A friend of this blog, columnist Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News, has quietly raised an important issue over at the paper's editorial page blog. By the way, in this photo we have a rare glimpse of Dreher being on the left and Garry Wills on the right. (cue: rim shot)
That's a joke, you see. Dreher is well-known as a "conservative" Catholic and Wills used to be known as a "conservative" Catholic, only now he is a "progressive" Catholic, or some other word to that effect. We could also talk about whether Dreher is a "conservative" journalist and Wills a "liberal" journalist, or whether Wills is a "journalist" or a "scholar," for that matter. Or are these guys "public intellectuals," or something? What do you think David Brooks would say?
Oh well, whatever, never mind. Here is what Dreher posted. Be careful, this is a blog within a blog thing:
A reader, presumably a conservative, sends this to me:
Awhile back, y'all were discussing on the blog how liberal-leaning the Letters to the Editors and those who write into the blog seem to be, despite the overall conservative makeup of the area. I think I could offer up a reason for what you see: many of your conservative readers have simply tuned out the editorial section. I know that I did -- I'd read nearly every section of the paper, but I'd avoid the editorials, because I knew they wouldn't share my views or at least present balanced arguments against my views. I didn't start looking at it again until you came to the paper, and that was just because I knew you by reputation, and your beliefs.
I hear this all the time, conservatives saying they only read the paper for the news and sports. Yet I also hear liberals I meet talking about how &*%$# right-wing this editorial page is. This is all very interesting and mysterious to me. I wish the paper would do some research to find out how the editorial page is perceived by the community.
Or how about the rest of the newspaper? I bring this up because of some recent emails from GetReligion readers wanted to know how I was using terms such as "conservative," "traditional," "liberal" or "progressive." This is linked, in my mind, to Dreher's post for a simple reason. In large parts of Red America -- Dallas leaps to mind -- these kinds of words are just as likely to be used with religious and moral overtones as with political overtones. This is especially true in an era in which many of our hottest domestic political issues are directly linked to moral, cultural and, yes, religious issues. Try to cover abortion, Hollywood, sexuality, science education, welfare and race without getting caught up in religious themes and language.
So you can have people on the moral left and the political right. Think Andrew Sullivan. And there are a few people out there on the moral right who can honestly be put on the political left. The late Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania leaps to mind. And what do you do with Nat Hentoff?
For journalists this is a mindfield. I do not pretend to have any easy answers, except that reporters really should try to avoid simplistic "liberal" and "conservative" labels, unless people apply them to themselves. This is even more true for that albatross word -- "fundamentalist."
Yet, Dreher has a point. I often wonder how many newspaper executives -- in this focus-group crazy age -- have any hard data in their offices on how readers view their newspapers in terms of ideology. How many editors could describe the religious and cultural make-up of their regions? Their readers?