"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Monday, November 11, 2002 A letter to the ombudsman of the Boston Globe
Dear Ms. Chinlund,
So engrossed was I in reading the Globe's compelling new Ideas section this past Sunday that I strayed into territory normally avoided for reasons of blood pressure.
I refer to the Letters to the Editor section. On Sunday, less than a week after voters gave the president's party both houses of Congress, the governor's office in Massachusetts, and a 53-47 edge in balloting nationwide, the section featured one letter indicting American military policy as terrorist; another attacking Republicans as war-mongering polluters and plutocrats; and another heaping ad hominems on George W. Bush as a drunk-driving draft-evader guilty of physical cowardice on Sept. 11.
A fourth simply offered internecine criticism of state and national Democratic Party leadership for last week's election losses.
That's out of five letters. My question:
Are the majority of letters the Globe receives penned by anti-war activists; sundry Greens, Quakers and Unitarians; and commissars of the Revolutionary Workers Party? Or only the majority of letters the Globe chooses to run?
Sunday's sampling was indicative of a trend in the Letters section, which seems to serve as a scrappy radical auxiliary to the left-liberal sounding boards of the Editorial and Op-Ed Pages, but with the varnish off. The letters that predominate clearly don't represent the mainstream of public opinion, and I can't imagine they reflect the mainstream of Globe readership.
The tone of the section made its most distinct mark on me in the immediate aftermath of 9.11, when a significant percentage of the letters run were either of the America-had-it-coming variety or the America-please-don't-retaliate school.
I have largely avoided the Letters to the Editor section – and the Editorial and Op-Ed pages in general – ever since. But I ask: Is an effort made in the Letters section to reflect a range of opinion – or only that range of opinion found in an Amherst coffeehouse?
Such a contrast is offered by the new Ideas section: It's sharp, thought-provoking and unpredictable, evocative of the Arts & Letters Daily website, and unsurprisingly, of the old Lingua Franca journal its editor once ran. Each Sunday it has featured articles that provoke debate or discussion and are worth revisiting: Yesterday's engrossing article on the legacy of William Dean Howells comes to mind, as do past articles on Pat Buchanan and the isolationist tradition, and the mythology surrounding the Irish famine.
Would it be too much to ask for the Globe Op-Ed pages, at least, to offer similarly engaging fare, to appeal to thoughtful readers across the political spectrum and not just on the knee-jerk Left? The cranks who have been given the Letters section for use as a private Hyde Park soapbox might not applaud, but I suspect most readers would.