Whitesburg KY

Do ‘dryland fish’ have an ideology?

A person with a job like mine gets lots of mail, but perhaps the most bizarre piece to hit the box in some time was sent by Sen. Jim DeMint, the hard-right Republican from South Carolina.

It’s a nine-page, single-spaced solicitation for one of his favorite groups, the Washington-based Leadership Institute, which trains young conservatives and operates a Student Publications School. The faculty has included National Review’s Rich Lowry and other conservative icons.

The institute, of which our own Mitch McConnell is an alum, “helps young conservatives combat the leftists on our campuses” and “tackles left-wing domination of campus newspapers head-on.” DeMint explains, “Where radicals have a monopoly on student publications, there’s no place for a conservative to develop skills in journalism.”

DeMint says that, thanks in large part to the institute’s efforts, students on 159 campuses around the country now have independent conservative student newspapers they can turn to for news and opinion from a conservative viewpoint. That’s 159 down and 2,372 leftist holdouts to go.

DeMint insists that, “If you pick up a copy of the official, campussponsored student newspaper at most colleges, you’ll read articles which blatantly advocate surrender in the War on Terrorism, viciously attack our free market system and blatantly endorse socialism, ridicule conservative values, push ‘multiculturalism’ and advocate radical feminist and homosexual agendas.”

I don’t know which college papers he’s been reading, but my impression is that most of them devote considerably more space to sports than to Marxist dialectics. If they agitate, it’s for better student seats, lower tuition rates or improved cafeteria food, not more tenured com-symp faculty.

Nevertheless, DeMint asks me to send the most generous donation I can afford, because changing America’s liberal-dominated media starts at the student level. Instead, I offer to send Leadership Institute students the Web address for the Pulitzer Prizes.

The list of this year’s winners, as described by The Associated Press, doesn’t match the left-liberal stereotype. This year’s top award, the gold medal for public service, went to Alexandra Berzon

and the staff of The Las Vegas Sun

for exposing a high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas strip, “and how lax safety rules and the rush to build quickly contributed to the injury and death rate.”

The New York Times won one of its 2009 prizes for exposing a sex scandal that ruined Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s political career. Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the

Los Angeles Times were honored for a four-part series exploring the fact that “wildfire seasons last longer and are three times more expensive to fight in the U.S. West than elsewhere.”

The Detroit Free Press “helped expose a steamy extramarital affair between Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff by obtaining a trove of sexually explicit text messages sent by the mayor.”

The St. Petersburg Times staff won in national reporting and was also named a finalist in the public service category for “PolitiFact,” an online database that fact-checked political claims of the 2008 presidential candidates, and not just the Republicans. The same paper’s Lane DeGregory won for what the Pulitzer board called her “moving, richly detailed story about a neglected young girl, discovered in a roach-infested room, unable to talk or feed herself, who was adopted by a new family.”

Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star

in Glens Falls, N.Y.. won for what the judges said were his “relentless, down-to-earth editorials on the perils of local government secrecy, effectively admonishing citizens to uphold their right to know.”

Yes, there was also a prize for a left-of-center columnist, Eugene Robinson. And David Barstow of

The New York Times won for reporting on “military analysts who acted as television war commentators and their conflicts with the Pentagon and their own businesses, which benefited from U.S. military policy.” But the cartooning prize went to the very talented, and conservative-leaning, Steve Breen of famously rightwing

San Diego Union-Tribune.

American journalism is diverse.

Kentucky’s most famous

weekly newspaper is The Mountain

Eagle in Whitesburg, but when I pick it up I turn first not to its coverage of coal industry abuse or local government failure, or its sometimes fiery and incisive editorial advocacy, but to its columns written by community correspondents scattered around Letcher County. (Elsie Banks reports from Cowan this week, “We were sorry to hear of the death of our good friend Hasco Jenkins of Kittering, Ohio. Hasco came to Cowan many times for the union meetings and revivals. He and Kate were a great influence in our church and community.”)

Then I scan the “Speak Your Piece” page for tidbits that are called or sent in by anonymous locals. Some examples from this week’s edition:

“I hope the lady in Gordon is

happy with the land she stole from

my husband. She was supposed to

have paid him $500.”

“Happy birthday, Aunt Virginia.

Have a great party.”

“It’s a shame the people of

McRoberts can’t keep their noses in

their own business instead of meddling

in everyone else’s.”

“I love nature, but somebody is

going to have to take care of these

ducks that are taking over downtown.

I cannot live like this.”

“I wish our county judge would

get our road department to fix our

roads instead of being on the radio

talking silly stuff.”

“To a woman who lives in Pistol

City. If I were you I would watch

my Ps and Qs, because you’re fixing

to get one. And I thank you for

letting me have your man.”

And here’s my favorite:

“I think all the people who say

they find all these dryland fish and

have them for sale are liars. I have

looked for the past seven years and

can’t find any.”

I challenge the Leadership Institute’s students to make agitprop out of that.

David Hawpe is editorial director of The Courier-Journal in Louisville. His columns appear Sundays and Wednesdays. E-mail him at dhawpe@courier-journal.com.

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