Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post spoke about her skepticism toward political parties and the importance of media literacy at the Kelly Writers House on Thursday.
Parker, who called herself the “only conservative [that] liberals can stand,” cited her 1987 Orlando Sentinel column about the importance of a two-parent household to a child's development as the moment her readers labeled her "rightist."
At that time, there was a strong liberal movement arguing that women didn’t need men to achieve success. As a single mother, this subject held personal salience to Parker.
After her September 2008 editorial that called Sarah Palin “not ready for prime time,” Parker received 20,000 pieces of hate mail from Republicans, who informed Parker that she had betrayed the party. Parker said she was confused because she felt that the article was no different from her usual work, and that she had never formally belonged to any party.
“It was painful at first and then it was so liberating,” she said, adding that the backlash taught her to ignore other people's perceptions. “If you want to be liked, then you can’t do this job.”
Parker recently stopped her bi-weekly appearances on Meet the Press, as some believed she wasn’t contentious enough to drive ratings up.
“I’m too normal. I’m not an ideologue,” Parker said. “I’m not really a Republican; I just play one on TV."
Moderator Dick Polman, a political columnist at NewsWorks and full-time “writer in residence” at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at Penn, lauded Parker's "very independent voice" that is not attached to any "ideological shorthand." He also praised the 30 years of experience in journalism that have solidified her “earned voice."
Polman asked Parker how she, as a veteran columnist, manages to retain a loyal audience when anyone can post their opinions online and become a de facto columnist. Parker said that while her opinion is no more important than any other, there are differences between civilian journalism and professional journalism.
“There is a difference in the way we do our jobs and the way ‘self-selected journalists’ do theirs,” Parker told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an interview. “It’s most important that people understand how to become media literate — meaning to understand what is legitimate and what is not legitimate.”
Parker added that the internet allows everyone to find information in support of their points of view, which she considers a threat to media literacy as people rarely enjoy content that challenges their long-held beliefs. Parker advocates reading all points of view, a policy she practices to achieve nuance in her columns.
Although Parker doesn’t always know what she’s going to write about next , she chooses only subjects that offend her so much that she gets “a little bit hot.” As such, Parker has spent much of this election cycle voicing distaste for 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump, an act she called a "moral imperative."
“If you like Trump, you’re not going to like me,” she said.
Parker described Trump as "dangerous," "self-destructive" and “engendering the anger” of people’s legitimate political concerns. She said covering Trump places journalists in a peculiar situation: just by quoting his exact words, they cast him in a negative light. Parker acknowledged Trump’s ability to manipulate the media, adding that he knows what to say in order to gain free coverage, but she also blamed the television media for extensive coverage meant only to bolster ratings.
At one point, Polman asked what Parker would like to tell young Americans whose only exposure to American politics has been in a messy election.
Parker smiled and shrugged, replying, “Maybe I’ll think about it and write a column."
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