The Message

New Deal

On the surface, switcheroos like these appear to fit Florio's definition of "relentless management churn." But just because someone is in a new position doesn't mean he or she is upset about it. Take Linda Castrone, who went from being the Post's feature editor to serving as a travel writer last year. Then, in April, she became an assistant business editor charged with overseeing presentational aspects of the business section, and, she says, "I'm really happy to be in the job. It was my choice, and it's a great opportunity." Dana Coffield, who had been the assistant business editor, is now a feature writer, and she, too, maintains that she drove the job-swap process, with the assistance of business editor Stephen Keating. "Both Stephen and I requested some kind of move, though not concurrently," Coffield notes in an e-mail. "I'm very happy with the trade Stephen worked out."

Still, the most conspicuous addition to the Post is likely to be David Harsanyi, a new metro columnist slated to fill the spot previously occupied by Cindy Rodriguez. Harsanyi, who, taking Moore's advice, asked to put off an interview with Westword until after he formally starts working at the Post later this month, is a New Yorker who most recently served as press secretary for the Republican Jewish Coalition. Nonetheless, he has an extensive journalism background, having written opinion pieces for the likes of the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. Harsanyi's website, www.davidharsanyi.com, provides a sampling of his oeuvre, which is well-written, erudite and philosophically conservative. Take "The Secret of Bush's Appeal," a salute to George W. published in late 2002 by Capitalism magazine.

To put it mildly, such views differ from those expressed to date by Post metro columnists Rodriguez, Jim Spencer and Diane Carman. During the first months of his regime, Moore talked about the need for "ideological diversity" ("Calling All Columnists," December 12, 2002), but Rodriguez and Spencer, whom he hired shortly thereafter, are left-leaners whose takes on most issues are all but indistinguishable from those voiced by Carman. Eventually, Moore decided that this was a problem. "Within a couple of years, I've realized how important it is for us to have a more conservative columnist in the mix," he says.

The rub was Rodriguez, whom Moore lured from the Boston Globe, where he'd previously served as managing editor. Rodriguez arrived at the Post around the same time as two other major hires, Washington bureau chief John Aloysius Farrell and film critic Lisa Kennedy ("Coming Attractions," May 15, 2003). Farrell's received criticism from right-wingers who regard him to be too liberal, but politics aside, his writing has been consistently skillful and enlightening -- and if Kennedy hasn't revolutionized the paper's film coverage, she has proven to be a solid, steady presence. Rodriguez, on the other hand, immediately raised eyebrows within and beyond the Post for columns that ranged from thuddingly obvious to unintentionally wacky.

Granted, Rodriguez has had her moments, particularly during columns in which she convincingly accused DPS of fiddling with statistics to make its dropout rate look better. As for efforts in which she declared that Columbus left a lot to be desired and that the war in Iraq isn't over, they weren't exactly fonts of original thought. The same could be said of an offering last summer, when Rodriguez acted as if she was breaking a long-hidden story by revealing that folks from other countries have a big presence in the restaurant industry. (The Miami Herald, which reprinted the column, labeled it with the hilarious headline "Immigrants Cook Our Food.") Just as nutty was a January column in which she announced that she hadn't watched television for four years -- and when she tuned in during a sick day, she discovered that there wasn't anything good on. A month later, she sang the praises of Sex and the City -- guess she agrees with the slogan "It's not TV, it's HBO" -- in a sex-and-dating piece loaded with bon mots such as "Some things should be savored, like a good latte, a home-cooked meal, or the butterflies you feel when you meet someone who wows you."

Advice like this works better in a lighter format -- and by moving Rodriguez's column to the features section, Moore avoids the embarrassment of having to admit that his experiment was a flop. Even so, convincing Rodriguez was no easy task, as is shown by her version of events, communicated by e-mail.

Moore "approached me about it over drinks at Zengo," Rodriguez writes. "I wasn't receptive at first. I was defensive about it. I viewed it as me being pushed aside to make room for a conservative columnist

"I didn't tell him that, though. I played it cool.

"Greg asked me to think about it. He kept saying that it was an offer and that I didn't have to accept it.

"And I kept saying, 'Really?' So I thought about it for a few days and then went into his office and told him I wanted to stay put."

Rodriguez was pleasantly surprised when Moore let her verdict stand without complaint. Then, during a vacation in Puerto Rico, she mulled over the pros and cons of the transfer, concluding that "either way, I would be happy.... So that's why I decided to take the job. I've played it safe my whole career, and I decided now is a good time to do a zigzag." Her new gig started on May 11 with a zany treatise on porn, capped with the aphorism "For women, at least, watching strangers have sex beats having sex with a stranger any day."

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