News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 12, 2006

Views swing left, right, but balance is in center

By Max Jones

Does the Tribune-Star’s editorial page favor and, therefore, publish more liberal viewpoints than conservative ones? Or is the opposite true? Is the answer somewhere in between?

Those questions and the debate surrounding them were around long before I began working on the editorial page 16 years ago. I’ve addressed them periodically through the years whenever I explained our editorial page philosophy, but I suspect some readers still try to find secret veins of bias and favoritism to bolster their claims.

A few months ago, however, I received an e-mail message from a reader than took a fresh approach to the issue. This reader actually kept a tally on editorial page opinions and posted the results in an Internet forum.

That message came from Judy Dukes of Terre Haute, and here is what it said:

“I belong to an online Yahoo Group — the Terre Haute Cafe. We talk about every subject we can think of, including politics.

“I got tired of hearing the conservatives on the site blaming their disappointments on the ‘liberal media.’ Beginning March 28, 2006, I started keeping score in the Tribune-Star.

“I limited this to columnists and letters to the editor.

“The score as of today was:

“Columnists: liberals 7; conservatives 8.

“Letters: liberals 10; conservatives 6.

“This looks pretty balanced to me. Were I an editor who really wanted to be fair, I would publish an even number of columnists, and publish the letters in proportion to their numbers, and if one side had more than the other, so be it. It appears to me that that is what you are doing.

“Being a liberal myself, I have mixed feelings about my observations. On the one hand, I want the liberals to win, but on the other hand, I want to prove that there is no liberal bias.

“I know it’s much more complicated than this, but this is what I’m doing right now. The others in the group have urged me to continue at least past the primaries.

“I have no complaint about the balance. I really appreciate the paper.”

Judy makes some good observations. And here’s the way I see the lineup.

By design, our syndicated conservative columnists are William Rusher, John Leo and Kathleen Parker (twice a week). Our liberal columnists are Ellen Goodman and Molly Ivins. We also publish the libertarian views of Nat Hentoff, which sometimes align with conservatives, other times with liberals. We publish state-oriented columns from Andrea Neal and others from the Indiana Policy Review, which carry a strong conservative orientation. Brian Howey’s political column is moderate, but sometimes leans liberal. Morton Marcus, the renowned IU economist, brings a liberal slant.

We publish other syndicated columns periodically, but those listed above are the routine columnists.

Balance is definitely the goal. From this lineup of commentators, readers can get a blend of opinion and viewpoints and gain a good perspective from various points on the philosophical spectrum.

As far as letters are concerned, Judy is also correct in assuming that if more liberal than conservative letters on a subject are published, then more were received. What you see in Readers’ Forum is an accurate reflection of the sentiments of those who take the time to write us.

There are some changes coming to the editorial page soon, including at least one new syndicated columnist. I will write more about that next time. Stay tuned.

Editor Max Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by e-mail at max.jones@tribstar.com.