By: Tony Case
Are liberal African-American voices being silenced as
conservatives dominate Congress and storm op-ed pages? sp.
THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION that changed the face of Washington is forcing liberal black voices off newspaper opinion pages, an editorial writer contends.
“I don’t believe African Americans who speak to poverty and racism and sexism and bigotry ? and the filth that’s going on in Congress or any other place, state or local ? are going to be able to write like they used to,” Peggy Peterman of the St. Petersburg Times said during the recent National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia.
“You’re almost extinct,” she told a roomful of black opinion writers. “The conservative voice is the one they’re looking for.”
In an impassioned call to arms, Peterman urged her colleagues to be “confrontational” about getting the progressive point of view across.
“You’ve got to write our version of the unwed mothers, our version of who’s bringing drugs into our communities,” she said. “You’ve got to write about Newt Gingrich.”
But Peterman’s boss doesn’t buy the argument that editors have been downplaying minority perspectives since Republicans got control of Congress last November.
Calling Peterman’s allegations “shallow” and “reactive,” Times editorial page editor Philip Gailey suggested that if opinion pages are failing any group, it’s the working class.
“We’re constantly writing editorials about gay rights and civil rights of all sorts, discrimination of minorities, abortion ? you can go down the list,” he said in a telephone interview. “But I don’t sense that we are very relevant to the working person who’s struggling to support a family, who’s probably already given up on the American dream and is just trying to survive. I don’t think we understand them.”
Gailey, whose 10-member editorial board is half female and includes two African Americans, maintained that the Times “still speaks to issues of race and poverty and discrimination ? and we’ve also had our share of criticism for the Republican Congress.”
The editor said any editorial page worth its salt doesn’t fashion itself after the prevailing political climate.
“My feeling has always been that it doesn’t matter which party is in power; you try to honestly and fairly assess what they’re trying to do in the way of public policy, criticize them when warranted, and give them credit when it’s deserved,” he said.
“If we’re talking about the demise of knee-jerk, ideological reactions to problems, there may be some of that going on on editorial pages these days,” he went on. “Good editorial pages are trying to become more thoughtful and less reactive.”