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Kathleen Parker discusses Pulitzer win, latest columns

Kathleen Parker
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; 2:00 PM

Post columnist Kathleen Parker discusses winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and takes your questions about her latest columns.

Kathleen Parker Pulitzer Page

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Kathleen Parker: KP here. Welcome and thanks for stopping by. I will try to answer as many questions as possible. For starters, thanks to all who have offered congratulations. When all those other people have won Pulitzers through the years, I dismissed the award as political and unimportant. I have completely revised my thoughts.

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Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin: Kathleen, congrats on your Pulitzer! I enjoy some of your columns and all-in-all think you do good work. I would like more from you on the Tea Party and violent rhetoric.

Kathleen Parker: Coming soon to a newspaper near you.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How did you find out you had won your Pulitizer Prize? Do you get an official notification and did work leak out before you received the official word?

Kathleen Parker: I had no inkling that I was even in the running, though I knew I had been nominated. Usually the finalists are leaked early on. Since I hadn't heard anything, the PP wasn't on my radar at all. Then, Sunday in the Green Room before Face the Nation, someone whispered a congrats. I had a hard time focusing after that, I confess. An editor's phone call later in the day confirmed. I was and am speechless.

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Houston, Texas: Does this now make us who follow you faithfully, Pulitzer Prize winning readers?

Kathleen Parker: Absolutely! No readers, no columns, no prizes. I couldn't have done it without you.

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Anonymous: Congratulations, Kathleen! I'm a liberal and don't always agree with you, but I always enjoy your columns. I think you present a balanced and non-hyperpartisan view that is frankly refreshing these days. Best of luck in the future!

Kathleen Parker: This is my favorite kind of compliment. Many thanks.

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Bethlehem, PA: Have you given any thought to how this may change your writing style? Do you feel empowered or humbled by the award? What advantages/disadvantages do you see moving forward? Congrats on the honor. You have certainly earned it.

Kathleen Parker: Good question. I think we all feel humbled and then terrified. How does one live up to the standard? And then the deadline looms in its customary way and we move along. After 23 years of writing columns, I don't see how I would do things differently.

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Arlington, VA: Congratulations on the Pulitizer, it's well deserved. What is your take on the future of the Republican Party post midterms if they do not succeed in capturing a legislative body? Will they revel in denting the Democratic majority and continue their current path of obstruction or would they have to wholly rethink their approach as the party in opposition?

Kathleen Parker: I suspect Republicans will pick up some seats in both Houses come November. The tea party movement - to respond in part to another question on the list - will be a factor, certainly. I do think there's a lot of free-floating anger and anxiety and incumbents (mostly Dems) will feel the sting. Whether the tea party movement can sustain itself once the economy and job situation improve seems unlikely, but who knows? In the long-term, the GOP has to become a positive party of ideas and get some new spokespeople out front.

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Waldwick, NJ: Congratulations on the prize.

An article on the Pulitzers characterized you as a conservative. I found this surprising. While it was apparent that you are not deep-left and that you do have views to the right, your columns do not scream mindless knee-jerk conservatism in the matter of, for example, Will or Krauthammer. As a reader, I am definitely left-wing, yet I find your columns interesting, thought-provoking, and readable (although you did once make an error while quoting Lord of the Rings).

My question is how you would characterize your views in the political spectrum?

Kathleen Parker: I'm with Walker Percy, who said we should repent of labels. Our marketplace mentality always wants to categorize, but really, most Americans dwell in the vast middle, not in the wings.

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Kensington, MD: Ms. Parker, I first read you when you were railing about "sexism" in the coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign, and I wrote you off as "one of those people." I then read your writing on Sarah Palin and thought, "Hmmm, a right winger with a brain."

After that, your succeeding columns caused me to recycle those two conflicting thoughts on a regular basis, until at some point it finally dawned upon me that you're simply a very good writer with an independent point of view. A writer I can agree with one day and disagree with the next day, but a writer who's always worth reading. I wish that there were a dozen variants of you, but until that happens, please keep eating well and exercising regularly. And congratulations on your well deserved honor.

Kathleen Parker: Thank you. I can't improve on that appraisal. Go forth and multiply.

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Indianapolis Indiana: I am seeing comments from all over the map on what the GOP will do concerning Obama's Supreme Court selection. Go nuts? Fight like the devil? Pretend to be mad? Do nothing? What is your take on this?

Kathleen Parker: In public, they'll be open-minded; behind closed doors, they'll try to figure out how to derail the nominee. I hope the president will go moderate on this one. I think the nation is suffering battle fatigue and could use a respite. If he does, Republicans will have no basis for opposition.

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Las Cruces, NM: Congrats!

I'm surprised a conservative columnist won!

Do you think you would have been given this honor if, even having produced such fine columns, you were a defender of Sarah Palin (who I agree is a nitwit!)

It seems that to be accepted in mainstream journalism conservatives have to be critical of the movement in a way liberals do not. What do you think? Think Chris Buckley!

Kathleen Parker: I have no idea. I'd like to think that the board considered my body of work, of which Palin is a mere speck.

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Annapolis MD: Congratulations! As a JFK Democrat I'm delighted that you were honored and that portions of the op-ed page lineup were not -- namely former Bush speechwriters (Gerson and Thiessen), neither of whom has a "body of work" in the words of Fred Hiatt, Krauthammer, Kagan, Will et al.

Question is what draws you to the commentary you make and how hard do you work on contacting primary sources as opposed to keyboard tapping without direct contact? What is the balance that you make? Are you a journalist or a columnist?

Kathleen Parker: Thank for the congrats. I much prefer first-hand reporting and come out of the newsroom, rather than a think-tank or some other avenue. I started as a reporter 33 years ago and a columnist 23 years ago. So, I report my columns even though I usually avoid quoting others, which messes up my prose and eats up my word-count. I'm very possessive of my 750 words. :)

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St. Louis, MO: Congratulations on the award. that guy Pulitzer got his start here in STL, so I feel a proprietary responsibility for your recognition. Anyway, I wonder if you and someone like David Brooks ever compare notes from the trenches: two responsibly conservative columnists who occasionally give credit to the other side. I pity you the heat you have to take from the farther-right zealots who have as their mantra "take no prisoners." Do their reliably volcanic reactions ever sway you in a more liberal or at least centrist direction? Thanks

Kathleen Parker: Interesting question. I try not to worry much about what people are going to say and never let that influence what I write. For zealots, God created the "delete" button. Centrist is my natural state.

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New York: Kathleen, your prize is greatly deserved. Do conservative writers think the Pulitzers are skewed toward liberals? Are there many conservatives who have won the prize? Just curious. Thanks.

Kathleen Parker: The story has always been that conservatives rarely win, but both Krauthammer and Will have . . . I'm not inclined today to criticize the Pulitzer Board, which I hold in the highest esteem for their profoundly good judgment.

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Washington: Kathleen: Congratulations. Please admit this: Writing the exact same words, from Myrtle Beach or Columbia or Rock Hill would have resulted in ... zilch. The Pulitzer really is for Those In The Club. For the most part. Yes?

Kathleen Parker: I give credit to my incredible editors rather than the location of my copy.

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Washington, DC: Not sure why this is but it seems like you always start what you say with, "well, in SC..." Don't you find that limiting? I think it really turns off your audience.

Kathleen Parker: Always say South Carolina? I don't think so. I do live between DC and SC and try to use my SC connection as a way of staying connected to life outside the Beltway. And, of course, SC is interesting politically, especially as the GOP has evolved into a more regional southern party. Or so goes the perception.

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New Bern, NC: What do you think is unique about your reporting and writing style?

Kathleen Parker: I find it impossible to be objective about my own work. I'm not even sure what my style is. I just try to be as honest as possible and not bore people to death.

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Virginia : Writing well-- learned, natural, both? I'd love to know your thoughts on how you've become a better writer over the span of your career. Thank you, and congratulations!

Kathleen Parker: Learned from practice, I think. Writing isn't so much about pressing flowers between the pages of Proust, as my friend Doug Marlette once said. It's more about brick-laying. It helped me, I think, to have read an awful lot growing up. In my home, we weren't allowed to watch television except a bit on weekends and the only exemption from chores was reading a book. That was an easy one, right?

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Annandale, Va.: Who and what have had the most influence on your writing style?

Kathleen Parker: I spent my formative years savoring every word Russell Baker wrote. He remains my favorite of all time.

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Louisville, Ky: Kathleen - I am very happy for you...Congratulations. You are at the very top of my "must read" list each week. I would like to see a credible and respected columnist such as you take on the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, et al. The Republican party could really stand to lose these wing nuts.

Kathleen Parker: I've done a little of this from time to time and won't shy away when I think it's necessary. The base loves these guys, though, and there's not much one can write to dissuade them. I see the independent vote growing as a direct result of weariness with these more strident voices. There are now more who self-identify as Independent than as either Dem or Rep, though people are left- and right-leaning within that larger group who ultimately may vote as the Dems and Reps they used to be. Still, it's an interesting, positive development.

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Columbus, Ohio: Ms. Parker, congratulations on the Pulitzer. I have to agree with the other posters who say they don't always agree with you, but always enjoy reading your thought-provoking columns.

I remember several columns you wrote in the 2003-2004 timeframe where you said you love gays, gay humor, your gay hairdresser, gay cousin, gay neighbors, etc., but felt that allowing gay marriage would result in lawsuits against churches and was against the natural order because male/male and female/female orders don't match nature's intentions.

Do you still feel this way or have your feelings evolved over time? I find it hard to say that the relationships of the gay people in my life are not as worthy of legal recognition.

Kathleen Parker: Well, it sounds pretty goofy the way you've summarized, but I'll try to answer honestly. I have not favored same-sex marriage, but the reasons are complex. I care only about what kind of society we provide children; adults are on their own. But I have softened my views, partly as a result of studying this issue and having many long, open talks with my gay friends and family. For me, it has never been about rights for adults, but about the meaning and purpose of marriage as it benefits society and children. Given that perspective, however, I don't see how we can say that one child's family is more important or better than another's. I think David Brooks may be right that same-sex marriage is a conservative position. I think this is possibly breaking news.

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Pittsburgh: "Writing well--learned, natural, both?"

How much re-writing do you do before submitting a column?

Kathleen Parker: It varies. I wrote today's in one sitting, but it was a personal tale and so relatively easy to tell. Sometimes, I tweak a few words. Sometimes I kill a few graphs. But as a rule, writing is really about re-writing.

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Portland Oregon: Congratulations on your Pulitzer, Kathleen. I am on your other side of the political spectrum from you but I have enjoyed your column for your witty style and thoughtful commentary.

How did your conservative readers react to your opinion columns regarding Sarah Palin and her suitability for office?

Kathleen Parker: You're kidding, right? Oy. 12k emails the first week; 20k by the end of three weeks. They were split between pro and con, but people who love Palin do not seem to find me all that charming. Oh well. I feel pretty comfortable resting my case.

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Anonymous: Is George Will jealous?

Kathleen Parker: I can't think of any reason George Will would ever be jealous of anyone.

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Ellensburg, WA: What are the ramifications/consequences, in your view, of the fact that about 50% of U.S. citizens, according to polling, don't accept as fact the basic scientific principle that underlies and forms the basis of all biology - evolution.

I taught chemistry and biology at our local high school.

Kathleen Parker: Oy.

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Kathleen Parker: This is been fun, as always. Thanks again for your kind words and good wishes. I'm going out to sing in the rain for a while and see if I can still click my heels. Cheers. kp

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