Lecture preview: Ellen Goodman's goal is to keep it civil
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When Ellen Goodman graduated with honors from Radcliffe College in 1963, Newsweek magazine hired her as a researcher, not a writer.
"It was still legal to discriminate against women," the 71-year-old author recalled in a telephone interview. "That's just the way it was. We, in general, thought that we had 'a good job for a woman.' It wasn't."
Around the same time, Harvard graduate Peter Benchley, who later wrote the novel "Jaws," landed a writing gig at Newsweek.
"I had gone to college with Peter Benchley. I had been in "Guys and Dolls" with Peter. He was a writer and I was a researcher. I didn't stay," Ms. Goodman said.
But, for 36 years, her thoughtful, lively columns stayed on the minds of readers and the editorial pages of 300 newspapers. She retired from full-time writing in 2010. Ms. Goodman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her commentary in 1980, discusses the value of civil discourse at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland. She appears in the Ten Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series made possible by the Drue Heinz Trust.
Engaging in civil discourse, she said, "means that we need to be able to talk about things we disagree about, leave our minds and ears open and stay in the same room with the people we disagree with. I'm assuming that the people who are coming also want to be civil about this."
Ms. Goodman knows firsthand what happens when people close their minds. In September 2011, St. Francis University canceled her appearance at the Catholic school in Loretto, Cambria County, because she is pro-abortion rights.
"The president of the university went over the top, comparing me to Hitler," Ms. Goodman said, recalling that in an interview with the school's campus newspaper, the Rev. Gabries Zeis said America is engaged in another holocaust because innocent children are murdered in abortions.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Ms. Goodman.
"I was invited to speak about civility and got a pie in the face," she said.
As for today's national media, she enjoys Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" because it's arch and funny.
"I love the way they put things together. It's entertaining and it's not angry. I may be typical of women who don't want to hear angry voices. The radio is full of angry male voices.''
In daily journalism, she worries that there are "fewer and fewer boots on the ground and more and more people commenting on what fewer and fewer people are actually reporting. "
Even if Americans still truly value the exchange of ideas and opinions, the metaphors in presidential debates -- such as the search for the knockout punch -- promote polarization. Much of the rhetoric heard during the 2012 presidential election, Ms. Goodman said, "seemed like voices from the schoolyard."
In 2008, she said, one reason women voted for President Barack Obama "was that he promised to be a mediator. He really has the capacity to see all sides and to want to bring people together. Then, he walked into the Congress. Then, people faulted him for not being strong enough."
As a resident of Massachusetts, Ms. Goodman watched the evolution of Mitt Romney, "from the first time he ran against Ted Kennedy to the time he ran for governor as a pro-choice moderate liberal Republican to his evolution while he was still in the governorship but moving into national life to his increasing right-wing appearance in the primaries."
Mr. Romney, she said, did what he thought he had to do to win.
"If the only people who were voting in the primaries were that far to the right that he kept drifting, drifting, drifting, then shame on us."
First Published December 12, 2012 12:00 am