Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Reinhard

The first part of the newspaper I read is the Op/Ed section. When you understand that newspapers are not about news but about selling advertising space, you also understand that there are a lot of stories that are misreported, sometimes grossly. The use of innuendo (words like "accused," "suspected," etc) are tossed in to cover the paper's legal butt, but most of the people reading an article tend to equate "we think he might be guilty" to "he's guilty". 

As a liberal, I feel it is my duty to read not only the opinions that I agree with, but also with those I don't. As such, I feel I have a pretty good sense of who can back up an argument and who can't, as well as the general tone of the regular writers. I've even seen one writer, who used to be funny, become a voice of vengeance against the Iraqis after 9/11 (and you see the logical problems already here), only to participate in the war as an embedded reported and be the first well-known journalist to die in the conflict. Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.

There are, of course, people who are there solely to prop up their ideology regardless of whether the individual issue has merit or not. It happens on both sides, but there have been a handful of conservative columnists who constantly seem to be willing to sell their ethics and morals down the river on single issues because it's what their "side" stands for. Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry (who fired a columnist from The National Review because the columnist, son of William Buckley Jr., endorsed Obama), and David Reinhard, our very own conservative at the Oregonian. 

On Sunday, Reinhard announced that he was tired of all the liberal hate in Oregon and decided to hang it up after the election. He spoke of several anecdotes where people had sent him his column covered in feces, or removed W bumper stickers from friend's cars, or other outrages to his conservative values. I can definitely see how annoying that sort of thing would be, and it says quite a bit about the people who react in such a way rather than engaging in civil discussion.

I by no means want to excuse or condone the behavior that David mentions in his column, but I find it specious for him to state baldly that liberals are the ones at fault here. Not when Rush Limbaugh was putting Hillary Clinton's head on a chihuahua body twelve years ago on his short lived television show. Now that The Daily Show gives them some of their own medicine back (and in a fairly non-partisan way - Jon Stewart mocks pretty much everyone he thinks is an idiot, with the main target being the media even more than W), it's not fair? After eight years and an electorate that is in shock about the abuses of power brought by single-party rule, he can't understand that there is tremendous frustration out there and that people tend to kill the messenger? 

He shouldn't be in this business if that's the case. And apparently he won't be.

Understand, I want to see a conservative columnist in the Oregonian. I want to see an extremely good writer, one who can back up their claims with something more than cherry-picked data or repeating Party talking points. Someone who can see the other side clearly, but simply doesn't agree with it and can state in a clear and concise manner why. 

David Reinhard was not that columnist. Rich Lowry is not that columnist. Charles Krauthammer is not that columnist. 

Good columnists aren't apologists who try to cover their "side's" ass every time they make an enormous mistake, such as including the right-wing propaganda film "Obsession" that denigrated Muslims and Islam as an "advertising supplement" when what it really was was a choice to take advertising revenue at a time when newspapers are struggling. If that's the case, sell the whole thing to Loren Parks (famous Oregon conservative known for throwing a lot of money at our ballot initiative process that we tend to see right through). At least then we'd know the paper was a Party propaganda organ and ignore it. Of course, any time anyone disagrees with something in the paper they scream that the paper is clearly in the hands of liberals (or conservatives - many people have no sense of context or proportion, apparently), but there's Fox News and then there's everyone else.

The good columnists, to my eye, are people like David Brooks, George Will, Debra Saunders, aren't featured often enough in the Oregonian. In general, they call an argument on it's merit rather than it's affiliation, and that's great. I may not agree with either their argument or their conclusion, but at least they write rationally and make me consider the issue more closely. 

The bad columnists apologize, call people names, smirk, mock, dance around logic like it was a live downed power cable. Reinhard did all of these almost without fail. Of all of his columns (and I've read a great many of them over the years), very few were what I'd call "charitable". By contrast, his liberal counterpart at the paper, David Sarasohn, regularly wrote about non-political issues. When Sarasohn was writing about Darfur, Reinhard was defending torture at Gitmo. When Sarasohn took a political argument and satirized it, Reinhard was a blowhard with no sense of humor. 

Perhaps the biggest indication of this was the portrait of the columnist. For a very long time, Sarasohn's smiling face, laughing at a private joke perhaps, was a clear counterpoint to Reinhard's sourpuss. At some point, the paper made him smile for his picture, which he complained about in that column, but it's always looked disingenuous to me. 

So goodbye, Mr. Reinhard. You weren't very good at your job, apparently - Oregon hasn't been a battleground state in this election for an instant, and we still have the same proportion of Democrats to Republicans in our representation at the national level (we went rather hard to the left in 2006). I can't recall a single time you called out George Bush for erring in a period that saw a long laundry list of mistakes that will cost your children and mine for decades, but you sure tried to spin every one of them so that he looked like a genius. That's not political discourse, it's bad salesmanship. 

I am sorry that you were forced to endure some very nasty (and almost certainly anonymous in many cases - I'm talking to you, Mr. War Of Northern Aggression) mail, and if anyone went after your family - well, there's crazies on both sides of the aisle and I can't imagine that you think you're alone in this. I don't condone it in any way, and the people who would take their argument with you into your private life clearly have serious issues of their own that I hope they can resolve in more productive ways. 

You can complain about Oregon all you want, that we have a lot of very mean liberals. What we really have, though, aside from the requisite number of people off their meds, is a very large number of extremely frustrated people. Not where I live, of course. Where I live, *I'm* afraid to mention that I'm a liberal, although I strongly suspect that the earring I wear gives it away. Where I lived before, the shoe would have been on the other foot. That's why I don't put out political signs in my yard - not because I'm afraid, and not just because the homeowner association won't let me, but because I think that a sign that says "Obama/Biden 2008" is a slap in the face to both my neighbors and to reasoned discourse. If we want to discuss politics, then by all means let's discuss it. 

If all we're going to do is debunk Republican Party talking points, however, there's about as much discussion there as if I were to try to convert you to a different faith. At that point, reason is no longer a tool or an option if you believe what a single political party in this country tells you, any more than if you believe what a single church tells you. No one has the monopoly on truth or righteousness, no matter how much we seem to need to believe that, and it's the people who cling unswervingly to a fixed universe who seem to be the ones getting us into trouble all the time. 

Note, I'm not disparaging religion here. I'm disparaging the blind following of religion. A radical fundamentalist Christian or Jew putting out a missive like Obsession (which uses point data to paint an entire picture) is as blind as a Muslim suicide bomber blowing up a school bus. What I'm saying is that arguments need to be weighed individually and in context, not in the vacuum of ideology.

Mr. Reinhard, I wish you the best, and I hope that your experiences with the blind haven't in fact blinded you further. Many of us who opposed the Iraq War back in 2002 and who tried to be voices of sanity in a country that came pretty close to rounding up Muslim's after 9/11 (see the FBI's gross mishandling of the Brandon Mayfield case, which happened in Oregon, as just one well-publicized example) went through similar things, including being sent to jail for protesting our government's actions. Hate isn't limited to one political or religious ideology, my friend, and it's sad that you couldn't see that your own actions contributed to that environment. 

One tip though - stay away from writing or sales. You weren't very good at either. I would instead recommend choral music directing, and you were very good at preaching to the choir.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

I agree with you about Will, Saunders, and Brooks; I've always made a point of reading opinion from a wide spectrum. Will is particularly good. I miss Buckley.

Reinhardt was despicable though. I read him more faithfully than just about any other opinion writer over the years. As a game to see how many factual "errors" there were in each of his columns. Not stretching the truth. Not simply attacks on staw men. Outright fabrication that was easily checkable. There was rarely a column that didn't have at least one doozie. That he was an editor was a disgrace.

I'm sorry he was subject to hooiganism (if he ever really was), but he treated the truth similarly each week.

Good riddance.