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Right face: Post-Dispatch uses Pulitzer platform to execute a shift to the right.

The editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has argued strongly in favor of abortion rights and against concealed weapons for years. In dozens of editorials, the page has taken uncompromising stands for environmental protections, stronger corporate regulations, and the separation of church and state.

Then, this past November, the Post endorsed Todd Akin for the U.S. House of Representatives.

It would be difficult to think of a member of Congress more out of step with the Post editorial page's views on abortion, the environment, corporate responsibilities, and the separation of church and state than Akin.

But, in fact, the Post endorsed several candidates --all incumbents--who are archconservatives. Out of the 16 statewide races in Illinois and Missouri, the Post endorsed seven Republicans, including Kenny Hulshof, John Shimkus and Jim Ryan.

It seems the editorial page of the Post has taken a significant shift to right--cancelling its editorials with its endorsements.

"I think that if we've made any shift it's in our thinking," says Christine Bertelson, editor of the editorial page. "We try to take very literally what the Pulitzer platform stands for--to be 'drastically independent.' We have a responsibility to not be allied with any political party."

When the example of Akin is raised, Bertelson said the editorial page doesn't have a "litmus test" for candidates. She says the Post continues to stand firmly behind such issues as abortion rights and environmental protections, but the page isn't limited to endorsing candidates with similar views.

"People aren't one dimensional," she says. "Character is important--how sincere they are, their past experience, their dedication to constituent service. We don't simply match a person with our agenda."

Bertelson acknowledges the "long history of (the Post's) liberal page" but says liberal issues are now less important than the other criteria she mentioned.

Bertelson says that since St. Louis has become a one-newspaper town, the Post has a responsibility to all its readers, both liberal and conservative. She believes it's important to show readers that the Post is not allied with the Democratic Party and that endorsing a Todd Akin demonstrates that independence.

"Maybe we can talk him into our point of view," she says.

A similar shift seems to have taken place on the op-ed page, that page opposite the editorial page where syndicated political columnists are published. At first glance, this page seems balanced, but a closer look shows it too has a decided slant to the right.

Running David Broder and Mona Charen on the same day isn't really balanced. Broder is a thoughtful, experienced journalist with mainly middle-of-the-road opinions. Charen is a political operative with a limited journalism background and a strong conservative. So when degrees of ideological commitment are taken into account-with Molly Ivins at one end of the political spectrum and Cal Thomas at the other-the op-ed page is seen as biased to the right.

Bertelson agrees. But, she sees it more broadly. She says the op-ed page must be balanced against the liberal editorials on the preceding page. In other words, if you take both pages as a whole, then the right-wing slant of the op-ed page is counterbalanced by the leftist editorials produced by her staff.

"Besides," she says, "sometimes they surprise you. I was just reading a column by Cal Thomas today, and I was finding myself agreeing with him. I usually don't. But, he surprised me."
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Author:Bishop, Ed
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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