Old Friend

The LA Times op-ed page might be getting well. 

Over the past 5-10 years, under different editors, that page had become a combination of the predictable and the irrelevant; so much so that I’d started skipping it for the first time since I was a teenager.  More than any other section, op-ed had become the symbol of the great newspaper’s putrefaction.

Today, I opened it with the usual low expectations, and instead found:

  • New columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan’s eloquent disappointment in today’s African-American political leadership, embodied in newly-elected Councilman Herb Wesson, who she says is “Not Enough, and Not Enough has evolved into a transgression all by itself, a corruption of heart and will.” 
  • Marc Cooper’s thoughtful salute to newly-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, and his hopes that she will make more “concrete policy changes” than her fellow-Socialist predecessor, while dealing with “Chile’s ossified social structures.”
  • Regular columnist Max Boot’s pointed refutation of those who contend the Bush Administration’s monitoring of communications between known terrorists abroad and their contacts in the U.S. is impeachable, especially in light of the “real abuses” of wartime civil liberties by presidents Nixon, Roosevelt, Wilson, Lincoln and Adams.
  • Nation literary editor Adam Shatz’s attack against author and Holocaust surivivor Elie Wiesel — and against Oprah Winfrey for promoting Wiesel’s classic “Night” despite what Shatz claims are Wiesel’s “problems with credibility.”

Some of the arguments made by the above authors border on the outrageous. Conservatives with at least four fingers will surely note that two of these columns are by avowed leftists, while only one is by an avowed rightist. The City Hall family will wrap a circle of love around Councilman Wesson today and claim Kaplan’s being unfair. The literary critics in full cry against Oprah for defending James Frey’s made-up memoir will be puzzled at Shatz’s attempt to bootstrap his fury at Israeli government policies into the middle of this debate about a memoirist’s responsibilities toward the truth. Bush-haters will see an evil corporate plot in the Times’ publication of Boot’s apologia.

But what I noticed is: Not one of these columns was boring. No empty rhetoric. No party-line talking point regurgitation. Instead, lots of passion. Each of these pieces come from the intermingling of heart and mind, facts and imagination that make an essay memorable.  They make a valuable contribution to a discussion of these topics, all of which matter.

Just like the LA Times op-ed pages I grew up with.  

One swallow does not a spring make, but a revived LA Times op-ed page bodes well for a revived civic discourse in Los Angeles — and for the Times itself.

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