Alex Blaze

Rick Santorum just won't go away

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 24, 2007 2:31 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: conservative media, Philadelphia Inquirer, Rick Santorum

Editor and Publisher is reporting that Rick Santorum has started writing a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His first column is about terrorism:

Santorum presses his case against Islamic extremism: 'There's a denial of this problem,' says the ex-senator.

This is, of course, Mr. Man-on-Dog who said that the Lawrence decision would destroy the fabric of our culture, said that child abuse in the Catholic Church was caused by liberalism, suggested punishing Katrina survivors for being there in the first place, and compared filibustering Democrats to Nazis.

He has quite a way with words, that Santorum.

David Sirota also wonders why Santorum's writing for the Inquirer:

So how can a newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer complain about losing readership when, in a major Democratic city, it is providing news analysis from a right-wing Republican who was soundly rejected by voters, who isn't even originally from Philadelphia, and who actually decided to move out of Pennsylvania while representing the state in the U.S. Senate?

Indeed.

I think it comes down to several motivations. Newspapers and other media outlets post-9/11 became afraid of being labeled liberal or anti-American. It got to the point where MSNBC had a rule, according to Phil Donahue, that every anti-war voice had to be counter-balanced with at least two pro-war voices. While the fervor has died down a bit in the past couple of years, there's still a demonstrable bias towards conservative opinion. Media Matters found that three times as many newspapers have more conservative column than progressive as have more progressive than conservative.

Maybe this is because newspapers have to protect their stockholders' interest, maybe it's because conservatives usually complain a lot more loudly than liberals do about media bias, or maybe it's because so many of these editors themselves feel the need to push a conservative agenda in their papers. Whichever it is, they feel a need to represent one side more than the other.

Moreover, with declining circulation, which the Inquirer has been complaining about, some editors are looking for novelty instead of substance. While I'm sure that there are wonderful progressive writers in Philadelphia, none of them would probably be as "shocking" or "provocative" as the former Senator. It reminds me of how Chris Crain hired vocal homophobe Jeff Gannon several years ago to write a column for the Washington Blade; it's about novelty, not credibility or a productive discussion.

I also wonder about the kind of national attention these sorts of columnists bring local papers like the Inquirer and how that skews what editors think is being read. If they receive more letters over one columnist than any other, even if they're mostly negative, they might believe that they're starting some sort of discussion, that they're provoking people in a way that's challenging instead of just annoying. If readers don't send in positive comments about other columnists, I would imagine it's easy for these editors to think that they have a mini-star on their hands.

Whatever it is, I know that a few years from now, or sooner, Santorum is going to say something deplorably offensive and insult another group of people (or maybe the gays again, who knows). And the Inquirer is going to publicly distance itself from him, shocked that something like this could have happened, even while he was pushing a far-right agenda for all those years. It's just the same cycle we've already gotten used to, so here we go again.

I mean, seriously, Rick Santorum?


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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 24, 2007 4:02 PM

I'm on the same bus concerning the idiocy of Rick Santorum, but ya know.....let him write his heart out for the Philadelphia Inquirer, or its stockholders if they think it will enhance their dividends. As far as the notion of creating a false impression concerning the strength of an opinion by "padding" letters to the editor, etc., one way or another, so what? Do we want some government bureau monitoring whether or not the Bilerico Project is skewing the opinions of its readers by making editorial decisions concerning which comments to post and which to reject? Sometimes it sounds as if certain portions of the GLBT community are afraid of ideas, and rather than to combat them in blogs like this and elsewhere, we then want them simply supressed. If downstream Santorum does do a Don Imus and the Inquirer has to distance itself, fine....you and others will have a First Amendment right to say to the them and the world, "I told you so."

I don't think that I ever advocated a government agency watching the paper....

And if he can write his idiocy on the Inquirer to his heart's content, why can't I? My grandmother lives in PA, so I have about as much connection to Philly that Santorum does.

This has about 1% to do with Santorum's freedom to do what he wants and 99% to do with a bad decision by the Inquirer to stifle productive discourse. Santorum can take himself down to Blogger and get a blog for free and write all he wants. That doesn't mean that a newspaper has to give him a column so that we can feel good that his First Amendment rights are being met.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 24, 2007 6:26 PM

I understand. My point remains that the Philadelphia Inquirer remains totally free to exercise totally insane judgement and refuse to air your views, whether or not there is any connection to Pennsylvania. I guess until I see that Ralph Reed, James Dobson, and Alan Keyes signed on as fellow contributors to The Bilerico Project (which, in my opinion, would also be a gross exercise in bad judgement) I have to bemoan the Inquirer's choices but say essentially: that's life, with or without the First Amendment.

The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News were bought in 2006 by Philadelphia Media Holding - led by Brian Tierney - a Republican activist and Santorum supporter. The other members of PMH are mostly active in the Republican Party as well.

So - one can expect a change in time in the tone of coverage. They've given the usual "won't effect editorial policy" statements - but - no one believes that. They've cut back on reporting staff & are trying to get the unions to do give backs etc. Given Philly is a very Dem city - I think we can expect these papers to lose sales at a much faster rate than the industry norm.

Cathy Renna | October 25, 2007 7:18 AM

the issue is not one of free speech - Santourm has plenty of platform - but we should at least expect the Inky to hold him accountable for the accuracy of his statements when writing about issues, no matter where his personal opinions lie. this is the major challenge when op-ed pages give credance to the "other side" of gay issues - too often hyperbole and outright untruth is weaved into opinion.

I know, Don, but I'm just not advocating that the government stepping in and doing anything about Santorum.

The Inquirer definitely has the right to do whatever it wants with its paper, but that doesn't mean that it's a good decision or that I can't complain about it like I am now.

And I still think that I can criticize it especially because most major cities in the US (I don't know about Philly) only have one major paper. No competition means that there are no alternatives to bad decisions, and people will have to put up with a sub-par opinions page out there. I'm criticizing what it'll do for the people of Philadelphia and how it's indicative of a larger problem with conservative media bias, but I'm not advocating government action, meaning that I'm still respecting the paper's right to do whatever they want with their op/ed pages.

I guess I just see "The paper has a right to publish Santorum" as a non-sequitur in response to "The newspaper should not publish Santorum". I don't know, maybe I'm just not reading your comments carefully enough, or I don't know what I'm talking about! I'm not a real lawyer, so it happens every now and then!

Haha, publishing santorum. (I'm the pinnacle of maturity.)

Thanks for the info, Kathy.

I'd worry about that, too, Cathy. Like when Time published that opinion piece by James Dobson on Mary Cheney's baby - it was his opinion, but he used many erroneous facts in favor of it. But I suppose it's hard to publish an opinion like his - that same-sex couples make worse parents - without using erroneous information. Maybe that was the reasoning over at Time.