Greg Freeman? Yawn. Columns about his cats and his son's first year in college were stale the first time he wrote them. Bill McClellan? Hasn't broken a sweat in years. Jerry Berger? Used to be interesting, before his ramblings devolved to the point of columns that contain nothing but tidbits on who's marrying (and de-marrying) whom, what kind of car he drives and which usual suspects showed up at which postevent party. No wonder they've moved him to the bottom of the page. We may be -- OK, we are
-- opening ourselves to accusations of homerism, but the best newspaper columnist in St. Louis is the RFT
's very own D.J. Wilson. During the past year, the RFT
's weekly "Short Cuts" column evolved from an items potpourri put together from submissions by staff writers to Wilson's encounters with the powers that be, be they politicos or the wags that cover them. He's an equal-opportunity slicer-and-dicer who gets under the city's skin. Where else are you going to learn that news kitten Deanne Lane enclosed a photograph of herself in a plea for an interview with South Side Rapist Dennis Rabbitt? When the Board of Aldermen approved yet another increase in public subsidies for the downtown convention hotel, it was Wilson who told us, albeit without names attached, just how tightly they held their noses. And it was Wilson who prompted the city to tally the votes Ralph Nader received in the last presidential election -- before he called the city's director of elections, the official score for Nader was zero. At his best, Wilson combines interviews and conjecture with an astute knowledge of the past to deliver City Hall analysis you won't get anywhere else. At his worst, he delivers amusing anecdotes about the presence of Maoists on South Grand, just a few blocks from the phone booth he calls home. Wilson's gift is his ability to speak authoritatively without losing his sense of humility. And he does his homework. The biggest players in the city may not always talk to him, but that rarely matters. By speaking to aides, advocates and the proverbial "informed sources," he can work his magic so that lux et veritas
emerges without clouds of self-righteousness or damnation, a tough trick to pull for a cynic with an optimist's heart buried deep within. Wilson is an honest man who reads like he talks. And that's the best any journalist can hope for.