You’re either for me or…

Dan Froomkin and Michael Powell (not that one) of the Washington Post (and the .com) continue the discussion about the kerfuffle over Froomkin’s column and its title over at Jay Rosen’s Pressthink. What they’re getting to now is a dissection of the most dangerous assumption being made — most surprisingly in the Washington Post newsroom — that if you criticize someone in power on one side, you must be on the other side, if the White House complains about you, then you must be liberal. Or to put it more simply: You’re either for them or against them.

When I was a columnist at the San Francisco Examiner, I covered supervisor-then-mayor Dianne Feinstein. I praised her work in the terrible aftermath of the Milk-Moscone murders and Jonestown, when the city needed calm leadership and she provided it. But when I later criticized her over various issues I can’t even remember, she lashed out and I heard from the paper’s publisher, often, how the mayor’s husband was complaining about me. Of course, the publisher should have told Mrs. Mayor’s Mr. to shove it up his rotunda. But instead, my life there got progressively more difficult. I quit, perhaps foolishly (though I then came to conquer Gotham and the rest is my story).

But the thing was, I was not Feinstein’s enemy. Like any of her constituents, I agreed with some of the things she did and disagreed with others and said so. But she thought I could be only a friend or an enemy, not an observer, not a citizen, not just a person with mixed opinions about her. I have learned to expect that from politicians — not to mention TV stars and business heads.

I do not expect that of news people, especially not the newsroom that most covers the most powerful. Surely they should be more sophisticated about this.

Yet we’re going to see this get worse because the journalists are actually less sophisticated about this whole notion of expression opinion. They have been trained to assume that if you have opinions, you are a partisan when perhaps you’re merely a questioner or even just a citizen.