In this excerpt from his
new book Coloring
the News, the author interviewed reporters and editors from USA Today
to The New York Times and discovered that, far from cornerstones of the
modern "enlightened" newspaper, politically correct diversity programs
have only harmed the minorities they purport to help in addition to alienating
readers, demoralizing newsrooms, and being inadvertently responsible for the
Fox News Channel.
------- BY WILLIAM MCGOWAN
to account for why there has been so much bad reporting about diversity,
many of the reporters and editors I approached simply blamed the restrictive
conventions of the news-gathering process: daily deadlines, reportorial ranks
stretched too thin, the difficulty in finding an acceptable news peg to make
a story complex and alive. Yet the reporting and re-reporting I have done show
me that a new taboo against the skepticism that is supposed to be a journalist's
greatest asset has been a more significant factor.
Moreover efforts to expand newsroom representation by ethnicity,
gender, and race have not been accompanied by any corresponding effort to expand
or enhance intellectual or ideological diversity or an appreciation for it.
Diversity, it turns out, is only skin deep. Surveys done over the course of
the last two decades consistently show that journalists on the whole are today
more liberal than the average citizen, and that the influx of women and minorites
has only accentuated that imbalance since these groups are measurably more liberal
than others. At some news organizations, especially those most committed to
diversity, having liberal values has practically become a condition of employment.
People with more traditional or conservative views have a hard time getting
through the door, and if they do get through, they are wary of revealing their
The problem is not an active liberal conspiracy. Rather, it is
one of an invisible liberal consensus, which is either hostile to, or simply
unaware of, the other side of things, thereby making the newsroom susceptible
to an unconscious but deeply rooted bias. The answer is not affirmative action
for conservatives, but rather a recognition that this bias exists and serves
as an invisible criterion affecting the hiring process.
Journalism is a process that prides itself on its maverick outspokenness
and its allergic reaction to preconceived notions. Yet in today's media climate,
some notions are considered beyond scrutinyincluding the merits of the
diversity agenda. "I deplore the fact that the issue is so sensitive that
reporters don't want to talk by name," one Washington bureau chief told
me, hastening to add, "I don't want to contribute to that, but I would
rather not be noted by name either." Indeed, in many ways, news organizations
have become the same kind of dysfunctional cultures as those found on the multicultural
university campuses, where transgressions against the dominant line of thought
can result in hostility and ostracism.
Another important reason why the diversity agenda has been inimical
to sound journalism is the way the search for distinct minority view points
and voices has opened the door to ethnic, racial and gender cheerleading. Most
minority journalists have no problem upholding the goal of professional detachment
and nonpartisanship, but many younger journalists, particularly members of minorities,
see objectivity as a reflection of "white" cultural values. This scorn
for objectivity has encouraged a form of relativism in which facts lose their
currency, and concerns about feeding anti-minority stereotypes, or undermining
community self-esteem, triumph over candor and factuality.
While the political preoccupations of Latino, black, or gay reporters
vary sharply, the sense of advocacy they share is often animated by the same
concerns. One of them is a sense of obligation to protect and uplift the group.
This can create a conflict of interest between being a good journalist and being
"a loyal brother" working to advance "the liberation of an oppressed
people," as black columnist Jack White of Time magazine described
his own dilemma to a group of students at a 1997 Columbia School of Journalism
seminar. Minority journalists tend to exert a tremendous amount of peer pressure
on each other, chastising those who are seen as airing dirty laundry in public
or offering ammunition to the enemy. They are also guilt-baited by black political
figures and activists who like to scold them for having become "an elite
class" which has forgotten that "we are still in a racist nation,"
as a Dallas city councilman put it at the 1994 convention of the National Association
of Black Journalists.
Inside the newsroom, the activist impulse has sometimes translated
into obstructionism by mid-level minority editors who either discourage racially
sensitive pieces, or sidetrack, gut, or kill them once they are further into
the pipeline. Outside the newsroom, that activism has fed the increasing politicization
of the various minority journalists' associations. In recent years, all of them
have taken explicit stands on political issues, and often sponsor workshops
at their annual conventions where activists advise attendees on the best way
to spin various political issues back in the newsroom.
The fear of being labeled racist, sexist, or homophobic makes
many white reporters reluctant to challenge this newsroom advocacy. As a New
York Times reporter told a writer for Esquire, "All someone
has to do is make a charge of racism and everyone runs away." And instead
of taking hard-line stances against racial and ethnic cheerleading or the prickly
hypersensitivity that mistakes rigorous editing for prejudice, many managers
respond with solicitude because they don't want open ethnic conflict on their
staff or they are worried about jeopardizing their careers. One of my Los
Angeles Times sources said that "a large responsibility lies with the
fifty-year-old white males who find it easier, as a company, to give in to these
groups than to deal with the real problems."
Not to be ignored in assessing the impact of diversity doctrine
is the false perception reigning in the profession that this cause is the moral
successor to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many top editors who cut
their teeth as young reporters covering the civil rights in the South seem still
to be fighting the last war in their effort to reconfigure the newsroom, ignoring
today's more complicated ethnic and racial picture.
Among other things, the conflation of civil rights with diversity
has extended the shelf life of the outdated paradigm of white oppression and
nonwhite victimization, which the media invokes to justify a compensatory system
of group preferences. It has also allowed diversity supporters to rationalize
and excuse their own excesses and failings. When asked about complaints that
the diversity campaign encouraged news organizations to go easy on minority
groups, The New York Times' Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told Newsweek's
Ellis Cose, "First you have to get them on the agenda."
Most significantly, though, seeing diversity as the next phase
of the civil rights movement has also given the whole media debate about it
an overly righteous, moralistic air. This has made it difficult to discuss more
subtle issues with the dispassion they require, and has also tended to encourage
racial McCarthyism toward critics of the effort by dividing the world into "an
enlightened us and unenlightened them," as one Philadelphia Inquirer
reporter put it. As a result, "The whole debate gets lowered to a grade
school level of oversimplification," with little effort expended to see
the other side, complained former Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Stewart.
Such moral preening makes it hard for supporters to accept criticism
too. When their diversity effort was disparaged in a lengthy New Republic
exposé, Washington Post editors went into a frenzy, attacking
the integrity of the writer and the racial bona fides of the magazine. Post
publisher Donald Graham sneeringly offered The New Republic his suggestion
for a new motto for the magazine: "Looking for a qualified black since
1914." Reacting in similar fashion, editors at the New York Times
have dismissed criticism of the paper's slanted coverage as "unhealthy
and unhelpful," "just pathetic," and ideologically motivated
"drivel" tinged with implicit racism.
Supporters of the diversity agenda promised
that it would benefit minority groups that have long been marginalized or maligned,
and that it would encourage the formulation of policies needed to accommodate
the changing demographics of multicultural America. But when you look at the
political effects such a journalistic agenda encourages, you can see the law
of unintended consequences in full operation.
Are new Americans really helped by journalism that bolsters bilingual
education, depriving immigrant children of the ability to speak and read English,
in order to maintain traditional identities? And are immigrants, who are disproportionately
victimized by alien criminals, really better off when newspapers shy away from
hard-hitting reportage about crime out of deference to "community sensitivities"?
There are also many legitimate questions to ask about the impact
of journalism that indulges the antisocial behavior of the black underclass
as a romantic rejection of "white norms" and holds black leaders to
a lower standard than whites. After all, blacks are usually the ones harmed
by such antisocial behavior, and by the political corruption of black officials.
Is the goal of black inclusion really enhanced by reporting that sees racism
everywhere, or does this reporting in fact encourage such an incapacitating
sense of victimization and alienation that true inclusion and integration have
And what about the thousands of gay men who became infected with
the AIDS virus while journalists fretted about feeding pernicious stereotypes
of gay promiscuity, failing to report on the dangers of bath houses and sex
clubs as aggressively as they should have? Newsday columnist Gabriel
Rotello told an audience at the 1995 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Convention:
"It has gotten to the point that we [gay men] are the biggest consumers
of [these] mistruths and misconceptions about the AIDS epidemic, and it is us
who are dying."
The diversity crusade has had other unintended consequences toosome
affecting the media. Research suggests that besides driving down morale and
encouraging attrition, the diversity effort has not become "the cornerstone
of growth" its supporters said it would be. Much to the chagrin of news
organizations who thought they could leverage diversity to bolster sagging readership
and viewership, the new minority readers and viewers never really materialized.
In fact, the push for diversity has driven away many white, middle-class readers
and viewers who often find the ideologically skewed reporting on diversity sharply
at odds with their sense of reality. Many in this alienated white middle class
have embraced the alternative news of conservative talk radioarguably
the Frankenstein monster created by the PC pressas well as the upstart
Fox News Channel, increasingly seen as a breath of candor and balance in comparison
with its network rivals.
In the end, though, the press' diversity crusade has performed
its greatest disservice to the country's broader civic culture by oversimplifying
complicated issues and by undermining the spirit of public cooperation and trust
without which no multiethnic and multiracial society can survive. Instead of
making public discourse intellectually more sophisticated, the diversity ethos
has helped to dumb it down. Instead of nurturing a sense of common citizenship,
the emphasis on diversity has celebrated cultural separatism and supported a
race-conscious approach to public life. And instead of enhancing public trusta
critical element in the forging of consensus on the thorny social issues we
facethe press' diversity effort has manufactured cynicism through reporting
and analysis distorted by double standards, intellectual dishonesty, and fashionable
cant that favors certain groups over others.
The task of building a workable multiethnic and multiracial society
is daunting, but by coloring the news, the diversity crusade has made it even
more problematical. As one perceptive reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle
reflected: "The ultimate goal is a society with as much racial and
ethnic fairness and harmony as possible, but we can't get there unless we in
the press are ready to talk about it in full."
William McGowan is the author of Only Man Is Vile: The Tragedy
of Sri Lanka. He has reported for Newsweek and the BBC and has written
for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Columbia Journalism
Review , and other national publications. A regular contributor to The
Wall Street Journal, he has been a fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy
Center and is currently a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He lives in New
Excerpted from Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity
Has Corrupted American Journalism, published by Encounter
Books. Click here
to buy the book.