Conservative columnist John David Dyche will no longer write for The Courier-Journal after the newspaper rejected a piece he’d written that suggested reforms to the editorial page and that the paper disclose political affiliations of editors and reporters.
On Monday, Courier-Journal Editorial Director Pam Platt told Dyche that his most recently submitted column would not be published. Platt explained that piece didn’t reflect what he was supposed to be writing—a conservative take on the issues of the day, according to Dyche’s transcript of a voicemail left by Platt.
Dyche wrote back to Platt and C-J Publisher Wes Jackson arguing that he’d never before been told what his column was supposed to be about and that a conservative take on issues includes “liberal media bias.” Dyche told Platt that if the paper wouldn’t change its mind, he’d sever their relationship. Platt wished him well on future endeavors.
“I never had a column censored or refused before,” Dyche told WFPL on Friday. “I wrote about things that were interesting to readers and things that were public issues. I thought this was both. Media bias, the status of newspapers, et cetera. This seemed to me to be interesting, and the only problem apparently was that it was about The Courier-Journal itself. They just don’t seem willing to subject themselves to the same scrutiny and demands that they routinely subject others to.”
Platt responds via e-mail: “I believe my remarks about the reason I declined (the) column and my best wishes to him in the future have been posted.”
I’ve asked Platt a few more questions and also left a phone message with Courier-Journal Executive Editor Bennie Ivory. We’ll update with responses later. And a disclosure: I worked for The Courier-Journal for about six years before leaving for WFPL.
On Friday, Dyche said he was motivated to write the column because of the struggles in the newspaper industry—drops in print circulation and revenue, layoffs, buyouts and more.
His ideas included editorial pages that were split evenly with conservative and liberal perspectives, disclosure of editors’ and reporters’ political affiliation, live-stream meetings and make publicly available newsroom correspondences on stories and policies.
“No. 1, they need some revolutionary ideas or they’re not going to exist much longer,” Dyche said. “No. 2, the newspaper claims essentially a quasi-governmental status under the First Amendment, and they demand disclosure of everything else from everybody else in government.
“They claim that the reporters and editors can put aside their personal biases and be fair and objective. Maybe they can—but why not give readers the information about where these reporters and editors are coming from politically themselves, then readers can make a more informed assessment. Are they being fair or are their biases creeping into the coverage?”
Dyche began writing the column in May 2003, only breaking briefly since then to write a book.
“I thought it would be good for the community to at least have a token conservative voice on The Courier-Journal’s overwhelmingly liberal opinion pages,” Dyche said.
Platt’s predecessors—David Hawpe and Keith Runyon—never rejected one of his columns, he said. He said he’d previously written columns critical of The Courier-Journal’s news coverage without the objection of editors. He calls then-Publisher Arnold Garson’s assertion that the paper provided apolitical news coverage “baloney” in this 2009 piece, which can be read in the paper’s paid archives.
Before this week’s events, Dyche had no intention of quitting the column anytime soon, he said.
An attorney by trade, Dyche said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to keep writing commentary pieces. He’s had discussion with other outlets, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
“I was just saying, ‘Here, I think it would be good business as well as service to the community, to have more balance on the editorial pages so you can have a real debate and let the ideas fight it out in the marketplace,” Dyche said of his abrupt departure from the newspaper.
“They evidently disagree.”
Dyche provided WFPL a copy of the rejected column. Here it is:
In an obvious oversight, The Courier-Journal’s new publisher, Wesley Jackson, has not contacted this columnist for suggestions on saving the newspaper from the fate of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (which produces a paper edition only thrice weekly) or worse. Jackson has implemented reforms related to financial viability rather than content, but the latter affects the former. So here, free of charge, are some ideas to promote this publication’s prosperity.
Balanced Opinion Pages. The Courier-Journal opinion pages are stridently liberal. Journalistic jihads against Kentucky’s Republican U. S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and crusades for gun control and higher taxes, are in full force and frequently fill almost the entire editorial and op-ed pages. Such one-sidedness neither works in the marketplace nor serves the public interest.
Make the current editorial page (i.e., the page on the left) into a “Left Page” and there continue presenting hopelessly liberal columns, cartoons, and letters. Convert the op-ed page (i.e., the page on the right) to a “Right Page” and present conservative/libertarian columns, cartoons, and letters now largely absent from Louisville media. Give each page equal resources, and let the competing philosophies battle it out in the marketplace of ideas. The community would benefit from real, vigorous debate, and subscribers who deserted the paper due to its liberal bias might return.
Disclose Editors’ and Reporters’ Politics. Like the rest of the press, The Courier-Journal claims to play an exalted role in public affairs. But while righteously demanding absolute openness and full disclosure from every other entity and person involved in government, the press does not apply the same standard to itself. Change that by disclosing the party registration and voting choices of all editors and reporters.
Journalists believe that they, unlike mere mortals, can transcend their personal opinions to be basically fair and objective in presenting the news. Perhaps, but readers should be the ones to judge. To do so, they need information about the personal political views of the editors and reporters who decide what gets reported, and how, when, and where it gets reported. If a Courier-Journal editor or reporter is a registered Democrat who has voted twice for Barack Obama and Steve Beshear, advise the readers of that fact and let them make their own evaluation about whether those political preferences are influencing the coverage.
Open Meetings and Records. The Courier-Journal not only demands, but often litigates to ensure, full and open public disclosure of meetings and records of government bodies. It should apply the same standard to itself given the prominent role the press proclaims for itself in the political process. So live stream the meetings of editors and reporters and post the written communications and directives between them regarding assignments, policies, and stories.
Let the public see how and by whom decisions are made as to what to cover, who should cover it, and what headlines, photographs, and placement it receives. For example, the recent confirmation hearing of secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel received only two sentences of coverage below the fold on A3 in The Courier-Journal. The paper presented no hint of the bumbling, confused, and altogether incompetent performance by the potential head of the Pentagon.
A three-sentence dispatch about a sacrificial skull mound in Mexico dating to 660 A.D. ran below the dispatch about the Hagel hearing! And a few days later a much longer article entitled “Pentagon to extend benefits to partners” appeared above the fold on A2. Peculiar priorities.
Newspapers indignantly proclaim that their editorial and news departments do not coordinate. Perhaps there is no explicit conspiracy, but the hand-in-glove relationship between such ideological soul mates is undeniable. Opening up the process might not prevent such slanted presentation of news in the service of liberal objectives, but it could deter and expose it.
Publish Value of In-Kind Contributions. The Courier-Journal decries the influence of corporate money in politics and demands better disclosure of political contributions. However, The Courier-Journal, Inc. and Gannett Company, Inc. are corporations that try to influence politics. Presumably their efforts have some value. The newspaper should therefore quantify and report how much its in-kind contributions in the form of editorials, endorsements, etc., would be worth if valued at the rate of comparably-sized advertisements.
Finally. Replace Fort Knox and Jump Start with Mark Trail and Mary Worth in the comics. These soap opera strips are much funnier, albeit unintentionally. And if you do nothing else recommended here, enlarge Peanuts so one can more easily read its often profound social commentary. Good grief!