- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

A different perspective, a voice outside the pack



Most newspapers print two daily opinion pages: the editorial page and the Op-Ed page, located opposite the editorials. From its early days, The Washington Times distinguished itself by printing more daily opinion pages four of them than any other newspaper in the nation.
The editorial page in The Times, which displays under the masthead the opinions written in the name of the newspaper, often presents a point of view that sharply contrasts with that of The Washington Post, the New York Times and other organs of the dominant media. A great many readers find this tremendously refreshing.
The editor of the editorial page supervises a staff of writers and is responsible for the content of the editorials but answers ultimately to the editor in chief. Not by coincidence, published letters to the editor, which often take issue with the editorials, opinion columns or news stories, are located adjacent to the editorials.
The page also includes the editorial cartoon, which for all but one of our 20 years has been drawn by William Garner, who has put his stamp indelibly on the page as surely as Herblock did at The Post though with considerably more humor.
Editorials can be worth their weight in gold (or at least the weight of the writer) as Washington measures these things. The perspectives spun out at 300 to 500 words get passed around on Capitol Hill, cited by the White House and scrutinized by opinion makers. At election time, candidates eagerly collect editorial endorsements like so many trophies.
Such avid courting can be heady business for editorial writers. Fortunately, those writers can be brought back to earth by the targets of editorial criticism. It may be true that you can't win an argument with the man who buys ink by the barrel, but not for nothing are editorialists known as "inky wretches."
A succession of editorial page editors and writers contributed to giving The Times the standing it enjoys. A succession of presidents from Ronald Reagan through George Bush and Bill Clinton paid tribute in one way or another to the influence of The Times. When President George W. Bush told Wesley Pruden, the editor in chief, that he was "a conscience" in the nation's capital, the editor took it as a tribute to the newspaper as well as to the man.
The first editor of the editorial page was Anne Crutcher, a woman of style, talent and sophistication who had written editorials at the Washington Star and the Washington Daily News. Mrs. Crutcher died just 18 months after she came to The Times. She was succeeded by William P. Cheshire, who expanded the opinion pages to four a day, three in a Commentary section under the editorship of Mary Lou Forbes.
Mr. Cheshire departed in 1987 after disagreements with Arnaud de Borchgrave, by then the editor in chief, over editorial policy. He was succeeded by Tony Snow from the Detroit News.
The page's original investigative reporting by Terry Jeffrey (now editor of Human Events) and Stephanie Nall about a fraudulent book contract led to the resignation of House Speaker Jim Wright. Mr. Snow supervised the writing of the editorials on the Iran-Contra scandal, the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and the final days of the Reagan era. Though the editorial page never would be a mouthpiece for either Democrats or Republicans, his political philosophy caught the eye of the White House, and he became a speechwriter for the first President Bush in 1991.
Tod Lindberg, editor of Insight magazine, took over the page as The Times went from five-day to seven-day publication, arriving one month after Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court. The opinion pages were moved to the A section, and a new Op-Ed page was anchored at first by staff columnists Suzanne Fields, Sam Francis and Richard Grenier.
The 1990s were years of scandal, providing ample fodder for editorial writers such as Eric Felten and Naomi Munson. Mr. Lindberg left to become editor of Policy Review in 1998, just as the Clinton impeachment trial got under way.
The successor was his deputy, Helle Bering (who became Helle Dale when she married Reginald Dale last year). The first editorial under her direction called for impeachment of the president. The page continued to give no quarter to the man who, in the newspaper's opinion, had forfeited the prestige of the presidency and dispirited the nation. The Op-Ed page added Tony Blankley and Nat Hentoff.
The Times was the first newspaper to endorse George W. Bush for president. No one had a better head for the politics of the election or for counting votes and chads than editorial writer David Dickson, whose work was noted with appreciation by the Bush election team in Florida.
Hillary Rodham Clinton's journey from the White House to the Senate and Bill Clinton's final moments of disgrace, with new scandals about pardon-selling and silverware-nipping, demonstrated that the former first couple's shenanigans would continue to amuse editorial writers, particularly Diana West.
The page sustained a loss last summer with the death of Ken Smith, an authority on Virginia politics who was by then the deputy editor. He was succeeded by the chief writer on the District, Deborah Simmons, a veteran of the metropolitan desk.
Fallout from the 2000 election was blown away by the enormity of the events of September 11. Just as that day changed the Bush presidency, so it changed the issues occupying editorial writers. Foreign affairs writers Sarah Means and Ximena Ortiz focused on the war on terrorism abroad, assistant editor Joel Himelfarb on related domestic issues and Charles Rousseaux on energy policy.
The Times has become part of the permanent Washington landscape and, with the rise of the Internet, an important voice throughout the world. The newspaper's editorials, like its news coverage, are quoted in the foreign ministries and the media across the globe. With that recognition has come responsibility and reward.


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