Paul Greenberg

Dear Colleague,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from a fellow editorial writer, for we have so much in common. Or to put it another way, misery loves company.

But in your case I sense not misery but genuine pride in having produced these two diametrically opposed opinion pieces you've shared with me: The first, an editorial you wrote, favors generally requiring parental consent before a minor child can have an abortion. In the second, your signed column, you're against the idea.

It's like hearing from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the same subject. Just which is which need not concern us in this context. Readers will doubtlessly have their own strong views on the matter. What impresses is your ability to play both roles. You're nothing if not flexible.

How can you justify taking both positions? Here's how you do it: "Editorial writers are not called on to write their own opinions; what they write is not only the consensus of the (editorial) board, but the position of the paper. And it is a wonderful exercise for an editorial writer to argue the other point of view in print, which most of us have to do at some point."

Not me, sister. Maybe because I've been lucky enough to work for a higher class of publishers. The kind who realize you don't ask writers to express opinions they don't share. It's not good for the conscience. Or the digestion.

You disagree: "My column is signed; the editorial is the opinion of the paper. My job is to deftly express that opinions."

So what do you call that, writing or just taking dictation? How would you describe your job - hired gun? Team player? The kind of salesman who'll market any product, even one he'd refuse to buy himself? Have you confused the job description of an editorial writer with that of a sophist?

Our discussion brings to mind the story about the old boy who needed a job teaching science at a little country school - needed it bad. When he was interviewed by the school board, he was asked whether he believed in the Flat Earth Theory or that the Earth was round. After a moment of sincere reflection, or at least calculation, he responded. "I can go either way," he said.

You object to my describing what you've done as taking dictation. Yet in your signed column, you say you "had to write an editorial that flew in the face of everything that I believe." If that isn't taking dictation, what is?

And what's this about your having to write that editorial? Was anybody holding a gun to your head? Surely you could have found somebody on the staff willing to express the paper's point of view -sincerely.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.