Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The personal and the political, or, Everyone is entitled to my opinion

Seeing as how my main occupation is now finding employment, this may be a dangerous thing to write. On the other hand, a simple web search will show the curious what I've written and opined about anyway.

I have been an opinion writer for most of my professional career. At the Grant County Herald Independent, my first post-college employer, I wrote unsigned editorials representing the editorial view of The Newspaper. At the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen and then the Tri-County Press, the newspaper I half-owned, I wrote signed columns. When I got to Marketplace, even though previous editors had chosen to usually not take opinionated stances, I decided as editor to start, in part because, based on brief research of the area's media, no one else was. To quote the title of one of the books of NBC-TV's and ABC-TV's David Brinkley, I decided that everyone is entitled to my opinion.

I didn't discover this until I started Marketplace of Ideas, but as it happened the philosophy of the Wall Street Journal editorial page fit my opinion worldview perfectly, as written by the Journal's William H. Grimes in 1951:

On our editorial page, we make no pretense of walking down the middle of the road. Our comments and interpretations are made from a definite point of view.

It was, I believe, Robert Bartley, the long-time Wall Street Journal editorial page editor, who wrote that his opinion page (staffed separately from the news side) was designed to expound upon one particular set of principles, not do what most newspapers do and express a mishmash of opinions. Most daily newspapers of size that take opinionmongering seriously have an editorial board that decides what the newspaper's position will be on the issue of the day. The result of that kind of approach is that most newspapers with editorial boards reflect positions that are all over the place based on whether yea or nay got a majority vote. (Note that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sunday endorsed Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Milwaukee County executive candidate Chris Abele, who are pretty politically opposite.)

I prefer the consistent-philosophy approach because, for one thing, not all opinions are valid. If you think the Packers should fire Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, to quote John Mellencamp, your opinion means nothin'. To quote U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts, and if your opinion is based on faulty facts (not to mention reasoning), your opinion will be similarly faulty. It is impossible for humans to be perfectly consistent, but it is better to have the needle pointing more toward Consistent than toward Hypocrite.

Everyone who knows me (including my wife, who has had to put up with my mostly unsolicited opinions for the more than 20 years she's known me) knows how opinionated I am, or can be. (Runs in the family; in my case, though, I like to think my opinions are based on something more than just belief.) Truth be told, though, I pride myself on my ability to not express unsolicited opinions, even when someone expresses an opinion with which I vociferously disagree. The phrase "the personal is political" was not created by someone on the right side of the political spectrum. Regardless of how one feels about one particular political issue, we all have to get along, even with those with whom you disagree.

One of the more negative trends of our culture is the trend of people of like political beliefs viewing media that feeds their points of view instead of challenging their points of view. That is one reason why I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Belling (other than in Belling's case the fact that WISN radio's signal doesn't go very far north), et al, or watch Fox News. And that is (other than shameless self-promotion) why I always accepted discussion/debate/battle royal invitations for Wisconsin Public Radio, WTMJ-TV's "Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes," Jo Egelhoff's former show on WHBY in Appleton, or wherever else. I've always believed one gets better at opinionmongering by having one's views challenged and honed in the marketplace of ideas. My views have shifted from conservative toward libertarian over the years anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you've launched your own site. I disagreed with most everything you wrote at your old gig, but respected your writerly skill in advancing those opinions. And now you've said something--surprise!--that I entirely agree with: That too many people exclusively read, watch and listen to media that reinforce their existing opinions. Good luck with your blog.