Friday, February 15, 2008

Hatchet Op-Eds Must Be More Than Liner Notes

I am not too sure about the quality of editing for columnists - especially political ones - in the Hatchet.

Quieting Republican Dissent has way too many statements in it that cause me to wonder who is sitting behind the editorial desk over at 2140 G Street.

Perhaps it is because of formatting constraints, or maybe it is because the Hatchet is not an academic journal, but there just seems to be an all-around lack of sophistication to these types of columns that is apparent with each publication.

For example, in Clark's piece, he writes that John McCain, the apparent Republican presidential nominee:
may not be a militant conservative revolutionary (keep in mind, in fact, that no Republican president, not even Ronald Reagan, has been), but he will be a reliable standard-bearer for the GOP, and may save it from disaster in 2008.
So the implication is that the GOP wants a "militant conservative revolutionary" in the Oval Office? There are a number of problems with this that should disqualify this phrase from being even present in the column. First of all, what is the definition of a militant conservative revolutionary? I think that all of those terms contradict each other, and so if it is included, it bears further explanation. Being "militant" would definitely be in opposition to being "conservative", and the degree to which the terms overlap is extremely small, if they even overlap at all. A conservative revolution - that I can understand - but a militant one as well? It isn't philosophically possible, but this impossibility may not be noticed by all.

But for those who do notice it, it is seriously worrisome, because these terms, when misunderstood, may have grave implications beyond their surface appearance. But because of the confusion inherent in the sentence, I can offer several interpretations.

Looking solely at the word "militant", I think that it signals behavior that is both ruthless and possibly undemocratic. A perfect example of this behavior would be a coup d'├ętat. To imply this (even without the intent do so) is irresponsible given what a coup is - and what it means. The word militant can inspire people and governments to pursue ends in horrible inhumane ways and it is not, to me, acceptable to through the word around especially when one uses it in the sense of advocating something.

If I take the phrase to mean a new era in which radical conservative / libertarian principles predominate, then I have some serious objections to that. I do not accept a society that is subject to market forces that create an inherently unequal class system, and I do not accept the idea of an "ownership society". Someone once told me that what an "ownership society" really meant was not that you get to own things, but that you are rather on your own. If this is what a militant conservative revolution produces, then I am certainly not in favor of it.

But because of the sheer ambiguity of the sentence, how am I to know what to think? Sure, I suppose that the editors could answer me with "what you think is informed by your own interpretation". But what I think should be at least guided by accurate terms used in responsible contexts with reasonable standards of specificity and precision.

Of course, I could write a letter to the editor directly to the Hatchet with my thoughts, but I don't think that would be very effective given my opposition to the ideas of the column as well as my concern with its editing.

Another area in which oversimplification becomes an issue in the piece is in a more strategic bit, as Clark writes:
McCain will also be able to provide a desperately needed energy shot for the Republican Party by bringing in independent voters impressed by his moderate environmental positions and bipartisan rhetoric.
From a purely strategic point of view this makes sense and for that I do not denigrate the statement. But I do think that the way in which "rhetoric" is used in this sentence almost makes it sound coy, as if "bipartisan rhetoric" is merely a message / branding tool that is effective in the heartland, but whose intent will not really apply in a future administration. Why does that sentiment go unacknowledged?

I think that Ron Paul says it best on Real Time with Bill Maher when he asserts that "it's policy that counts."

Policy. Not rhetoric. I understand that at GW, students take classes on campaign strategy, message development, crisis management, strategic communications and the like. But at the end of the day, despite all of these almost neurotic considerations, the doctor's words ring true. So I think it would be nice if we could maybe have an editorial that addresses this concern - rather than looking at the rhetorical, surface-level promises of a particular candidate.

America already is already familiar with the campaign's most basic arguments - i.e., that McCain is a bipartisan straight-talker. That's why the Hatchet has an obligation to go further. It's not that I am opposed to the Hatchet. But for a paper that is proud to be independent of University interference, it should have significantly more depth.

Not to let this get out of control and expand exponentially, I just want to make the disclaimer that I do not hate the Hatchet. I do not understand the basis of the hatred that many people have for it. I think that it does a better job than many other college newspapers. Just read some others and you will see what I mean. Because of its great position in DC, it can even break huge stories sometimes before the big papers can.

But because of this quality, it should hold itself to a higher standard than many other college-level newspapers. While I'm not saying that it does not do this, I am saying that especially with regard to the columns, there should be much more careful editing. Editing that would not let phrases like "militant conservative revolution" slip without considering the implications nor the definition of such a statement. Editing that would allow a piece to go beyond presenting what we already know to be the centerpiece of a campaign. Editing that would actually frame a critical analysis so that the op-ed section of the newspaper would be fulfilling its role - to spark debate instead of offering bland, dull reiterations of what is already known.

I'm confident that the situation will improve in the near future.

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