The next installment of Plums & Prunes will be coming at you soon, but today I’m establishing a new category in the fruit family. The pumpkin. And not just any pumpkin — a shriveled pumpkin that got left on the porch after Halloween and was still decaying at Thanksgiving. (In case you’re wondering, the pumpkin is, technically, a fruit.)
And the pumpkin goes to…..Jason Whitlock! Come on down, Jason, and collect your fruit! Actually, he must share it with K.C. Star publisher Mark Zieman and editor Mike Fannin who were crazy enough to give Whitlock, a sports columnist, a weekly op-ed column titled “Independent Thoughts.” It probably was presented to editorial page editor Miriam Pepper as a done deal.
The column began last week, while I was out of town, and I just learned about it this week. The most disappointing part of this is that it occurs at a time when top Star editors seemed to be exhibiting good judgment on news placement by giving prominent play to a wider variety of stories at the local, national and international levels.
Fortunately, Whitlock’s column (see this week’s right here) won’t affect that facet of the news operation. Nevertheless, it shows very poor judgment by top Star officials, in my opinion. It’s a bad call for at least two reasons: Whitlock is out of his element, and he doesn’t have the tact and tone that it takes to be successful as an op-ed columnist.
Whitlock has no qualifications whatsoever to be anything besides a sports writer or sports columnist. That’s his whole background; it’s what he knows. Oh, and did you catch his admission in his first “Thoughts” column — an admission he has made before — that, “I avoid our political system. I’ve never voted. I don’t have a political affiliation or ideology.”
To me, that disqualifies him. You’re outta here! Hit the showers. How can your views carry any weight when you shun the democratic process? How do you avoid politics, not vote and yet get to express your opinions in a major metropolitan daily about current events and political controversies, such as the new Arizona immigration law? Makes no sense at all. I guess he still could find religion and start voting, but I doubt that will happen because he takes such pride in being a contrarian.
Regarding tact and tone, Whitlock always has the sledgehammer out; that’s all he knows. It works fine for the Chiefs, who need to be hammered regularly, but I don’t see how he will be able to wear well as an op-ed columnist. The best, most enduring op-ed columnists are those who, generally, are measured, reflective, insightful and often witty. I’m talking about people like David Brooks, Gail Collins and Paul Krugman of The New York Times, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald.
I give this experiment a year, tops. And it just might be the beginning of the end for Whitlock at The Star. To me, it has all the earmarks of a “Hail Mary” pass.