With Harsanyi gone, Post opinion page more balanced

David Harsanyi left The Denver Post last week, and it’s natural to wonder if the newspaper should replace him with another conservative columnist.

So I took a look at the political leanings of The Post’s staff columnists, and it turns out that with Harsanyi gone, the page is more balanced than it was before.

Hiring a new Harsanyi would tilt the newspaper’s opinion page markedly to the right, and that’s not good for The Post, which wants a balanced opinion page, or for us readers.

Here’s what I did: I categorized all The Post’s in-house columnists according to their political bent (as “centrist,” “left,” “left-leaning,” “right,” or “right-leaning”). I included only the columnists who write on political issues, so I excluded folks like historian Tom Noel and Mary Winter. I put columnist Ed Quillen in the “leans-left” category, even though many of his columns are not political. I counted all of Rosen’s columns, even though conservatives might object to this as unfair, pointing out that each of his columns should count as a half, given that he might re-use them a few times.

My final count was 22 columns/month from right or right-leaning columnists and 23 from left or left-leaning columnists. (I counted one column as “centrist”.)

I did not include the in-house editorials, which lean right. Nor did I count the editorial cartoon, which appears to lean left.

In any case, if you add a new Harsanyi, and you focus on in-house columnists only, you have to add a whopping twelve more columns/month to the right side of the ledger, which would make the count 34 righties to 23 lefties. Unfair.

I sent my bean count to Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley. I asked if he agreed with me that, with Harsanyi gone, the page looks more balanced, in terms of local columnists.

I also asked him about the pundit gender gap among staff political columnists. (Over a month, the count is about 45 columns by men versus 1 by a woman.) I also pointed out to Haley that, as of the end of last week, Mike Littwin wrote 10 of his last 12 columns on national topics, leaving a bit of an advantage to righties when it comes to opinions on local topics from staff columnists.

Here’s Haley’s response:

I think you’re trying to turn this into a science, and it’s not. It’s a daily balancing act. We try every day to give our readers a balance view of Colorado and the world: Opinions from left to right, written by men and women, locally and nationally, from varying ethnic backgrounds. Is it always a perfect mix? Of course not. But we try to offer up a diversity of views and authors as best we can.

Locally, as of next week, we will have two main op-ed columnists (Carroll/Littwin) who will write 12 columns a month from the right and left. That’s balance.

When you add in our freelancers, I would argue we tilt a little to the left. As for your chart, John Andrews, like Barnes-Gelt, only runs once a month, not twice. That started this month. And I would argue that B-G does more than “lean left,” as you suggest. Also, Mary Winter was brought on board to write a left of center column, and because I thought we needed more female voices. You can categorize her as “centrist” if you’d like, but we’re looking for left of center columns from her. And last year we brought Dottie Lamm back into the fold for monthly columns to bolster our stable of female voices. She also “leans left.” We also run Joanne Ditmer monthly.

The bottom line is we don’t have to be balanced, but we try to because we want to appeal to a broad audience and because we believe it’s fair.

Also, I would argue that the editorials are “centrist” versus “leans right.” We endorsed Michael Bennet for Senate and Hickenlooper for governor. Our political endorsements last fall were unintentionally evenly divided among Rs and Ds. We have argued in favor of civil unions and gay marriage, while leading the discussion on the need for a possible tax hike to help Colorado’s state budget. Yes, we’ve also favored Dougco’s voucher program and have been critical of the teachers union, but that’s balance. We don’t care what’s good for Republicans or what’s good for Democrats, only what’s good for Colorado.

I was relieved to read that Haley apparently agrees that locally in terms of the “main op-ed columnists,” he he thinks the page is balanced. So it appears we won’t see a new Harsanyi on the page to throw the balance out of whack again.

An editorial note on Harsanyi’s final column last week indicated that The Post will continue to run Harsanyi’s syndicated column.

Asked how often he’d run Harsanyi, Haley wrote:

Not sure yet. Guessing it will be once a week for awhile and then whenever he writes about something of interest, or if we need it for balance, etc.

So Harsanyi apparently won’t be treated like he was before, as a staff columnist, which makes obvious sense.

Outside of the staff columnists, which were the focus of my scientific analysis, Haley makes a good point that the balance can change on a daily basis. There are syndicated columnists, guest opinions, Other Voices columnists, and other content that might balance things out on a particular day. And Haley’s efforts to add more voices of women on the editorial page is good. The gender imbalance among newspaper pundits, nationally, is stark, longstanding, and inexplicable.

As to whether The Post’s in-house editorials are centrist, I confess that I don’t have data to back up my impression that they lean right. Someday I’ll categorize Post editorials over a six-month period, so we’ll have some concrete information to discuss, rather than my vague impressions.

Here are the details of my bean count of The Post’s staff columnists:

John Andrews (2 columns per month) RIGHT

Susan Barnes-Gelt (1 column per month) LEANS LEFT

Fred Brown (1 column per month) CENTER

Vincent Carroll (12 columns per month) RIGHT

Dan Haley (4 columns per month) LEANS RIGHT

Mike Littwin (12 columns per month) LEFT

Ed Quillen (6 columns per month) LEANS LEFT

Mike Rosen (4 columns per month) RIGHT

David Sirota (4 columns per month) LEFT


Right — 18

Leans Right — 4

Left — 16

Leans Left — 7

Center — 1

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