Columnist Jackson: Keep An Open Mind

By: Dave Astor

In these polarized times, some columnists still try to look at things with an open mind.

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, speaking Friday at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference here, recalled that he was appalled when the Boy Scouts of America “kicked out gay leaders” a number of years ago. Then one of Jackson’s sons became interested in scouting, and now Jackson is helping lead a Boy Scout trip to New Mexico this weekend — though he still opposes the national BSA’s anti-gay policies.

Jackson added that he opposes many of President Bush’s policies, but recalled also feeling that President Clinton should resign.

The media has received its share of criticism from the Bush administration and others, but Jackson said polls still show that Americans want the press to ask hard questions. “The majority of people think the media keep politicians from doing wrong rather than keep them from doing their jobs,” said Jackson.

He added that columnists can be part of the process of trying to keep leaders on the straight and narrow. “The written word of a newspaper columnist still matters,” said Jackson, who has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary.

But research has to be a strong part of a columnist’s arsenal, he continued. Jackson recalled that he was about to write a piece about how many sportscasters describe white athletes as intellectual but discuss black athletes in physical terms. “My wife told me to watch TV first and do the counting,” said Jackson. He did, and found the numbers that proved that he was right and made his subsequent column more effective.

“A column has to rely on facts that you hope stir activism about what you care about,” he said. “You write because you have to believe that somewhere, somehow, someone is clipping your column or cutting and pasting it and saying ‘uh-oh.'”

Jackson said he has written about the huge number of Iraqi civilian deaths since the U.S. invasion, and was pleased that President Bush actually acknowledged that there have been at least 30,000 such deaths.

The Globe commentator also discussed how some editors and readers want to pigeonhole African-American columnists into only discussing mostly political and racial issues. But Jackson said black columnists should be able to write humor, do personal pieces, and more.

Jackson said, for instance, that he was written nature columns — adding with a smile that such pieces can still include “a little jab about Bush’s policy on global warming.”

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