Ultra-Conservative Ex-Congressman New Columnist For Creative Loafing

Editor says Bob Barr provides new "perspective"

The latest issue of Atlanta’s Creative Loafing features a rabble-rousing column berating Attorney General John Ashcroft’s bus tour of the country. No surprise there: alt-weeklies famously tilt to the left, and Ashcroft-bashers are legion. But this column isn’t written by a liberal op-ed writer: the author is Bob Barr, ultra-conservative former U.S. Representative and National Rifle Association board member, now a regular writer for the Creative Loafing chain’s flagship paper.

What’s a conservative Congressman doing in an alternative paper? Creative Loafing Editor Ken Edelstein, who started running Barr’s triweekly column three months ago, hopes that publishing Barr will broaden readers’ perspectives — and spice up the paper. Publishing a prominent political figure is a first for the 143,000-circ paper. “Alternative newspapers tend to be a bit predictable, and having a guest columnist who adds another dimension is a good thing,” he says. “You’re getting a different point of view. It broadens your perspective.”

For instance, Edelstein says, “There was a lot of support for the buildup to the war. Yet, if you looked at almost every alternative paper, it reflected basically one point of view — which was against the war. I generally agree with that point of view, but I felt like we must be missing a little bit if we’re not reflecting the best of the conservative perspective.”

Why Barr? He can write, for one thing: Barr is also a contributing editor to the conservative political journal The American Spectator (published, ironically, by the American Alternative Foundation), and, says Edelstein, “he has a pretty good style and is a very intelligent man who expresses himself clearly.” And he’s well-known to Creative Loafing. “As much as I disagree with most of his political positions, I think he’s always had integrity. He’s been outspoken about certain civil liberties,” says Edelstein. “He’s been a big advocate for privacy. … He’s kind of a happy warrior for the conservative side.”

Barr says he’s always had a “high regard” for Creative Loafing, going back to the late 80s, when he frequently dealt with the paper as a U.S. Attorney in Atlanta. Plus, he says, “I’ve always enjoyed writing and I definitely hope to continue to do it. I find that it’s a tremendous way to communicate with people and educate people.”

So far, Barr has taken on gay marriage, IDs in schools, and privacy laws. And reader response has been positive — mainly. “We get a steady stream of responses,” says Edelstein. “They’ve ranged from bitter anger that we would present Bob Barr at all to surprise that they actually agree with him. When he’s writing about the Patriot Act, we get all these kudos letters from people who are like, ‘I never thought I’d agree with Bob Barr!'”

“One thing that’s impressed me is the number of people who’ve read it and who’ve called in or emailed me to say they saw the article,” says Barr. “Those same people may turn to their friends and say ‘Man, that guy’s a real idiot.’ But to me, at least, the comments have been extremely positive.”

And he certainly isn’t worried about running out of column ideas: “The government makes so many mistakes that there’s always going to be plenty to write about.”

Whitney Joiner is a freelance reporter based in New York City.