Some of the Best Reporting Is Found on the Op/ed Page

By Rawls, Wendell, Jr. | The Masthead, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Some of the Best Reporting Is Found on the Op/ed Page


Rawls, Wendell, Jr., The Masthead


Somewhere between the news media's fascination with celebrity, the "dramatic footage" provided by the pompom-waving embedded journalists in Iraq, and the dramatic events surrounding the Jayson Blair fabrications and subsequent "resignations" at The New York Times, I began to realize that the best reporting is coming not from the news sections but from columnists on op-ed pages.

I'm not thinking of ideologues who make one telephone call to a supporting source and then embark on a partisan rant or a moralistic scold. I certainly am not thinking of those who write "open letters" to the president, governor, or mayor. Nor was I thinking of those interminable and cliched Christmas wish lists or New Year's resolutions.

When I was an editor at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution some 15 years ago, we had 35 columnists at the two papers, including sports, op-ed, local section, features, suburban, Sunday magazine, etc. One holiday season, 34 of the 35 wrote columns listing New Year's resolutions--for themselves or a coach, a politician, or other celebrity/ public figure. The ultimate thumb sucking.

That's to say nothing of those columnists who think they are being creative with the imaginary confrontational conversation with a fictional (you choose) reader, friend, spouse, politician, activist, fishing buddy, whatever.

On the other hand, there are, in fact, editorial writers and op-ed columnists who do original reporting, who travel outside their offices and beyond their navels to observe conditions first-hand, conduct their own interviews in person, take their own notes, produce research.

Obviously I have not read all reporting columnists, but some that come to mind are Phil Gailey, editor of The St. Petersburg Times; Eileen McNamara, columnist at The Boston Globe, Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman of The New York Times, and often Donna Britt of The Washington Post.

But chief among those in recent months is Bob Herbert of The New York Times.

Anyone who has followed his writing from around America can attest to the quality of his reporting. He is a shining example for any columnist.

He went to tiny Tulia, Texas, after testimony from a self-styled "deep undercover" white policeman led to the 1999 arrest and subsequent imprisonment of more than three dozen people, almost all black, on charges of major drug dealing.

The first few defendants, including a 64-year-old pig farmer, were convicted only on the uncorroborated word of the officer, who produced no confiscated drugs, acknowledged that he had written important investigative information on his arms and legs, and routinely referred to blacks as "niggers." One target of the charges was not even in the state when the alleged crime was committed.

The first sentences were extraordinarily harsh, one exceeding 300 years in prison and several between 50 and 90 years. That led other defendants to plead guilty for leniency rather than take a chance on a long prison sentence in a racially charged case and community.

With Texas newspapers apparently too wrapped up in their sycophantic coverage of their governor's campaign for the presidency, hardly anyone heard of this case until Herbert started reporting on it. He discovered that the cases were largely a fabrication by a rogue cop who had been fired from other law enforcement jobs, had been in trouble with the law himself, had blown out the windshield of a patrol car with a shotgun, and had built a reputation among other law enforcement officials as unreliable and untrustworthy.

After a few columns (over two years), the case against the Tulia defendants began to unravel. Today, the "undercover" policeman has been indicted for perjury by a grand jury, and the prosecutors have admitted that they made a mistake. They have asked the court to overturn all the convictions. Nevertheless, at this writing, 13 people remained in jail awaiting the final say of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Some of the Best Reporting Is Found on the Op/ed Page
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.