What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 18, 2005

My Interview with Tony Norman

Second in a series of interviews with local progressive Pittsburghers.

Tony Norman

A day after chatting with the tanned and sun-glassed John McIntire of KDKA Radio, I found myself sitting in the same Starbucks (though at a different table) sipping on another mug of decaf and interviewing another voice on Pittsburgh’s political left – Tony Norman. Tony had the orange juice, I think.

For the two or three people who don’t already know it, Tony’s on the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He also writes a couple of columns per week there as well.

We started our conversation with the Post-Gazette in particular and the news media in general. With so many conservatives railing almost constantly about the media’s “liberal bias” I felt compelled to ask about it. I figured that since he’s a liberal and in the media, if there’s a secret handshake, he’s sure to know about it. I know I’m just a blogger, but I was hoping if there were a secret handshake, he’d show me.

I have to report, he didn’t offer to show me any secret handshake - which either means that there’s isn’t one or if there is, it’s way above my pay level. Bummer.

Tony waxed psychological on the bias of the media. The whole thing, he said, revolves around the Right’s instinct for acting out of a siege mentality – it’s an effort to galvanize one’s own troops against an opponent by portraying that opponent as seemingly more powerful. The Gingrich revolution a decade ago did roughly the same thing - roughly.

When one considers that two of the three branches of government are in the hands of the conservatives (with the judiciary not far behind) and that the owners of major media are themselves conservative, the whole notion that the Left is more powerful than the Right is simply specious. It’s “more of a pose than an existential dread,” he said. They’re fulfilling an emotional need to identify with an insurgent movement.

Locally, he says that the P-G was “doing its damnest” to be perceived as moderate, Indeed the editorial board is liberal on social issues but moderate to conservative on economic ones. While the ideal of straight objectivity may be impossible to achieve, the paper’s working to actively strain any reporter’s opinions out of the news. Tony even told me how David Shribman, the editor in chief over there doesn’t even read the editorial page – there’s a “firewall” of sorts between the news and opinion sections.

But what about his column? Because of the web, he says he’s constantly bombarded with e-mail from all over the world – so much that if he tried to answer each one, he’d never get any other work done. He gets lots of responses from people churned up by his pieces on the Bush administration. And when he writes about race, he’s sure to hear from Pittsburghers (both pro and con – though mostly con). He figures he gets a handful of “snail mail” letters and a couple hundred e-mails per week. The curious thing is that the snail mail letters tend to be in the “get sick and die” category. While the e-mail is mostly positive.

On our current political situation, Tony’s less than enthusiastic. Whatever the next Supreme Court will bring, it’s sure to be bad for America. A court farther to the right than the previous one, nominated by partisans intent on dissolving decades of civil liberties can’t be good news. And what does it say about all the prospective appointees when the man who signed off on those by now infamous “torture memos” is the moderate of the bunch?

It’s a government, he said, run by right wing extremists who are clamping down on a free media, and which denies responsibility for anything that goes wrong. I can’t say I disagree with the Tone-man.

But I had to pin him down on the real important issue. What does Tony Norman, Columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette think about blogs and the blogosphere? Fortunately, he likes us. He likes the nimble and quick responsiveness of the blogosphere. By being hardnosed about digging up the facts, bloggers are in a way closer to what journalism was originally all about.


Stephanie said...

Tony Norman is a genius.

dr. mssg said...

Excellent columns, all down the line. Thx for the interview. :>