- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

This column will violate most of the canons I have observed during my career as a pundit. It will involve no fresh reporting. It will make heavy use of first-person pronouns. And it will not exceed space limits set by most editors.

But then, this is an unusual piece. It´s my last as a syndicated columnist. I´ve decided to hang up the controversialist´s pen and concentrate on becoming a better broadcaster for Fox News. That means stepping away from a newspaper career that began 22 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., and took me to some wonderful ports of call Norfolk and Newport News, Va; Detroit and Washington, D.C.

I didn´t arrive lightly at this decision. I´m a writer at heart, and I´ve wanted a syndicated byline for as long as I can remember. After eight years as a columnist, I still look forward to the delicious pressure of churning out articles on deadline and don´t know how I will duplicate it.

Few professions fulfill expectations as fully as the opinion-writing business. It intoxicates and addicts its practitioners with ruthless efficiency. Most men and women who start down the pundit´s path stay there until they die or get fired, and most veterans of the craft become regular companions of people who open their papers each morning expecting something special a crackle of novelty, a flash of excitement, a glint of unexpected insight.

This column has given me a chance to mull over topics both trivial and grave, to explore my ability to craft an occasional mot juste and make contact with millions of newspaper readers. I have met politicians of every stripe and hue, interviewed potentates and prime ministers, and even worked for the first President George Bush.

I´ve learned a lot from my readers and firmly believe that every scrap of critical mail with the exception of obscenity-laced, lipstick-on-the-mirror missives from anonymous crackpots contains some bit of useful critical wisdom.

My readers have taught me, for instance, that political disputes have infinitesimal shelf lives. Controversies crash upon our shores with the sound of thunder and then slip swiftly into the abyss. Politicians may nurse grudges for years, but most of us forget about raging disputes before the ink has dried on the latest run of the daily paper.

I learned that while people liked my political prose, they most enjoyed descriptions of my rough attempts to deal with the bumps, bruises and joys of daily experience the death of a grandmother, the first of three miscarriages, a family vacation at the shore, a reflection of how much I love my wife, a ragged effort to express my vague but persistent religious faith. I´ll continue writing about these things but in longer, more occasional magazine articles and books.

An old friend of mine, newspaper editor Dirk Allen, says as one door shuts, another swings open. He´s right, although human nature decrees that most of us will spend more time lamenting the old door than examining the new.

But then again, what an amazing "old door" the newspaper business is. It keeps our language fresh, our vernacular vibrant and our fish dry. Best of all, it features some of the most amazing characters on Earth.

Paul Greenberg, an old mentor and friend, once described newspaper editors as mice in training to become rats. Fortunately, that quip doesn´t describe the wise and decent people who have guided me through the trade. They include Terry Eastland, who brought me into the business; Dorothy Duffy, who let me edit an editorial page at the age of 27; Tom Bray, who taught me more about economics and life than I can possibly recount; Arnaud de Borchgrave, whom I once described as the only man I knew who could qualify as a branch of literature; Mary Lou Forbes, who is the only adult I know who has as much energy and zest for life as my 4-year-old; and Rick Newcombe, who took me on as a writer for Creators Syndicate and placed me under the protective wing of several wonderful editors Laura Mazer, Katherine Searcy and Anthony Zurcher.

I know this reads like an Oscars speech, so here´s the bottom line: I love this business and hate to say goodbye. But I console myself knowing that politics will remain a target-rich environment for pundits of all persuasions and that I now may read commentators the way you do not as competitors, but as sources of endless invigoration, exasperation and stimulation … and, of course, wisdom.

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