in the news and opinion sections of the Rocky Mountain News. He found that liberals had a slight edge, but that if you include the in-house daily editorials in the News, conservatives had a 3-2 edge. He suggested that the Newshire an additional liberal columnist. Using Salzman's methodology, I found that the Postis much more unbalanced than the News.

As Salzman did, I put all the columnists at the Postin either the liberal or conservative category - except that I relabeled the categories "left" and "right." My reason is that many leftists today are not liberal (that is, open-minded and tolerant). Likewise, many rightists today are not conservative (that is, cautious about changing things; George Bush's foreign policy aims for radical change, the opposite of conservatism).

So I counted the columnists in the Postand took into account how often a person writes. For example, a columnist who appears once a month would count as one-fourth of a weekly column. On the right side of the ledger at the Post, there's Dan Haley, Al Knight, David Harsanyi, Bob Ewegen, John Andrews and Peter Chronis. That's 63/4 conservative columns a week.

On the left side of the Post,there's Jim Spencer, Diane Carmen, Penelope Purdy, Julia Martinez, Gail Schoettler, Susan Thornton, Fred Brown, Ed Quillen, Susan Barnes-Gelt, Joanne Dittmer, Pius Kamau and Reggie Rivers and John Aloysius Farrell. That's 131/4 left-leaning columns per week - nearly double the number of right-leaning columns.

Every day, the Postproduces several in-house editorials. If we count the several editorials on various subjects as just a single "column," then the Post's 19 left-wing columns every week outnumber the right-wing columns by 3-1.

Obviously, the Salzman-Kopel methodology involves some simplifications.

It's not really true (as Salzman wrote last week) that all the Newseditorials are right-wing, nor are all the Posteditorials left-wing. For example, both papers endorsed the new proposed $3 billion state tax increase, and both papers endorsed Amendment 22's special restrictions on gun shows.

Conversely, both papers endorsed concealed-handgun licensing. And both papers endorsed Bush in 2004, although the Posteditorial board's repugnance at the endorsement was so clear that the endorsement might as well have been titled "George Bush's Only Virtue is His Decisiveness in Making Bad Decisions, but Our Publisher Thinks John Kerry is a Bum."

In sum, Salzman's methodology demonstrates that the columnist-editorial imbalance at the Post(3-1 left) is twice as bad as at the News(3-2 right).

The Post's imbalance gets even worse if you count local political cartoonists as columnists. Then, Ed Stein's nine weekly cartoons (six Denver Squares, plus three editorial cartoons) make the Newsslightly left-leaning. Mike Keefe's editorial cartoons bring the Postto a nearly 4-1 left-leaning imbalance in local columnist content.

In both papers, the pro-left imbalance becomes even greater if you also look at the business, sports and entertainment columnists. Al Lewis' business column for the Postalmost invariably leans left. To the extent that entertainment or sports columnists at either paper sometimes express policy opinions, those opinions are overwhelmingly leftist.

A good newspaper doesn't necessarily have to be balanced. The columnists-editorials at the Boulder Daily Cameraare mostly left, while those at the Colorado Springs Gazetteare almost exclusively right.

On the other hand, a paper that aspires to reflect its state (as the Newsand Postboth claim to do) should strive not only for racial-gender-sexual orientation diversity, but also for intellectual diversity. In that regard, the Posthas much further to go than the News.

Nevertheless, the Post'seditorial section is definitely improved. PostEditorial Page Editor Jonathan Wolman has redesigned the Sunday Perspective section, making room for new Colorado columnists by dropping many of the Sunday national columnists.

Listeners who are unhappy that KHOW's Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman slackened their pursuit of the Ward Churchill case, in order to cover the Michael Jackson trial, should turn to the Pirate Ballerina Web log, a single-subject blog that consolidates Churchill information from the local and national sources.

Pirate Ballerina even scooped the Post. At the request of the Post, one of Churchill's former wives, Annette Jaimes, wrote a four-page letter to the Postexplaining her point of view. Among other things, Jaimes accused Churchill of plagiarizing her work.

The Post, having solicited the letter from Jaimes, did nothing with it, but apparently someone leaked the letter to Pirate Ballerina, which printed the full text.

The week before last, dozens of papers around the country swallowed the bait set by anti-gun Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Lautenberg got The New York Times, and hence most of the rest of the national media, to follow his line about a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The report stated that about three dozen people in the FBI "Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File" had been allowed to legally buy firearms in the first half of 2004.

Although dozens of reporters and editorials wrote panicked articles about the FBI data, only Ann Imse of the Rocky Mountain News(March 9) actually asked the FBI about its file. According to the News, FBI spokesman Carl Schlaff "said there's no cause to deny someone a gun just because he or she is on the watch list. Some people are on the list simply because the FBI wants to interview them about someone else who may have a connection to terrorism. 'You're innocent until proven guilty,' he said."

Last week, John Temple's column about the health habits of journalists was accompanied by an olden-days photo ofNewsstaff at their very crowded desks. Among the journalists pictured was my father, Jerry Kopel, who was a Newscopy editor. He tells me that conditions at the Newswere not nearly as crowded as the photo implied; the photo just happened to have been taken on a day when the staff was crammed into a small space because they were packing up from their old building and preparing to move into a new building.


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