A couple weeks ago, we asked readers to weigh in on one of our weekly syndicated columnists, Leonard Pitts.
And, did you ever.
The number of replies demonstrated two things. First, that a lot of readers take the opinion pages seriously, and we thank you for that. Second, the responses drove home a point becoming more and more apparent over the past year. That is, there’s nearly no middle ground in opinions today, or in America.
Respondents either loved Pitts or hated him. In fairness, that could likely be that those in the middle simply weren’t interested to respond like the readers with strong opinions.
The reason for our query was that the Pulitzer Prize columnist seemed to “have gone off the reservation.” We called him a two-trick pony — racism and Donald Trump.
We wrote, “He’s kind of like the crazy uncle you keep in the attic, hoping that soon he’ll come back down and have supper with the family.”
While the responses were very pointed, the large majority of the letters and phone messages were thought provoking and rational arguments for or against.
A minority wrote in not so much in opposition to Pitts, but in favor of Larry Elder.
In hindsight, Elder was a poor choice on our part. If we were looking to replace a far left-leaning columnist with a writer of the same ilk, Elder was not the one. He describes himself as a social liberal but a fiscal conservative. We would need to find a “lefter” replacement if Pitts was to go.
In deciding what to do with Pitts, we couldn’t simply tally up the letters and calls for or against his column.
His replacement, again, would need to be liberal, because we try very hard to keep the pages balanced right and left. But we understood that most of the calls against Pitts were from the far right, which would oppose any liberal columnist.
In the end, we found the supporters’ arguments more compelling. Mary Carreras wrote, “He is a passionate ant articulate spokesman for those who are most vulnerable.”
Julie Wesling wrote, “I didn’t cancel my subscription when The Record endorsed Donald Trump. I tolerated it because the paper is entitled to its opinion. Leonard Pitts is entitled to his opinion, too. I want to read it, along with the others.”
Supporters were also very quick to point out that we publish Ann Coulter’s column and Pitts is the counterpoint for her “fascist blather” as one reader put it.
So the issue came down to this: remove both Coulter and Pitts, or keep them both.
For now, we’ll keep them, with a slight switch. Pitts and Coulter will be published side by side on Mondays, beginning tomorrow. They can fight it out amongst themselves.
Froma Harrop and local columnist Steve Cottrell will move to Wednesdays. The remainder off the week will have the same lineup as before.
There’s an old saying in the newspaper business that there are three things no human can do to another’s total satisfaction: make love, poke a fire and edit an opinion page.
We suspect this solution will be no less popular than any other option we might have selected.
Thanks again for all your input.