As the still-unfolding recession leads to a disturbing preponderance of PhD’s working at Subway, there is one increasingly infuriating bright spot of iron-clad job security: the op/ed page of your local newspaper. Once upon a time, the op/ed page became my favorite part of the newspaper; as the third kid out of four, I seldom got first crack at the comics most mornings, but that page had cartoons, too, and Mike Royko and Art Buchwald were a lot funnier than, say, “Family Circus,” to boot.
When The Oregonian gobbled up its more liberal afternoon counterpart, The Oregon Journal, it (temporarily) assuaged Journal readers by expanding the op/ed page to four (!), and the comics to two. This gave me even more time to branch out into Mary McGrory, Flora Lewis, Jack Anderson, Anthony Lewis, James Reston, and many other talented writers from all sides of the political spectrum, all of whom had worked long and hard in the practice of actual journalism before landing in the catbird seat, where they could write about whatever they wanted each day, and make a good living in so doing.
In high school, I gladly gave up the stiff competition for the editorial slots on the school paper in favor of writing a column of my own, and when I went to University of Oregon to pursue a degree in journalism, my fondest hope was that if I worked hard, someday I’d have a space of my own on that page, even if it was in Grants Pass, or worse.
Sadly, by the early 80′s, the supposedly highly-regarded Journalism School at UO was already morphing into an intellectual backwater where a few aspiring hippies who actually wanted to write were inundated with a tidal wave of sorority types more interested in advertising or public relations, and the whole experience was so dispiriting I switched to History and basically gave up on writing as a career. Best. Decision. Ever.
Of course, had I been either a right-wing shill or a “liberal” whose chief passion was slamming liberals, today I’d not only be overpaid for typing utter nonsense, but I’d be having makeup applied on my surgically enhanced mug in a comfy green room each Sunday morning, like the cranks and buffoons who clutter those pages today.
I could be George Will, airily dismissing Climate Change as “summer,” Maureen Dowd, cattily calling Hillary Clinton a harridan for the eight thousandth time, David Brooks with my vast spaces for entertaining, Tom Friedman, serially pretending to find deep insight from the world’s cab drivers, or Rich Lowry, trying in vain to find my ass with both hands and a flashlight. And, despite (or as Glenn Greenwald would point out, because of) being catastrophically wrong and insultingly unreadable, I could type away into doddering but luxurious old age.
Worst of all, my pathetically uninteresting musings would appear in every dying newspaper in the country; the talent pool having been drained dry by corporate bean-counters firing the aspiring competition faster than you can say “core competencies.”
To be fair, among liberal op/ed writers, there still remain a few able and even entertaining writers on the dead tree side of journalism: Harold Meyerson at the WaPoo, Paul Krugman at the NYT, and even a few new entrants like Greg Sargent and David Sirota, but the fact remains that Robert Scheer was dumped at the Los Angeles Times to make room for Jonah Goldberg, for Pete’s sake. And for every Dave Weigel or Ezra Klein who cannily moves on to better things, there’s a dozen Robert Samuelsons and David Ignatius’ eager to warm their deck chairs on the Titanic of American journalism for the ride to the bottom.
When the epitaph for American democracy is written, the op/ed page of the daily newspaper may as well be on the tombstone.