SPEAKER Newt Gingrich complains that there are many...

March 13, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SPEAKER Newt Gingrich complains that there are many "socialists" on newspaper editorial boards.

My Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition (1993) defines socialism this way:

"any of various economic and political theories advocating collective and governmental ownership and administration of the means of productive and distribution goods"

For 29 1/2 years I have written editorials for The Sun. It is more or less typical, philosophically speaking, of big city newspapers. I have worked with 45 editorial writers here. Not more than one was a socialist.

The guy I have in mind may not have been a socialist, though he talked a lot like one at times. I would consider him instead a believer in social democracy:

"a political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means."

Maybe that's what Gingrich meant. Well, fair enough. Let me say that of the other 44 editorial writers I have consorted with here since 1965, maybe one or two were social democrats. That's three of 46, or 6.6 percent. Hardly the sort of influence you'd expect to excite the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Maybe the speaker was using "socialism" to mean "very liberal." That would be either sloppy or demagogic, and it would also be wrong.

I know that The Sun has a reputation in some precincts as a left-wing paper, but as someone who has sat through perhaps 4,500 editorial board meetings (my God!) at 501 North Calvert Street, it is my considered opinion that while this paper consistently has been left of center, it has never been left-wing.

Political science is not an exact science, so what follows is probably only informed guesswork, but it's better guessing than you'll get anywhere else.

I took my list of 1965-1995 editorial writers, and on the basis of my recollections of those many board meetings and recent first- and third-person interviews, I assigned a "liberal quotient" to us all, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 Newt Gingrich and 10 Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only Socialist in the House.

I added 'em all up, divided by 46 and got 6.8. Now that may overstate the degree of liberalism here. Probably does. I gave myself a 6+, which some of my colleagues think was true in the past but hasn't been in years. One person I gave a 6 to says he's a 4. One person I gave a 9 to says he's 8 going on 7.

But I'll stand by 6.8, which would translate to a voting record in the House along the lines of Ben Cardin's, Steny Hoyer's and Constance Morella's. They were rated by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action last year as, respectively, 75 percent liberal, 70 and 70. (Gingrich is 05, Sanders, 100).

By the way, that one possible socialist on my list left The Sun years ago and has now quit the business altogether, on the grounds that the newspaper environment is much too right-wing.

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