Of excellence in exegesis

The Daily’s editorial page needs to better encourage an informed exchange of ideas, instead of hyperbolic partisan rhetoric.

Hats off to Libby George for her Monday column, “The wall between news and opinion”; contrary to what the title might have led one to believe, the piece did not focus merely on the apparent misconceptions of some Minnesota Daily readers that the content of opinion columns reflect an ideological bias by the editorial staff of the paper, but investigated underlying issues in the dissemination of news and analysis in the Daily that lead to such misconceptions.

The argument that a relative paucity of reportage in the news section might lead to a presumption of partiality in the opinion section is a pithy and, most likely, accurate one, but there are serious problems with the debate in the opinion column absent their sole possession of issues of great interest to the University community.

As an incubator of the journalists of tomorrow, the Daily must strive to the highest standards not only of factual and ideological integrity, but also of quality. While the opinion columnists are in no way obligated to maintain philosophical consistency, they can be reasonably expected to provide informed and sincere analysis of the issues covered. Judging by the columns published over the last two months, it would be hard to argue that some of the Daily’s opinion content satisfied those criteria, as they seem to be for the sake of increasing the pitch and scale of the already heated partisan and religious dialogue in these pages.

With similar ideological struggles being played out on the cable news and AM radio airwaves, it isn’t difficult to argue the relevancy and appeal of such content, but I would challenge the editorial staff of the Daily that such truculence of exchange finds amongst its designs a desire to entertain rather than to inform and bolster existing ideological stances.

This is not to say that entertainment has no place in the opinion column; satire and sarcasm are powerful and relevant tools of discourse, and most sports find their appeal in head-to-head competition. As a source of vital information on our surroundings, though, newspapers require a more circumspect approach, even when publishing opinion pieces.

When Bryan Freeman’s Nov. 29 column, “Remember our Christian roots” was undermined by severe historical factual errors, a siren should have sounded in the editorial office of the Daily. Likewise, when Darren Bernard’s taunting (and rarely informative) columns lead to a week’s worth of responses dominating the letters to the editor, a reevaluation of the purpose of an opinion section is in order. There have been excellent responses to both authors, dispassionate and informative ripostes and clarifications, but the column first published has the greater responsibility to journalistic quality.

Monday marked the retirement of William Safire from The New York Times after more than 3,000 columns. A former specchwriter for former President Richard Nixon, Safire was many things, partisan and inflammatory among them from time to time. His saving grace as an opinion writer, and the reason he has written in the nation’s most august source of news and analysis, was his quality both as a writer and a thinker.

His columns were nuanced and intelligent, and included in them a great deal of actual reportage, many times from undisclosed and high-level sources. Never a party hack, Safire was fiercely individual and as fine a gentleman of letters as can be seen in the increasingly shrill ideological discussion in this country. As an archetype for future opinion columnists, I would ask the Daily to put Safire under consideration.

Nick Petersen is an undergraduate student at the University. He welcomes comments at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The writer makes requests of the Daily’s “editorial staff” and “editorial office,” in relation to the content of the Editorials & Opinions pages. In consultation with the editor in chief, the Editorials & Opinions editor hires columnists, choses guest columns and edits the pages’ content, independent of the newsroom.