By Donella Meadows
–December 2, 1993–
I wonder if I’m the only person in America who subscribes to both the Conservative Chronicle (which is advertised on the Rush Limbaugh Show) and the Liberal Opinion Week (which isn’t).
Admittedly, you have to be an opinion-page freak to read even one of these weekly papers. They bring together most of the syndicated columns of the nation, sorted left and right and interspersed with political cartoons. In my house, probably in any house, the cartoons are read first.
Your newspaper, yes, that very one you are gazing at now, does not run every column written by William Buckley, George Will, Mary McGrory, and Molly Ivins. Faced every day with dozens of columns and with space to run about three, your editor does a lot of picking and choosing. Some papers try for political balance; others run mini-editions of The Conservative Chronicle or Liberal Opinion Week. Whichever you prefer, a balance or a steady repetition of your own point of view, you don’t know what you’re missing unless you subscribe to one or both of these weekly compendiums.
Which is not necessarily a recommendation. It takes a strong stomach to wade through page after page of opinion, especially when you don’t agree with it. For me that averages about 90 percent of the conservatives and 50 percent of the liberals.
It’s better for the mind and soul to listen to those with a different point of view, but let’s face it, it’s much more delightful to read someone who hits your particular nail right on the head. Which doesn’t happen to me often, as I read these weekly collections of excoriation and persuasion, fact and assumption, sophistry and logic. The range of anointed punditry, while far greater than any one newspaper can contain, is still surprisingly narrow. Like the pack journalism on the news pages, there can be pack opinionism.
For example, in the November 29th Liberal Opinion Week there were seven observations on the 30th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination, nine condemnations of Ed Rollins buying off black votes in New Jersey, and ten post mortems on NAFTA, split pro and con. (Jesse Jackson: “Wall Street beat Main Street. Corporate executives defeated workers. The establishment spoke louder than the people. Nothing new in that.”) There were two columns on trade with Asia and one each on Bosnia, Israel, Amy Fisher, and Robert Haldeman. Three commentaries, two by blacks, called upon black communities to do more to stop crime and bring up law-abiding children. (Liberals and conservatives are not always far apart.) There was not one liberal word that week about health care.
For some reason nonpolitical humorists Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Calvin Trillin and Andy Rooney appear in Liberal Opinion, though the Barry column that week was about as anti-wetland as you can get. (“…the Everglades ecosystem, an enormous, wet, nature-intensive area that at one time was considered useless, but which is now recognized as a vital ecological resource, providing Florida with an estimate 93 percent of its blood-sucking insects.”)
There are no funny writers in the Conservative Chronicle. Conservatives tend to be serious, righteous and wrathful.
The December 1 Chronicle filled the health-care vacuum with five dire warnings about the Clinton plan, with emphasis on the overweening power of Hillary. Only one column mentioned the Kennedy assassination, on the way to denouncing the culture of the 60s. There were four Ed Rollins columns, two saying that the Democrats buy off voters too, two saying that Rollins is a jerk — liberals and conservatives seem to agree on that.
Six pieces on NAFTA, split, like the liberals. (Pat Buchanan: “In 1994 and 1996, as news stories come in of plants shutting down and moving to Mexico, let those who voted for NAFTA answer for themselves to the American people.”) Two anti-feminist columns, and one each on the balanced-budget amendment, school choice, TV violence, affirmative action, gun control, and Lorena Bobbitt.
Nothing on any country outside the NAFTA zone, except one piece warning of military takover in Russia.
Like the news pages, the columns, both liberal and conservative, are focused primarily on the short term, on political power, on the five percent of the world’s people living in the U.S., and not even on all of them. Though there are increasing numbers of black, female, and gay columnists, their voices are primarily urban, voices of the privileged, voices of the center. Only Molly Ivins, Ralph Nader, and Jesse Jackson are real liberals. There are more real conservatives (Buchanan, Kirkpatrick, Buckley, Schlafly, North, Hart, Charen and others), most of whom complain regularly about the liberal media. There are no Greens at all.
I would like to hear opinions that are shaped someplace other than American newsrooms or boardrooms — opinions of farmers and laborers, of scientists and artists, of Mexicans and Canadians and Europeans and Africans — radical opinions that make publishers nervous — opinions that shake up my own comfortable assumptions. I want to hear from people who care about the whole world and about a time horizon longer than the next election. It doesn’t seem too much to ask that among the jaded and cynical commentators at least a few could be idealistic and hopeful. And that, along with the arrogance, there could be some humility — some willingness to say, well, really, I am just one person, and this is just my opinion.
Both Liberal Opinion Week and Conservative Chronicle are creations of David Archie, owner of an Iowa newspaper chain. The liberal weekly is four years old and has a circulation of 6,000. The conservative one is finishing its eighth year and had 10,000 subscribers until Rush Limbaugh started promoting it. Now it has 92,000. Each costs $42 a year. Liberal Opinion Week, P.O. Box 468, Vinton IA 52349 (1-800-338-9335) Conservative Chronicle, P.O. Box 11297, Des Moines IA 50340-1297 (1-800-888-3039)
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1993