Have Lippman to kick around anymore, because...

YOU WON'T

September 14, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

YOU WON'T have Lippman to kick around anymore, because, readers, this is my last column for the editorial page!

I often think I am president of the United States. Nothing wrong with that. Most political pundits do. I just wish it wasn't always Richard Nixon I think I am. Tricky Dick's the one who said to reporters after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference!" Many of you knew that. That's the sort of by-lined political and historical trivia (among other things) I've been dishing up here twice a week since Jan. 1, 1976.

The column was anonymous for the previous two decades. It was called "Notes & Comment." Price Day wrote it most of the time, with occasional help from me and a few others. After Price retired, Joe Sterne assigned the column to me full time and put my name on it. Price had created a feature that took the serious lightly and the light seriously but still seemed at home on this often grave page, and I was expected to do the same. (I have done my best, but know better than anyone that following in Price's footsteps is not the same thing as filling his shoes.) So I owe a lot to Price, a lot to Joe and a lot to Jerry Griffin, who hired me in the first place.

Thanks for the soapbox, guys.

I have been invited to write signed pieces for the page opposite this one and for the books section of The Sun, and I will, irregularly and infrequently. Regularly and frequently for a little while longer I will be writing editorials for this page.

Editorial writing, not column writing, has defined my professional life in my 30 years here. Even in the 19-plus years that I've been a twice-a-week editorial page columnist, I've written more unsigned editorials than columns. I came to The Sun to write editorials in 1965 because it had an editorial page staff much bigger than the other papers interested in my labor. That's important. It allows writers to specialize to a degree.

Specialists can make mistakes, but far fewer than overworked generalists. The more writers on a staff, the more research and rewriting can go into each editorial. And something else, which may be most important of all: The more writers on an editorial page staff, the more balance and consideration for other views in the finished editorials.

I said something similar to that in a recent criticism of angry, bombastic talk radio hosts. A reader responded in a letter to the editor:

"H. L. Mencken is quoted in a book edited by Mr. Lippman as saying, 'Most men are convinced not by appeals to their reason, but by appeals to their emotions and prejudices. Such emotions and prejudices are not necessarily ignoble. It is just as creditable to hate injustice and dishonesty as it is to love the truth. One of the chief purposes of The Sun, as I understand it, is to stir up such useful hatreds.' I submit that many radio talk shows are doing precisely that."

Okay. Good point. But here's the rest of the story. Mencken made those remarks to the president of the corporation that published The Sun, Paul Patterson, in 1928. The Sun's editorial page editor, John Owens, replied, "This paper has set itself up as liberal. If liberalism means anything, it means that kind of intellectual honesty which opens the doors to all the facts." Patterson sided with Owens.

That "liberal" creed has continued to dominate this page ever since. Even when we were anti-Franklin D. Roosevelt, even when we were pro-Richard Nixon. Stirring up hatreds, useful or otherwise, is not The Sun's style, and I bet it never will be.

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