How to Write an Opinion Column That Takes No Position WhatsoeverS

Richard Cohen is (for some reason) employed as a professional opinion columnist by the Washington Post. He is paid to write columns—featuring his own opinions—about the issues of the day. This is the entirety of his job. Yet Richard Cohen has a wondrous talent possessed by few in his rarefied sphere: he can write an entire opinion column with zero actual opinion.

The "Stop and Frisk" policies of the NYPD are a contentious issue. Where does Richard Cohen fall? Nowhere. Here's how.

1. Open with a paragraph summarizing the arguments on both sides.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new kind of crime statistic. It is not the astoundingly low number of murders committed in his fair city - 471 in 2009 vs. about 2,000 per year in the 1980s - but murders not committed in the last decade: 5,600. Those people are alive today by the grace of God and the policing policies of the Bloomberg administration, particularly what is known as stop-and-frisk. New York City is heaven on earth possibly because it is a certain kind of hell for young black and Hispanic men.

2. Then vacillate...

For all that effort, the results are paltry: 780 guns confiscated. To the mayor's critics, that shows there is something awfully wrong with the program.

3. And vacillate...

The proof in this case is not the number of guns seized but the number of bodies not taken to the morgue. Bloomberg has a point.


4. And vacillate...

Young black and Hispanic men constitute only 4.7 percent of the city's population, yet in 2011 they represented about 42 percent of all stops. For some critics of the program, this statistic is both damning and, as they say, dispositive: The program is racist on its face.

5. And vacillate.

But as Bloomberg - but not his critics - notes, blacks and Hispanics comprise 90 percent of all murder victims. The only people who don't seem to know this are certain politicians pandering for votes and the New York Times

6. Be sure that anything that could be construed as a firm statement of belief is couched in a hypothetical, thereby neutralizing it.

I am neither young nor black (nor Hispanic) but if I were, I'd sure abhor stop-and-frisk.

7. Hastily rush to ensure readers again that you haven't forgotten the other side of the argument.

Still, the Bloomberg statistic resonates. New York City is largely crime-free (except for Wall Street), and that, as the number-crunching mayor is glad to tell you, is central to a robust economy.

8. Vacillate more.

Accusations of racism are hurled at those who so much as mention the abysmal homicide statistics - about half of all murders are committed by blacks, who represent just 12.6 percent of the population - and they come, more often than not, from liberals who advocate candor in (almost) all things. Others reply as if there are not basic questions of civil rights and civil liberties at stake.


9. Conclude by restating both opposing arguments.

The dangers of generalizations and of stereotyping should be obvious. So, too, are the dangers of crime and its pernicious effects on its victims - not just the immediate ones, but whole neighborhoods and, after a while, the whole city. The argument Bloomberg makes is a good one; so, too, is the one made by those who worry about the cost to racial and ethnic harmony of repeated and clearly enraging stop-and-frisks. This is an issue worthy of a full-throated debate, not recourse to censorious political correctness. All voices should be heard - including those of Bloomberg's 5,600.

10. Accomplish nothing.

[WaPo]