July 12, 2006

More on Coulter: The Nature of the Columnist

Columnists like Coulter are placed in an interesting position. They craft a persona for themselves which typically does not represent who they truly are; pieces of their personality are aligned and emphasized for effect. This is the basis for column-writing. After all, people read columns for the personality, not the accuracy of information.

In fact, we had a dispute with members of Greek life over a scathing column from one of our writers, during which I had to explain the difference between the column and the editorial.

A column is written from the usually unfiltered worldview of one person (or as I stated above, a series of relevant facets of one person). People typically read columns because they appreciate this person's writing in admiration or utter hatred. Columns, in short, are all about the personality and the subject focus.

Editorials are different. They are (or should be) truly rhetorical, lining up facts and evidence through reputable sources (books, internet, experts, studies, etc.) to make an argument. Editorials are all about fact-based rhetoric.

I have seen columnists fall even in college media. A sensationalist columnist creates a two-dimensional caricature of themselves, finds the hot-button issues on campus (administration, Greek life, etc.) and the running commentary can begin (some bloggers are not much different).

They start getting attention for their daring, some good, some bad, all ego-boosting. So the persona they created starts to inflate, exerting more influence over their day-to-day self.

The smart ones can separate themselves from the caricature; the inexperienced can be crushed under the pressure of maintaining the caricature both in print and in day-to-day life. Their own one-sided rhetoric erodes the bridge between themselves and their columnist persona.

It is the same impulse that forges the political leader, the revolutionary and the maverick; and the same force that tears them all down.

Coulter crafts straw men arguments with proficiency, burning each vigorously. She is fueled by our disdain, and coronated with the praise of her rabid supporters. Without these she would shrivel into Ann Coulter the person, an empty wraith starving for attention.

Obviously not all columnists are such creatures; only the envelop-pushers, the liars and the manipulative. And it must be remembered that these people are prominent as entertainers, not advisors.

This coming year I will join their ranks as The Voltage Gate takes a step into print, but my training in science has taught me that not all opinions are equal; those built on a foundation of evidence are much more compelling.

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