Archive for February, 2009

How bad is our bad-guy columnist?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Any faithful reader of News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders — and I count myself as one — knows to expect certain recurring rhetorical flourishes. After writing what Saunders clearly thinks is a shocking declaration, for instance, he’s prone to follow it with this sentence: “Don’t look at me like that.” (I searched for that phrase in the N&O’s online archive, and stopped counting after finding it a dozen times in Saunders columns.)

That’s a benign habit, however, a stylistic tic that can be easily forgiven and overlooked. The old joke about being a newspaper columnist is that it’s like being married to a sex addict: It’s only fun for the first couple of weeks. Having worked as a columnist for many years, I can testify to the essential truth behind that bit of japery. It’s hard work to keep a newspaper column fresh and interesting. It’s second nature for a writer to have a few stock phrases in his quiver of material.

More bothersome is Saunders’ reliably vague references to his allegedly checkered background. We were treated to one such reference in his column yesterday:

The last time someone broke into my home, I immediately applied for a gun permit. DENIED! — something about an incident in Georgia that I don’t remember.

Since the Fulton County sheriff told me I’d have to come down in person to find out about the warrant, it appears I won’t be getting a gun permit anytime soon — or setting foot in Georgia, either.

Implicit in that passage is that Saunders has a criminal history (or at least faces criminal charges) serious enough to keep him from getting a gun permit here in North Carolina, and to prompt him to stay out of Georgia. Is that strictly true? An exaggeration? Do N&O editors have any interest in knowing the answer? Surely not. If they start asking such questions, the results could be … well, awkward.

My guess is that Saunders simply has achieved the same kind of leeway with the facts enjoyed by, say, David Sedaris, who has built a career out of stretching the facts of his Raleigh upbringing to comic lengths. There probably was some incident in Georgia that brought Saunders to the attention of the police. I doubt there’s a warrant for his arrest — although since he brought it up, his bosses ought to check it out — and there’s surely no reason for him to avoid travel to Georgia.

We’ll know for sure on September 12. That’s when Saunders’ son, a member of the University of South Carolina’s football team, travels to Georgia to play the Bulldogs. My bet is that daddy will be there.