Mandatory Labeling

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Author Shelby Steele recently demonstrated one way – and a reasonably polite way – of breaking through the media’s tendency to label only one side of the political debate. He had written a piece on John Walker, the” American Talib” and was discussing it on Aaron Brown’s “NewsNight” on CNN. Here’s how Aaron Brown introduced the discussion:

“Some conservatives jumped on Walker, saying he is a product of cultural liberalism – the California kind – helping to turn an impressionable kid against his own country. Joining us from Salinas, Calif., one of those conservatives, Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution. Mr. Steele wrote a provocative article the other day in The Wall Street Journal -a column in the Journal. And here in New York, a columnist who thinks Mr. Steele is making an awfully broad generalization: Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. It’s nice to have both of you here.”

Steele, who has often objected to being called a conservative just because he has questioned affirmative action and other race-oriented policies, jumped in thusly:

“First of all, let me interrupt you just a minute. Is Richard Cohen a liberal?

Brown: “Yeah, Richard Cohen’s a liberal. I think he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Cohen: “On this issue.”

Brown: “Okay. Everyone is now branded, I guess.” Steele: “Great, if I’m going to be, everybody’s going to be.”

Note that Cohen, who is an opinion columnist, not a news side journalist, would only cop to being a liberal “on this issue.” Like most journalists, he probably doesn’t view himself as being “liberal” or “on the left” but simply a common-sense analyst who just happens to agree with most of the people with whom he comes in contact on a daily basis. I don’t mind people having opinions – I’m a daily journalist who has plenty. I just wish they’d own up to it more often.

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