How bad is our bad-guy columnist?

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.

10 Responses to “How bad is our bad-guy columnist?”

  1. Uncle Frank Says:

    You’ll have to admit, though, Saunders brings some personality to the N & O…a characteristic that’s been sorely lacking since…well…don’t look at me like that.

  2. BP Says:

    I know someone who knows someone who works with Barry. Apparently he often exaggerates his “street cred”, and I can say some of his hints at a ‘bad’ past ring false to me as well. But then, most people are a little disbelieving when they hear some of my stories of youthful transgressions.

    That said, for the most part I like his column, and anything that keeps such a bad boy off the streets is a good thing.

  3. Barb Says:

    Speaking of columns, has anyone else noticed that the N&O is repeating them? As in, the one that ran Saturday is the exact same one that ran Wednesday. I found three like that in Wednesday’s paper, and I wasn’t even looking! One was a Mommy column, one was Dear whoever (advice) and one was a brief about… something that I don’t even remember, but I was appalled when I realized it was recycled content. Is that normal? Have I just not been paying close enough attention all these years? And have you heard that the N&O sports writer doesn’t even travel to Hurricanes games anymore?! I hate to see the paper crumble, but I’m losing my patience.

  4. RLR Says:

    I enjoy reading Barry’s column, even though I violently disagree with the guy half the time. Especially his ridiculous anti-Duke prejudice.

    He bought his house from a friend of mine, so I see him in the area occasionally. He isn’t quite the OG he makes out, smiling and waving at the middle aged white dude at the grocery store. ;)

  5. mr. question Says:

    Shocked!! I’m SHOCKED I tell you!! A columnist spicing up his past to get your attention to read the column he’s writing? I’m so shocked I may faint. Come on, get real…don’tcha think this is kind of the pot calling the kettle black?…er wait..did that come out wrong? Barry’s a seriously funny guy and about as laid back as it gets, as are you when you’re not so grumpy!

  6. G.D. Gearino Says:

    Mr. Question: I resent your implication. I really did win the Nobel Peace Prize twice. And while we may disagree about the strict definition of “numerous,” a word I often use in reference to my Purple Hearts, I think three qualifies. I’d tell you more, but further detail might compromise my place in the witness protection program. Those Colombian cartel hit men never go off duty.

  7. Jim Says:

    Saunders is stale.

  8. mikey Says:

    I suspect that Mr. Saunders’ criminal background in Georgia stems from child abuse. No loving parent would allow their child to put on a football uniform with a chicken on its helmet and knock heads with the University of Georgia bulldogs in Sanford Stadium. He could be seriously hurt!

  9. mr. question Says:

    You bastard! I told you that you are still a funny guy! 8)

  10. mikey Says:

    Funny like what? Like I’m a clown? Like I’m here to amuse you?