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Posted by on Apr 11, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Let Me Get This Straight: Bob Novak Is In JOURNALISM?

There’s been a big fuss over this Bob Novak column and it makes you wonder if he’s been hiding under a rock all these years when he’s been such a profilic reporter, columnist and just plain journalist:

On March 24, former Congressman Bob Livingston was sent an e-mail by a New York Times editorial page staffer suggesting he write an op-ed essay. Would Livingston, who in 1998 gave up certain elevation to be House speaker because of a sexual affair, write about how Majority Leader Tom DeLay should now act under fire? In a subsequent conversation, it was made clear the Times wanted the prominent Republican to say DeLay should step aside for the good of the party.

Livingston in effect declined by responding that if he wrote anything for the Times, it would be pro-DeLay. But this remarkable case of that august newspaper fishing for an op-ed piece makes it appear part of a calculated campaign to bring down the single most powerful Republican in Congress. The Democratic establishment and left-wing activists have targeted DeLay as the way to end a decade of Republican control of the House.

“Remarkable case…”???

Anyone who has worked in the news media knows that an Op-Ed piece is just that — an Op-Ed piece. Op-Ed editors are different than City Editors since they deal in assembling and packaging newspaper pages that offer opposing opinions.

There are several ways to get an Op-Ed piece published. If you’re a nobody like Joe Gandelman writing from New Delhi, Dacca or Spain, you’d send it to an editor on speculation and they’d see if they could use it. I did TONS of op-ed pieces when I was overseas as my resume shows. Very few newspapers rejected the ones I sent since they had solid info but also took a position (consider Op-Ed pieces blogging without a computer).

The other way is if you’re famous they may call on you to do an Op-Ed piece and invite you to write on X topic because they assume you will take X position. Again you are NOT dealing in unbiased news — but what is clearly stated to be OPINION.

If the Times invited Livingston, they did so because they assumed –wrongly — that he would take a certain position. I’m quite sure they have many people who are clamoring to write pieces calling for DeLay to step down — but most of those are Democrats. And, conversely, I’m sure they have MANY people who would love to write pieces saying DeLay must remain because his alleged offenses weren’t that bad, this is aimed at conservatives, etc. And those are most certainly Republicans.

Novak surely KNOWS that there is nothing untoward or unethical about inviting someone to write a piece for an Op-Ed page assuming they will take X position so you can have something on your page that represents that viewpoint. If the person then turns around and says “sorry, but I feel other way” his position isn’t the one needed on the page to offer your readers that viewpoint. So you find someone else who has it.

News reporters do this kind of symbolic inclusion every day in the kinds of quotes they use — people they choose to interview from professions with certain stances, etc. Novak surely knows that this is not another Sin of The Mainstream Media. This kind of attempt to find someone who has a certain position is how Op-Ed pages have operated for YEARS. It’s virtually the job definition of an op-ed editor that he/she/it finds and highlights X viewpoints. If the Times ran something calling on DeLay to resign on that page it’s virtually certain they would also run something that week from someone defending DeLay.

FOOTNOTE: I am NOT a big New York Times fan and never have been. I have blasted it often on this site. So this isn’t coming from a New York Times fan — just someone who knows that anyone who has even briefly worked for a newspaper knows about Op-Ed pages.

Novak’s column is a nice journalistic rant, perhaps another story designed to lend DeLay the aura of some kind of victim of an always-evil press plot.

But it’s really just this.