Columnist and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire has today announced his retirement from the world of political punditry. One of his last columns has some great advice on How to Read a Column which naturally enough applies just as much to bloggers as to the “proper” press. A few which seem relevant to recent online debates:
Beware the pundit’s device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life’s unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don’t fall for gilding by association.
When infuriated by an outrageous column, do not be suckered into responding with an abusive e-mail. Pundits so targeted thumb through these red-faced electronic missives with delight, saying “Hah! Got to ’em.”
Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking ’em when they’re up.