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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 16: Cancellation = Conspiracy

Cal Thomas thinks his column getting dropped by one of his 500-plus newspapers is evidence the liberal media is out to get him.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/30/2001

It doesn't take much these days for someone to get worked up into making conspiracy allegations.

Ample evidence of this is found in an Aug. 23 CNS story, which turns one newspaper's dropping of Cal Thomas as a syndicated columnist into a nefarious "house cleaning of conservatives at the paper."

Never mind that the addition and subtraction of syndicated features by newspapers is an everyday occurrence. It's rarely newsworthy, even if a large newspaper does it -- in the case of Thomas, the San Diego Union-Tribune. Recently, a large newspaper near where I live dropped 10 comic strips, including the black-oriented, occasionally controversial Boondocks. No cries of conspiracy were heard. No news organization has done a story protesting the move, not even any of that so-called "liberal" media.

But cancel a conservative, and boy oh boy is there heck to pay.

Thomas -- in a move unusual for a syndicated columnist, especially one as widely syndicated ("over 500 newspapers") as he is -- decided, with CNS' help, to get personally involved in the San Diego cancellation. He tries to shoot down the editor's argument that the column was canceled "was based solely on budgetary concerns and the fact we were not using them enough to justify the contracts" by arguing that his syndicator, Tribune Media Services, "offered them a rate cut and I guaranteed more than enough subscriptions to more than pay for the column." No syndicated columnist can "guarantee" subscriptions unless he was paying for them himself.

Then, Thomas goes after the editor's other argument that the paper canceled a liberal columnist, Robert Scheer, at the same time by saying it "is hardly equivalent" because Scheer's column "only appears in about 20 newspapers." He's right, actually -- it's not equivalent. With a much smaller subscriber base than Thomas, Scheer takes a much larger audience hit proportionally than Thomas. Scheer's voice has been silenced much more than Thomas' has. Scheer should be the one complaining, but we wouldn't know if he is because CNS didn't contact him to find out how he felt about getting canceled.

The story then shifts into conspiracy mode, quoting a "senior staff member at the Union-Tribune" (anonymous, of course) as saying "all new hires by the newspaper have been 'non-conservatives.'" and blamed a senior management shift at the newspaper's owner, Copley Newspapers, for causing an "ideological shift." No newspaper or Copley officials were given an opportunity to respond to these allegations.

It also quotes former editorial cartoonist Steve Kelley as saying he was fired because "I was too conservative for them." Newspaper officials, meanwhile, say he was fired because he tried to get a (non-political) cartoon in the paper that the editor had found offensive. (I don't find it offensive, but I wasn't Kelley's editor.) The CNS story doesn't mention that, nor does it give space to anyone at the newspaper to respond to Kelley's allegation.

It's hard to say who looks worse here -- Cal Thomas, for taking the slight of one client canceling his column so personally that he tries to denigrate the paper that canceled it, as if his appearance in more than 500 newspapers was not enough; or CNS, who in acting as Thomas' megaphone chose not to be fair to those who are "non-conservative," or at least not Cal Thomas, anonymous sources or disgruntled ex-employees.

My diagnosis: Perhaps Cal needs to mellow out a little and learn to enjoy his success. Appearing in 500 newspapers is an accomplishment he should be savoring, and with such wide distribution of his work, the loss of a single client should not be sending him into such a tizzy. As for CNS, I'd suggest a return to j-school for the lot of 'em (again), but heck, they can't even follow their employer's own mission statement to produce news for those "who put a higher premium on balance than spin" and to "fairly present all legitimate sides of a story."

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