For decades, right-wingers have unrelentingly blamed a liberal-media conspiracy for their woes--particularly their inability to gain greater public acceptance. In his Dec. 1 Viewpoint column in the biweekly OC Metro, Hugh Hewitt--Newport Beach corporate lawyer, Republican mouthpiece and media darling--posed a series of rhetorical questions about one of our two local dailies. The column's key question: "Ask any fair-minded person in America whether this 'Opinion' section even remotely approximates the division of political opinion in America." Can you guess whether he was writing about the Los Angeles Times or The Orange County Register?
Donning the mantle of that "fair-minded person," Hewitt blasted the Times--not the Register--for its lack of editorial-page "diversity." The Times is guilty of "perfect exclusion" by refusing to print conservative, Christian and Republican viewpoints, according to Hewitt, who co-hosts KCET's Life & Times and recently published In Search of God in America.
"The Times . . . is captained by people who have concluded that they absolutely, positively know how the world ought to work, and they want to read pretty much only what they agree with," wrote Hewitt, unofficial but certain winner of the George Will-wannabe contest. He captiously maintained that the Times was incompetent and ensnared in ideological ax grinding.
It's odd that Hewitt used dead-on characterizations of the Register's editorial pages to describe the Times. To see if, by chance, Hewitt was on to something, we checked both papers. A sampling of editorial writers carried by the Times during part of 1996 showed that they ran columns by conservatives Arianna and Michael Huffington, Dick Armey, Bob Dornan, Curt Pringle, Gil Ferguson, Pete Wilson, Jim Morrissey, Lyn Nofziger, Bruce Herschensohn, William J. Bennett, L. Brent Bozell Jr., Dan Schnur, James Pinkerton, Howard Baker, Brian O'Leary Bennett, Mickey Edwards, Chuck Quackenbush and . . . Hugh Hewitt. In fact, the Times published ex-GOP Assembly Speaker Pringle's columns as many times this year as the Register did: twice. How many regularly appearing, non-Republican, non-conservative-tilting columns were printed in the Register? Zero, zip, nada.
Hewitt, who uses his column for highly partisan attacks but implores the Times to be balanced, wrote nothing about the Register's unmistakable one-sidedness. Not surprisingly, he did not respond to our efforts to contact him for clarification or comment. If Hewitt had called back, one question would have been: Does a daily paper with a circulation of 400,000--like the Register--have an obligation to inform its editorial-page readers of opposing ideas, or should it serve only as a mind-numbing propaganda machine?
Cathy Taylor, the Register's new editorial director, could not name a single liberal or moderate Democratic perspective that regularly runs on the paper's editorial pages. She had not read Hewitt's screed against the Times but said that offering her readers ideological diversity is not a goal.
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"We don't sit down and look for diversity. We generally look for good, like-minded viewpoints," said Taylor, who moved from the paper's Business section last month to replace Ken Grubbs Jr., who became editor of World Trade magazine. "Our paper is libertarian; that's our pride and joy. We want to persuade people to this point of view because we think it's a good one. And we don't make any bones about that.
"I would say we have a diversity of viewpoints, though," she added. "We have writers from Mona Charen to Thomas Sowell."
That Charen is a white female and Sowell a black male must qualify as political diversity at the Register, even though both are hardcore conservatives. Harold Johnson, who writes ultra-right-wing editorials at the Register and who has in the past lambasted the Times for what he sees as its liberal bias in the newsroom, said he was not in a position to defend how his paper chooses its columnists. "I really don't want to comment on that," he said.
Although sources at the Register say that their editorial page has been one of the major reasons for subscription cancellations, Hewitt stubbornly argued (perhaps disingenuously) that the Times' market share and profits would skyrocket if they copied their Orange County rival and stopped offending the political and religious Right. Oh, boy: two Orange County Registers.