Hoot! Advocacy Journalism With Explanation.

The Philadelphia Tribune’s Managing Editor Irv Randolph published an op-ed piece in his paper this week entitled “Sarah Palin is a demagogue.” The piece is clearly partisan—and unfortunately riddled with typos—but it makes insightful and level-headed criticisms of Palin, and of the attention and respect given her by the media. Randolph takes issue with Palin’s given label as a “populist leader,” and insists that she is in fact a political opportunist who plays to people’s base fears.

The most HOOT-worthy part of the column is the fourth sentence, which reads, “[Palin] constantly extols the values of “small-town America,” as if to suggest people who live in cities and suburbs are somehow less American and patriotic.” This is not the usual criticism of Sarah Palin. Politicians of all stripes invoke small-town values, and while people don’t always believe that politicians actually harbor these values, the legitimacy of their constant invocation is usually taken for granted. Randolph appropriately calls into question that practice. He does not call Palin stupid, or evil, or dismiss her the way many other liberals do. He explains what a demagogue is, and makes a careful case that Palin is one.

More importantly, his column criticizes the media for not recognizing and exposing Palin’s demagoguery. In their attempts to maintain the appearance of neutrality, the media often allow politicians’ definitions of themselves to go unexamined. Randolph’s column promotes a more active form of journalism, in which the media are more than just a mouthpiece for newsmakers. It is not beyond the ability of journalists to make qualitative assessments of politicians’ actions and ideas, and allowing popular figures to make suspect claims to political legitimacy doesn’t do anyone any good. Now what we need are more commentaries like Randolph’s, from all points on the political spectrum. And they shouldn’t be confined to the op-ed page.

– Jared Brey

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