Cal Thomas, Bob Beckel Bring ‘Common Ground’ to ‘USA Today’

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By: Dave Astor

With America in a period of intense polarization, USA Today is launching a forum-page feature tomorrow called “Common Ground,” E&P has learned.

“Liberal Democratic strategist Bob Beckel and I are going to take on contentious issues and see if we can’t come to an agreement that ‘advances the ball,'” said conservative columnist Cal Thomas of Tribune Media Services. “We believe a lot of people are tired of the grenade-lobbing in Washington. We think it’s better to get something, rather than nothing. A field goal is OK if that’s all you can get.”

USA Today Editorial Page Editor Brian Gallagher said Thomas and Beckel, who are friends, came to the newspaper with the “Common Ground” concept, and that USA Today was very receptive to the idea in its continuing effort to offer various views on its opinion pages. “We always put together conservatives and liberals and those in between to try to hash out a position,” Gallagher told E&P. “That’s contrary to what often plays out in other media outlets — particularly electronic ones, where the emphasis is on conflict.”

Congressional travel is the debut topic in “Common Ground,” which will have a conversational tone, according to Gallagher. After Thursday, the half-page feature will run periodically — “not as frequently as weekly,” said Gallagher — as USA Today sees how the paper and readers like it. “Common Ground” will also have an online component at USAToday.com.

Beckel — who could not be reached for comment today — is a former TMS columnist. He was also deputy assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration, and he helped manage Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign.

Thomas hosts the Fox News Channel’s “After Hours” show in addition to writing his TMS feature — which, with nearly 600 newspapers, has the most clients of any opinion column in syndication.

In his TMS column this week, Thomas touched on the idea of reducing polarization when he praised U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich, a Republican, for trying to cooperate on improving health care in America. “Regardless of any personal motives that may be in back of this odd coupling, who doubts that the healthcare system in the United States needs fixing or that more people could use health insurance and costs remain too high?” wrote Thomas. “Have our politics become so bitter that no one on the ‘other side’ can ever be said to have a good idea worthy of consideration?”

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