There are certain rules to putting out a daily newspaper. If you break them, your readers will let you know quickly and emphatically. In my 32 years in this business, I’ve learned the first rule is don’t screw up the crossword puzzle, followed closely by don’t throw the paper in a mud puddle or go to press without the baseball standings in the Scoreboard.
And don’t mix opinion with news reporting.
We hear from readers on a wide range of issues and use that feedback to solve problems or make adjustments to our daily workflow. We get tips about news stories and follow up on them. Many become Page One stories. Interaction is important. Feedback is our life blood.
I recently had a lengthy conversation with a reader in the northern part of our coverage area about the placement and weight of news stories over a week-long stretch. After reviewing his assertion, we found that he was right. We had not given equal treatment to the story as it evolved. That kind of feedback is vital and welcome.
Since the election of Donald Trump on Nov. 8 , we’ve heard from a few readers about our treatment of the new president on our opinion page. The Trib did not endorse a candidate in the 2016 presidential election and we’ve taken President Trump to task on issues where we disagree. We’ve also given him proper praise on issues where we believed he was correct. His recent Supreme Court pick was a solid choice and we supported him. The Democrats’ attempt to filibuster that pick was pointless and juvenile and we said so — more than once.
McLennan County is one of the most populous areas in Texas where Republicans hold almost every major partisan office. To put it bluntly, this is a bright red swath on the political map and has been for a long time — even when conservative Democrats ran the state. So when readers call to say we’ve “become” more liberal in recent months, it’s reason to self-evaluate. Have we?
Well, quite frankly, no. Our stance on issues — both new and ongoing — has been remarkably consistent over the past few years. I invite readers to examine that record and welcome a debate on credible evidence to the contrary.
Belief that we’ve become more liberal stems from three converging points. First, our new president has been at war with the press for a couple of years now. He carried McLennan County with more than 65 percent of the vote, so it’s a given his supporters believe his unending attacks on the media. Some may well envision themselves as foot soldiers in that campaign.
Second, we continue to seek out and print differing views on issues in an effort to debate and inform our readers. Yet in today’s climate, there’s no tolerance on the political fringes for opposing views. And that’s sad.
The Trib opinion page isn’t written entirely by opinion editor Bill Whitaker or the editorial board. It also includes columns from our outstanding, extremely prolific Board of Contributors — some 26 local columnists we publish regularly, some conservative, some liberal — as well as state and national columnists.
The other reason we’re perceived by some as more liberal has to do with national columnists. We have included the likes of George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Jennifer Rubin on our opinion page for quite some time. They’re accomplished conservative writers and for years reflected the political leanings of this area. But they’ve also been highly critical of Trump — both as a candidate and as a president. For a time their columns brought cries of “right-wing rag” from the minority left in Central Texas. Now they inspire outrage from the far right.
Our perceived move toward liberalism is fascinating, given that the political right is very much at war with itself on what exactly constitutes conservatism in the Age of Trump. Some still see American conservatism reflected in the views of Will, Rubin and others such as Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at Bill Buckley’s old National Review magazine. However, a small percentage of our readership is moving even further to the right under President Trump, beyond the constraints and principles long recognized as conventional conservatism. We haven’t moved with them, so in their eyes we’re “more” liberal in recent times.
That’s a criticism I accept. Reason and pragmatic debate will continue to drive our opinion page, even as the political landscape continues to change.