The other day, I was puzzled to read the bio-line in Tom Bray’s article on Big Labor for the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Bray is a freelance journalist who lives in the Detroit area.” In its way, that’s like saying Bill Buckley is a freelance journalist who lives in the New York area. For years, Bray was editorial-page editor of the Detroit News, where he ran one of the finest pages in the country, second only to the coastal papers that strive for national audiences and frequently surpassing them. His feisty conservatism eventually became too much for Gannet, which forced him to step down six years ago but allowed him to retain a column. Now he has written his final column for the Detroit News, and it’s full of his vintage optimism:
I cannot end on a pessimistic note. Yes, the Iraq war seems a mess; yes, government still spends too much money badly; and yes, the culture ain’t what it used to be. But if you think things look bleak now, you weren’t around when I started writing this column in the early 1980s.
As a native Detroiter, I had the privilege of reading Bray’s journalism whenever I wanted, long before the Internet made it possible to read papers from around the world. His editorial page shaped my political beliefs. It also gave me my first paid professional assignment as a journalist: When I was a junior at the University of Michigan, one of Bray’s assistant editors called me at the Michigan Review and invited me to report on a pilot course about racism that was the forerunner to what is now a ridiculous graduation requirement: There are a lot of things you don’t need to study in Ann Arbor in order to earn a diploma, but every student must take a class on racism. (The guy who called with the assignment, Richard Burr, continues to work at the News and offers his own tribute to Bray here.)
Letting me write for the News is very far down on the list of Bray’s accomplishments: This is the guy, after all, who gave columns to Warren Brookes and Tony Snow before more than a handful of people had heard of them. Yet the fact that his page would contact a student editor to provide a perspective that couldn’t be found on the news pages is an example of Bray’s entrepreneurial approach. Today, the editorial pages of most newspapers are a wasteland of second-rate thinking, liberal pabulum, and syndicated op-eds. Bray’s page was consistently smart, influential in Michigan, and always on the lookout for fresh angles. I used to say it was like the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, but for the Wolverine State. Bray, as it happened, came to the News from the Journal.
Finally, Bray has been a great friend to the conservative movement. A few years ago, he spoke at an anniversary dinner that I helped organize for the Michigan Review, and I’ve heard him speak to the Collegiate Network as well. And that’s just what I’ve witnessed. I’m sure we’ll continue to hear from him in the future, but for now, as he steps away from regular column writing, let me say: Thank you, Tom Bray, for a job very well done.