Opinion Swings Left — Will Syndicated Features Follow?

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By: Dave Astor

For E&P’s upcoming January issue, I wrote a story noting that last month’s election results haven’t brought syndicates a surge in liberal feature sales. Most newspapers aren’t significantly revising their column and cartoon lineups, despite a U.S. population that’s seemingly growing less conservative.

In the column area, this status quo means conservative voices continue to outnumber liberal ones. Indeed, Cal Thomas of Tribune Media Services and George Will of the Washington Post Writers Group remain one-two in client totals (though many editorial cartoonists skew much less conservative).

But if any newspapers want to beef up their liberal lineups to match the (apparent) changing mood of the country, here’s a sampling of excellent but underappreciated creators who would deserve more clients even if the political landscape hadn’t shifted on Nov. 7.

Robert Koehler is a Tribune Media Services opinion columnist as eloquent as Ellen Goodman, Leonard Pitts Jr., or George Will. Starting in the spring of 2005, he became one of the few mainstream-media voices to periodically write about election problems, including voter suppression and the possible hacking of electronic voting machines. Also, he observed that these election problems almost always favored the GOP — and may have helped George W. Bush retain the White House in 2004.

Koehler, who also has an articulate liberal voice when commenting on other subjects, is no longer quite so isolated in addressing election problems. Some U.S. dailies have joined him in looking more closely at these problems.

Norman Solomon of Creators Syndicate is a media columnist who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq before it happened, accurately predicting the catastrophe it would become.

His pointed, well-researched critiques of the mainstream media — for their coverage of war and non-war matters — may have had some influence on the MSM finally becoming a bit more skeptical of the Bush administration. But many newspapers still balk at publishing someone who’s essentially a syndicated ombudsman pointing out their failings.

Ray Hanania, a former Creators columnist who’s now self-syndicated, is a Palestinian-American writer married to a Jewish woman. He writes about Mideast issues in an evenhanded way that makes him seem positively radical in a sea of columnists who back Israel almost unconditionally.

Hanania’s approach, as former President Jimmy Carter discovered with his latest book, is not popular with much of the mainstream media. But it would be interesting if U.S. dailies followed the lead of Israeli newspapers in allowing a much wider spectrum of debate about Mideast issues. By the way, Hanania is also a stand-up comedian who’s hilarious when he opts to use humor.

Khalil Bendib does editorial cartoons that run in many newspapers (including the ethnic press) but few general-interest dailies. He skewers corporations, the mass media, racial stereotypes, the worst of Israeli policies, and other targets in his incisive, skillfully drawn cartoons. The California-based Bendib also has a non-U.S.-centric approach (he was born in North Africa) that would be a refreshing change in many American dailies.

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel has received lots of positive publicity for “Fun Home,” her stunning 2006 graphic memoir. But her long-running, self-syndicated “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic strip has never gotten much pickup in general-interest newspapers.

That’s a shame, because the strip is a funny, absorbing, well-drawn, sprawling saga of gay (and sometimes straight) life in which Bechdel juggles a large cast of characters. A major syndicate once expressed interest in possibly signing “Dykes to Watch Out For” if Bechdel watered it down.

Jan Eliot’s “Stone Soup” strip has by far the most daily newspaper clients (about 150) of all the features mentioned in this column. But it deserves more.

Eliot’s Univeral Press Syndicate comic focuses on a pair of next-door-neighbor sisters with less-than-“traditional” families. One is a single mother, the other a remarried mother — and both juggle parenting, work, and other aspects of their chaotic lives with a blend of love, impatience, and exhaustion.

It’s hardly the sentimental world of some family comics, which probably hurts “Stone Soup” sales. But newspapers can potentially widen their readership when they mix in more quality comics that reflect real life.

The above is just a small sampling of underappreciated liberal creators. If you’d like to mention other liberal or conservative creators who deserve more prominence, give us their names and why they should have a bigger newspaper audience. E&P could run your comments as letters to the editor or in a follow-up column.

Links to the creators discussed in this column:

Robert Koehler: http://www.tmsfeatures.com

Norman Solomon: http://www.Creators.com

Ray Hanania: http://www.hanania.com

Khalil Bendib: http://www.bendib.com

Alison Bechtel: http://www.dykestowatchoutfor.com

Jan Eliot: http://www.gocomics.com/stonesoup/?ref=hpswf

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