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Who Killed the Great American Editorial?
Townhall.com ^ | January 25, 2014 | Paul Greenberg

Posted on 01/25/2014 7:06:00 AM PST by Kaslin

Wasn't there a time when the country had great newspapers with great editorials that regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others? Where did they all go?

Newspapers had character in those days of yore, whether good or bad. The reader could depend on it. And the editorials were a window into their soul. Those editorials might be loved or loathed, admired or despised, but they were read. Like the newspapers themselves.

No day could start properly without at least a glance at the editorial page. Sensational or thoughtful, brief or discursive, each editorial might have a style of its own, yet they were all in keeping with the newspaper's.

It was part of an American tradition going back to Ben Franklin, John Peter Zenger and the colonial pamphleteers -- whether they were free spirits or unthinking subjects and agents of the Crown. That tradition gained momentum and power with the magnificent fulminators or just genteel reformers of the 19th century.

America once abounded in great or at least fascinating editorial pages. Particularly in these latitudes, back when the South was still the great seedbed of 20th century American literature and Mark Twain's spirit yet lived.

Those editorials might appear under the newspaper's dignified masthead, but there was no mistaking who had written them, even if the editorials went unsigned. Their prose was their signature. Whether the writer was a courageous Ralph McGill in the old Atlanta Constitution, the reliably irreverent Richard Aregood plying his trade either in Philly or Newark at the time, or both Grover C. Halls, senior and junior, at the Montgomery Advertiser in ever rambunctious Alabama.

Each had his imitators and epigones -- who in turn made their eccentricities part of their newspaper's personality. Here in Arkansas, whether he was being lauded or despised, Harry Ashmore became the voice and lightning rod of the old Arkansas Gazette in its finest hour -- the Little Rock Crisis of 1957, whose echoes still resound in this state. To its everlasting credit, the Gazette decided to speak out for the law of the land and the brotherhood of man at that juncture, not the most popular of positions back then.

Yes, there was a time when editorials said something, however debatable or just plain wrong, and said it well. Think of the late great James Jackson Kilpatrick in Richmond, my own favorite seg before he saw the light and repented of his ways, or H. L. Mencken demonstrating his verbal pyrotechnics in Baltimore while all stood back in awe.

Those were the days when every community large or small seemed to have its own, unique editor -- like the father and publisher in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," who knew every nook and cranny of little Grover's Corners, and felt every typographical error like a stab. His credo might have come from the stage directions for that play: "No curtain. No scenery."

The village editor, whatever his peculiarities, was a fixture of American society, like the village idiot. The editor played the dual roles of mentor and agitator, watchman and gadfly, philosopher and jester -- always on the lookout for a danger to spot or a lesson to draw. William Allen White of the old Emporia Gazette was the real-life personification of those multiple, ever demanding roles in a small town. "What's the matter with Kansas?" he asked in the headline of one of his many editorials that drew national attention, and deserved to. There were giants in the earth in those days, even if their towns and newspapers were scarcely gigantic. You can't hide quality, at least not on Kansas' wide-open plains.

But look around at American newspapers today and try to name a great editorial writer. Instead of a myriad of talents to choose from, the bored reader -- if he reads the editorials at all -- is likely to find himself adrift in a sea of blah. Courage seems in short supply these days on too many American editorial pages. Even its poor relation, eccentricity, grows rare. And eccentricity was once a defining part of the Southern character. What a loss it'll be when it disappears entirely, and we're all reduced to the colorless and predictable.

Who killed the great American editorial? A better way to frame the question might be to ask what killed the great American editorial. For the forces responsible for its demise are as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves. Lord save us from the On the One Hand This and On the Other Hand That school of denatured editorial writing. They're opinion pieces without the opinion. And you can spot their sense of calculation at 10 paces.

The all too typical modern editorial seems to have no discernible purpose except to avoid offending. If it does happen to express an opinion, it's only to reflect the current party line or socio-economic fashion. All the life has been drained out of it by the stultifying editorial conference, an institution which seems designed to hide any trace of an original or provocative idea. Once all those around the conference table have had their say, they wind up canceling each other out. Like a zero-sum equation. This is called consensus. And its end product is idea-free.

If somehow an original idea is conceived in such an unlikely atmosphere, rest assured it'll be stillborn. Lest it depart from the well-beaten path. The death certificate for the great American editorial might list Cause of Death as terminal neutrality. It's a common affliction as one great newspaper after another goes the way of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans or the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, either diluted beyond recognition or dead beyond resurrection. Saddest of all are those newspapers that have become only a pale shadow of their old, once vibrant selves -- dead but not yet buried.

The test of intellectual integrity in a newspaper's editorials is not whether they still hew to some political line it embraced a decade ago, or a year ago, or just a minute before, but whether the editorial column is alive and awake now, and therefore continually open to the evidence before its eyes, to the actual effect of whatever it is advocating, opposing or just appraising at the moment.

That is why George Orwell remains a model for any honest writer of opinion. Here is an Englishman who spouted all the conventional socialist pieties and prejudices and genuine passions. He not only expressed all that in the written word, in the abstract, but went off to fight side by side with the Communists in the Spanish Civil War of the '30s. Just as any good socialist in the Popular Front would. He would be wounded in that war and his cause betrayed. He was lucky to get out of Spain one step ahead of the Party's secret police, who had already jailed his comrades and were searching for him. For he had been recognized as the subversive he was, that is, a man with a mind and eyes and conscience of his own. And the honesty to express them. No totalitarian society can abide that kind of thought criminal.

Through it all Orwell, né Eric Blair, remained English to the core, an embodiment of the English character the world had come to know and respect, and now much misses. ("The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a lifeboat, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive." -- George Orwell, 1936) He would go on to write "Animal Farm" and "1984" and leave us a treasury of essays, book reviews and columns in English prose clear as a window pane. They still live and instruct. Reading them, you feel as if you were talking to a real person, clear-eyed and honest but, above all else, decent.

The American editorial died when its writers grew distant and professional, removed from their roots, and became only mouthpieces for a political line. Any examination of the American editorial's corpus delecti would reveal that it was bored to death, perhaps because its writer was. Much too bored to think an idea through. Ideas can be dangerous when probed. We might have to discard them or, even more trouble, follow where they lead.

Who killed the great American editorial? The fault, fellow editorial writers, lies not in our stars or in our times, but in ourselves.


TOPICS: Editorial
KEYWORDS: editorials; essays; journalism; newspapers

1 posted on 01/25/2014 7:06:00 AM PST by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

You can’t make a purse out of a sow’s ear and you can’t take a food or theater critic and make him a smart political polemicist. Especially when neither seemed all that good at their original jobs.


2 posted on 01/25/2014 7:10:55 AM PST by miss marmelstein (Richard Lives Yet!)
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To: Kaslin
Wasn't there a time when the country had great newspapers with great editorials that regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others? Where did they all go?

They went to the front page. And then, along with the dinosaur media, into the dustbin.

3 posted on 01/25/2014 7:12:01 AM PST by Alex Murphy ("the defacto Leader of the FR Calvinist Protestant Brigades")
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To: Kaslin

Because of their tremendous circulation, the editors thought that people actually CARED about their editorials.

What the internet has proved is that they were mostly buying the paper for the funnies, the entertainment, the stock market prices and the ball scores. With those things now on-line, no one needs the editorials, and they never did.


4 posted on 01/25/2014 7:13:51 AM PST by babble-on
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To: babble-on

Some do, some don’t. *shrug*


5 posted on 01/25/2014 7:16:19 AM PST by Kaslin (He needed the ignorant to reelect him, and he got them. Now we all have to pay the consequenses)
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To: Kaslin
"Roy! Take an editorial: 'The only way we'll ever have law and order in the west is to take out all the (add profession here) and shoot 'em down like dogs."' --Henry Hull, "Jesse James"
6 posted on 01/25/2014 7:17:26 AM PST by onedoug
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To: Kaslin

I’ll tell ya who ... “news entertainment” and a gazillion blogs where anyone with a cpu toss around their opinion. That’s all there is in the news industry ... opinion. And when it’s all opinion then why should an editorial matter? Quite frankly, why should pundit’s opinions matter? (they shouldn’t).

News entertainment is manipulative, propagandist dreck. And it has not only killed news reporting, it (along with it’s lesser cousin the blog “news entertainment”) has killed the editorial.

All people do anymore is sit around and go “yeah, yeah, yeah!” about the opinions of others. There is no analysis, there is no research, there is just ... yeah, dreck.

So why would anyone read an editorial when they can turn to “news entertainment” and be told what they want to hear whether or not it is true?


7 posted on 01/25/2014 7:18:06 AM PST by RIghtwardHo
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To: Kaslin

They were replace with stenographers writing and then reading white house script.


8 posted on 01/25/2014 7:19:09 AM PST by Mr. K (If you like your constitution, you can keep it...Period.)
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To: Kaslin

Editorial writers hav e been black mailed and coerced in submission. They also don’t want to end up like Breitbart or the dude who’s Mercedes was smoked by a drone.


9 posted on 01/25/2014 7:21:37 AM PST by Old Yeller
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To: Old Yeller

Check out Wes Pruden at the Washington Times.


10 posted on 01/25/2014 7:30:33 AM PST by Dalberg-Acton
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To: Alex Murphy
They went to the front page.

Absolutely true. I read so many news stories which are just aimed at pushing a position, persuading the reader, defending a political ideology. That's not what news stories are supposed to do. But it's the 21st century, and my front page isn't giving me facts -- it's telling me what to think.

Meanwhile, I recently saw a TV Editorial which basically said [paraphrasing]: "Obamacare could be a good thing ... or it could be a bad thing. Some people are going to like it ... and some people are going to dislike it."

Thanks so much Mr. Editor.

11 posted on 01/25/2014 7:37:58 AM PST by ClearCase_guy (Anti-Complacency League! Baby!)
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To: Kaslin

What’s a Newspaper?


12 posted on 01/25/2014 7:46:39 AM PST by justrepublican (Screaming like a "Vexatious requester" at a Wellstone memorial...........)
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To: Kaslin
Who Killed the Great American Editorial?

Why, the marxist control of the MSM. is there really any question????

13 posted on 01/25/2014 7:48:02 AM PST by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Kaslin

A friend and superb writer showed me a letter to the editor he’d written on concealed carry. The original was a marvel of compact, lucid and persuasive argument. The published letter made him sound like a lunatic. I was, at that time, selling articles to the paper and knew the editor of the editorial page. So, I asked him why they’d edited the original the way they did. In all seriousness he said, “The original was so well written, how else would the readers understand that the guy was an extremist nut case?”


14 posted on 01/25/2014 7:49:07 AM PST by Gen.Blather
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To: Kaslin

Because opinions are like, well, you know the rest.


15 posted on 01/25/2014 7:49:31 AM PST by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
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To: justrepublican
What’s a Newspaper?

inexpensive paper used to wrap fish or to line non-discriminating parrots cages....

16 posted on 01/25/2014 7:50:50 AM PST by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Gen.Blather

this is a lesson I learned early on. don’t even try to write a cogent argument in response to a leftist editorial.

they will rip you a new one with your own (severely edited)words....


17 posted on 01/25/2014 7:54:38 AM PST by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Kaslin; humblegunner

The internet killed the newspaper editorial with all its blogs.

Humblegunner is working on the rest.


18 posted on 01/25/2014 7:56:11 AM PST by Delta 21 (If you like your freedom, you can keep your freedom. Period.)
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To: Kaslin

Funny. All that writing and they conspicuously missed the root cause: Øbozo. Øbozo is the reason why they’ve gone so milquetoast. Editorials are there to castigate and cajole, to criticize and occasionally condemn. And there’s no shortage of topics to be outraged about. But every single one of them leads straight to Øbozo’s doorstep. And the very last thing that any of them dare to do is speak ill of the ØbaMessiah.

Instead they mindlessly intoned the idiotic “Bush’s fault!” long after the pull date and focused all their energy on the internecine warfare within the pubbie party.

Now they’ve got nothing....unless one of them grows a set and calls out the monster.


19 posted on 01/25/2014 8:04:34 AM PST by rockrr (Everything is different now...)
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To: Kaslin

I remember newspapers.


20 posted on 01/25/2014 8:16:15 AM PST by Jeff Chandler (Obamacare: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.)
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To: Kaslin

I was an avid reader of newspapers, sometimes reading two or three in a day. One Easter morning I scoured my newspaper for a reference to Easter. There was ONE, buried in an editorial article. I cancelled the paper and have stuck to the Internet since.


21 posted on 01/25/2014 8:20:37 AM PST by Jeff Chandler (Obamacare: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.)
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To: Kaslin

Journalism schools producing stilted AP-style writers whose textbooks were, literally, the Wash Post and NY Times.

They emulate what they read, albeit poorly.

The result is a roomful of left-wingers pushing Marxism to red states with (at the time) productive free-market economies.


22 posted on 01/25/2014 8:44:00 AM PST by relictele (Principiis obsta & Finem respice - Resist The Beginnings & Consider The End)
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To: Kaslin
"Who Killed the Great American Editorial?"

Might an answer worth exploring include a look into the so-called "progressive" infiltration and takeover of America's education bureaucracies, including those of the schools of journalism?

Consider that the newspapers of the founding period reflected great questions of liberty versus tyranny, of individual rights versus coercive government control. Newspapers for farmers in upstate New York included the collection of essays which came to be known as the 85 essays of THE FEDERALIST under the pseudonym of "Publius."

That collection came to be required by Mr. Jefferson's University of Virginia "as the text for its law school in its studies of 'the general principles of liberty and the rights of man.' 'The Federalist,' the Board minutes indicate, 'constitute 'an authority to which appeal is habitually made by all, and rarely declined or denied by any as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed, and of those who accepted the Constitution of the U. S, on questions as to its genuine meaning'" - Quoted in "Our Ageless Constitution," P. 225, from Thomas Jefferson's record of the Board meeting)

Is it possible that from the time when, in the late 1800's, the self-described "liberals" (now self-describing as "progressives") began to provide other interpretations of the "meaning" of the nation's Constitution, and as that "meaning" infiltrated the academia, that schools of law and journalism may have begun to produce the harvest which America is reaping today?

In the current vernacular, "just asking."

23 posted on 01/25/2014 8:44:12 AM PST by loveliberty2
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To: Kaslin

What need is there for an editorial when the “news” articles are opinion pieces now.


24 posted on 01/25/2014 9:04:44 AM PST by School of Rational Thought
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To: Kaslin

I know a bunch. Vast majority are pompous, preachy, biased, strangely ill-informed and unfamiliar with the principles of logic. To a man (and woman) they all vastly over-rate their own influence.


25 posted on 01/25/2014 9:11:11 AM PST by La Lydia
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To: Kaslin
Who killed the great American editorial?

Horace Mann and John Dewey.

Public schools killed American literacy.

26 posted on 01/25/2014 9:30:47 AM PST by Carry_Okie (Grovelnator Shwarzenkaiser: fasionable fascism one charade at a time.)
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To: Kaslin
Wasn't there a time when the country had great newspapers with great editorials that regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others? Where did they all go?

Newspapers had character in those days of yore, whether good or bad. The reader could depend on it. And the editorials were a window into their soul. Those editorials might be loved or loathed, admired or despised, but they were read. Like the newspapers themselves.

No day could start properly without at least a glance at the editorial page.

Not in my lifetime. Probably not in my parents' either.

27 posted on 01/25/2014 12:10:56 PM PST by x
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To: Vaquero
Who Killed the Great American Editorial?

 


 
Eerily familiar...
 
 

Party ownership of the print media
made it easy to manipulate public opinion,
and the film and radio carried the process further.


 



16. Ministry Of Truth

.......

The Ministry of Truth, Winston's place of work, contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below.

The Ministry of Truth concerned itself with Lies. Party ownership of the print media made it easy to manipulate public opinion, and the film and radio carried the process further.

The primary job of the Ministry of Truth was to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programmes, plays, novels - with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child's spelling-book to a Newspeak dictionary.

Winston worked in the RECORDS DEPARTMENT (a single branch of the Ministry of Truth) editing and writing for The Times. He dictated into a machine called a speakwrite. Winston would receive articles or news-items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, in Newspeak, rectify. If, for example, the Ministry of Plenty forecast a surplus, and in reality the result was grossly less, Winston's job was to change previous versions so the old version would agree with the new one. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs - to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance.

When his day's work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite towards him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece, and put on his spectacles. He dialed 'back numbers' on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of The Times, which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes' delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news-items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to rectify.

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages; to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and on the side wall, within easy reach of Winston's arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of The Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.

What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of The Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead.

In the cubicle next to him the little woman with sandy hair toiled day in day out, simply at tracking down and deleting from the Press the names of people who had been vaporized and were therefore considered never to have existed. And this hall, with its fifty workers or thereabouts, was only one-sub-section, a single cell, as it were, in the huge complexity of the Records Department. Beyond, above, below, were other swarms of workers engaged in an unimaginable multitude of jobs.

There were huge printing-shops and their sub editors, their typography experts, and their elaborately equipped studios for the faking of photographs. There was the tele-programmes section with its engineers, its producers and its teams of actors specially chosen for their skill in imitating voices; clerks whose job was simply to draw up lists of books and periodicals which were due for recall; vast repositories where the corrected documents were stored; and the hidden furnaces where the original copies were destroyed.

And somewhere or other, quite anonymous, there were the directing brains who co-ordinated the whole effort and laid down the lines of policy which made it necessary that this fragment of the past should be preserved, that one falsified, and the other rubbed out of existence.

 
 


28 posted on 01/26/2014 3:53:33 AM PST by Elsie (Heck is where people, who don't believe in Gosh, think they are not going...)
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To: Jeff Chandler
I remember newspapers.

Weren't they sold to LEFTISTs for PROFIT?

29 posted on 01/26/2014 3:55:11 AM PST by Elsie (Heck is where people, who don't believe in Gosh, think they are not going...)
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To: School of Rational Thought

AMEN!

Take a pen and circle all of the Might, Could, Maybe, Studies indicate, statements in your local paper.

Just SEE if there are ANY facts at ALL being presented!


30 posted on 01/26/2014 3:57:13 AM PST by Elsie (Heck is where people, who don't believe in Gosh, think they are not going...)
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To: La Lydia
To a man (and woman) they all vastly over-rate their own influence.

Leonard Pitts?

31 posted on 01/26/2014 3:57:55 AM PST by Elsie (Heck is where people, who don't believe in Gosh, think they are not going...)
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To: Elsie

1984 was 30 years ago. This could be MUCH WORSE.

Sad really.


32 posted on 01/26/2014 5:09:07 AM PST by Vaquero (ODon't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Elsie

Among a cast of thousands …


33 posted on 01/26/2014 6:56:08 AM PST by La Lydia
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To: Kaslin
Here in Arkansas, whether he was being lauded or despised, Harry Ashmore became the voice and lightning rod of the old Arkansas Gazette in its finest hour -- the Little Rock Crisis of 1957, whose echoes still resound in this state. To its everlasting credit, the Gazette decided to speak out for the law of the land and the brotherhood of man at that juncture, not the most popular of positions back then.

The Arkansas Gazette was willing to take on their own readers (racist totalitarian democrats) and the 'establishment' (control freak democrats like Bull Conner and George Wallace) at the same time.

Anyone think a paper today like the New York Times would take on their liberal readers and the liberal establishment in Washington at the same time? Never. They stand with the 'majority view' on both - and delude themselves into thinking they're mavericks. That's why newspapers are dying. It has nothing to do with the internet.

34 posted on 01/26/2014 7:05:17 AM PST by GOPJ (Liberals never let something as petty as being 100% wrong stop them - Blood of Tyrants)
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To: RIghtwardHo
The all too typical modern editorial seems to have no discernible purpose except to avoid offending. If it does happen to express an opinion, it's only to reflect the current party line or socio-economic fashion. All the life has been drained out of it by the stultifying editorial conference, an institution which seems designed to hide any trace of an original or provocative idea. Once all those around the conference table have had their say, they wind up canceling each other out. Like a zero-sum equation. This is called consensus. And its end product is idea-free.

This is going to sound sexist - and it might be - but part of the problem is changes newspapers underwent when women started having an active voice in editorial decisions. That 'consensus' thing that women love - that works well in many settings - doesn't work well with editorials. It's washes them out to nothing.

35 posted on 01/26/2014 7:13:52 AM PST by GOPJ (Liberals never let something as petty as being 100% wrong stop them - Blood of Tyrants)
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