John Drescher, the executive editor of Raleigh’s News & Observer, had an odd and flawed column over the weekend regarding UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol entitled “Gene Nichol doesn’t regret column about Pat McCrory.” (Full disclosure: Nichol used to serve on the Board of the NC Justice Center, NC Policy Watch’s parent organization).
It was odd because it awkwardly combined what was, by all appearances, a brief news report/interview with Nichol along with Drescher’s own take on Nichol’s falling out with the state powers that be — some of which stemmed from some columns Nichol has authored for the N&O. Drescher quoted Nichol as saying he had no regrets in likening Governor McCrory to reactionary conservative governors from the Civil Rights era. As Nichol told Drescher:
“I said he was a successor to them.I do think it’s fair. I think it’s accurate. I’m not saying he’s exactly the same.”
But then Drescher went on to tack a commentary of his own into the last few sentences of the column in which he rejected Nichol’s explanation. According to Drescher:
“By going after McCrory in a personal way, Nichol made it easy for his opponents to focus on Nichol and ignore his broader, more significant message.
Professors ought to be able to write in The N&O (or anywhere else) without fear of retribution from politicians or their appointees. But they should inform us through research and lead us though debate at a high level that is focused on ideas and aspirations. In that regard, Nichol came up short.”
Hmm – let me get this straight, John. Are you really saying that “professors” should never issue “personal” barbs and only “inform us through research”? Really? Why? Indeed, what the heck does that even mean? And how do you define “research”? What was Nichol supposed to do — insert footnotes in his columns?
Setting aside the fact that Nichol’s likening of the performance of Governor McCrory to that of the mid-60’s anti-civil rights crusaders is well-supported by a great deal of research (much of it Nichol’s), one doesn’t have to conduct “research” to see the obvious parallels. McCrory signed the most aggressive voter suppression law in the country and numerous other hard right laws that echo the worst of those 20th Century governors like Wallace and Maddox. The fact that he is a nice guy and not a racist doesn’t (or shouldn’t) insulate him from such criticism when it comes to the substance and impact of his policies.
Which brings us back to Drescher’s strange critique of Nichol. The last time I checked, newspapers all over the country — including the News & Observer — were running columns by professors and other academics of the Right labeling President Obama and his policies “socialist.” Checked out any of Dr. Charles Krauthammer’s love letters to the President, lately, John?
And while such attacks are obviously silly and offensive and clearly not supported by “research” when it comes to a president who continues to preside over record corporate profits and a skyrocketing stock market, I haven’t noticed Drescher weighing in to lecture any of those critics about how they should stop getting “personal” with Obama.
The bottom line: The sharp political and ideological debates of 2015 aren’t pillow fights and if John Drescher thinks Gene Nichol’s barbs at Pat McCrory were too personal, there is a long list of personal attacks on other people in power he needs to get to work critiquing as well.