Is Will Folks Worth 1,590 Words? Of Course ...
There's something about The State Newspaper Editorial Page Editor Brad Warthen you've just got to love.
Sure, if he were in charge of South Carolina we'd be shelling out 50% of our incomes to the government, annually forking over half the value of our homes in property taxes and paying a 30% sales tax on everything we purchased (well, except newspapers), but there's something about Brad's articulate misguidedness that begs to be engaged.
In particular, one of Brad's most endearing qualities is that he "gets" our boy sic Willie. While he never refrains from dispensing the high-brow pot shot, the condescending ivory tower snub or reinforcing ever-so-subtly the "tempermental misfit" type-casting of our hero, Brad has mastered the fundamental equation:
Will Folks = Controversy = Reaction = Newspaper Sales
Apparently, Will Folks also equals a hell of a lot of website comments, which is why Mr. Warthen devoted a full 1,590 words to rebuffing an original oped one-third that length.
So here, in its entirety, is Mr. Warthen's 1,590-word response to a 600-word oped submitted by sic Willie in The State last Friday (be sure to visit http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/ for more of Brad's musings):
OK, My Turn on the Folks' Oped
By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
OK, now that the comments on the Will Folks op-ed have reached critical mass of 34 comments and rising (including two from Mr. Folks himself), I will take a few moments to address some of the points raised by readers.
First, though, let me give you a brief summary of my thinking as it went before the piece ran -- before the storm, as it were.
When the proof landed on my desk, I saw Will's mug and thought, "Oh, man -- what, again?" Then I remembered the earlier conversation in which it had been mentioned that this piece was in the pipeline. A board member responded by asking, "Is it something we would run if someone else wrote it?" That's pretty much our standard response whenever the question arises whether we should give this person or that person space on our pages -- what if it were from someone else? If the answer is "yes," we generally go with it. The answer was "yes."
So I read the piece on the page and agreed with my colleague who had put it there that yes, if this had been from some other similarly situated advocate on that side of the debate, we would have run it. But note that qualification of "similarly situated": It probably (would) NOT have run if it had come in from someone who had never been a player of some kind in the debate. I say that because the arguments were pretty weak, and persuasive only to someone who already believes all this stuff, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Coming from Will Folks, its weakness was interesting in and of itself. Coming from someone unknown to the readers, it would have had little value.
To elaborate on that, some folks have asked why we would "give a platform" to someone who pleaded guilty to criminal domestic violence. Well, we wouldn't. But we would "give a platform" to someone who is writing on a subject that is important and timely and who:
-Was the spokesman, until quite recently, of the current governor.
-Demonstrated his temperamental unsuitability for the job a number of times during the four years he spoke for the governor, but continued to hold the position until, as I just said, quite recently.
-Is still advocating, as hard as he can, policies that are priorities for that governor.
-Writes with a tone and style that is much the same as the way he spoke when he was in the governor's office -- lashing out, dismissive toward those who disagree, etc.
-Brings to the surface, in a particularly stark manner, something that has been hinted at more subtly up to now -- the growing tension between the governor and those who think like him and an increasingly unified business leadership.
My friend Samuel Tenenbaum said "Shame!" over our having run this piece. But I feel no shame. Well, I will admit that one thing about the decision to run this does nag at my conscience just a bit: the fact that the piece was so weak in its arguments that it undermined Mr. Folks' point of view, with which I disagree. So should I have waited for a stronger piece expressing that point of view to come in? Well, if I had, I'd still be waiting. It's not like we had a strong piece and this one, and picked this one. This is what we had.
Another respondent says critics are attacking Mr. Folks, but dodging the substance of what he said. Well, let's discuss two or three points of that substance:
Will dismisses the financial acumen of some of the heaviest business hitters in South Carolina (or as he puts it, "prominent leaders of the so-called 'business community'"), and does so in a way that takes for granted that HE and the governor know better than they do what is good for business in South Carolina. He sneers at the "left-leaning S.C. Chamber of Commerce" (note to Hunter Howard -- better quit wearing those Che T-shirts around the State House). He calls Darla Moore and Mack Whittle "self-appointed dilettantes." To provide a little perspective, as the governor said to me awhile back about his having hired Will in the first place, "You take someone who was playing bass guitar in a rock 'n' roll band and you give him a chance." Yeah, OK, let's see -- to whom would I go for credible financial advice? Darla Moore, or Will Folks? Mack Whittle, or Will Folks? Harris DeLoach, or Will Folks? Don Herriott, or Will Folks? Ooh, that's a toughie.
While the governor can be said to have more experience in business than his former protege, to suggest that he is someone whose credentials suggest more real-world experience in financial dealings than the people Mr. Folks dismisses is ludicrous. Mr. Sanford's record in the private sector before he took up politics is by comparison to these people -- and this is charitably understating the case -- less than impressive.
Actually, I'm going to stop there, and not get into his strong suggestion that ONLY the kind of tax cut the governor wants could possibly help our economy, or his indulgence in yet another gratuitous slap at public schools ("unquestionably the nation's worst") or his mentioning that "state spending jumping another 9.1 percent" without noting by how much it had been cut in the several preceding years (some agencies, such as the Corrections Department, by more than 20 percent during that period). Basically, I'm tired of typing.
But before I go, let me address a few reader comments specifically:
Scott Barrow says "you're giving him credibility and helping him restore his bad name by printing his columns." I don't see how. If anything, I'm hurting the cause he advocates by running a piece from him (I already addressed the fact that my conscience nags at me about that, even though my conscience, yaller dog that it is, doesn't know what it's talking about).
Uncle Elmer asks, "Does Mr. Sanford really need cool-headed, articulate friends like this?" Well, no, he doesn't. In fact, the last time we ran a piece by Mr. Folks, the governor's office called to question our having done so.
Honesty says, "The fact that you found the need to edit his previous editorial due to his apparent dishonesty while deeming him worthy of now being published as a guest editorialist borders on bizarre." Well, not really. We edit everybody, and a lot of what we edit out are unsupportable statements that are wrongly presented as fact. Sometimes we miss such mistakes and instances of outright attempts to mislead, but we try.
Will Folks himself complained that "Just once... it would be nice to submit an article and actually have folks debate its merits instead of venting their spleens with all this anonymous speculation regarding a domestic situation they didn't witness and don't possess the slightest bit of insight into." Well, once again, Will, I tried. I refer you to the above.
Finally, Don Williams raised a broader complaint "about the plethora of conservative local columnists which have been given platform" on our pages. Well, first, I wouldn't call Will Folks a "conservative." I think that term refers far better to the "left-leaning" Chamber of Commerce than to him. And Mr. Williams lumps him in with Bob McAlister and Mike Cakora as being three who "arrive at the same conclusions time after time." Well, Bob works for those "dilettantes" over at the Palmetto Institute, and is therefore pushing very different views from Mr. Folks on these issues. Mr. McAlister is also a very conservative Southern Baptist, while last I read, Mr. Cakora was an atheist. I have no idea where Mr. Cakora (whom I met once, about six years ago -- a fact I thought I'd throw in for Mark Whittington's benefit) stands on the tax issue (maybe you can find out on his blog). Beyond that, we usually get complaints about running too many liberals. I don't know whether we do or not. I particularly don't know on local columns. Basically, we generally take what we're sent, and choose between them based on quality and relevance (and whether they've been published somewhere else, which is generally a disqualifier). Mr. McAlister sends us far more columns than probably any other local contributor -- more than we actually run, I would point out. Joe Darby -- who is no one's definition of a conservative -- probably comes in a distant second (we hear from him less since he moved to Charleston). Tom Turnipseed? I would say he submits columns less often that Mr. McAlister, but more often than than Mr. Darby. (Mr. Turnipseed is also regularly published elsewhere). We run letters from him more often, including a short one on Dec. 18.
As for nationally syndicated columnists, here's a blog by a fairly nonpartisan guy who takes the trouble to rate columnists according to how much they lean either Democratic or Republican. Of the ones on his list we run regularly, he sees five as Dems and only one as GOP. But then, he lists George Will, of all people, as being slightly Democratic, so... Also, he doesn't include some of our conservative regulars, such as Charles Krauthammer and Cal Thomas. I guess "left" and "right" are pretty much in the eyes of the beholder, which is one reason I hate using the terms.
That's all I have to say about that. For now.