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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2001 / 25 Kislev, 5762

John Leo

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Nattering newsrooms


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- IN his impressive new book, Coloring the News, journalist William McGowan has an unusual take on the continuing battle over bias in the news media: He thinks liberals are as damaged by it as everyone else. Bill Clinton, he points out, was victimized in a sense by the early nonreporting of the gays-in-the-military issue.

Because the newsroom strongly supported gay causes, journalists didn't bother to do much reporting on the depth of the opposition building against Clinton's pledge to allow openly gay members of the armed forces. The debate was skewed, and Clinton paid a high political price, because reporters thought open inclusion of gays was too obvious a cause to cover in any detail.

The same yawn of obviousness surrounds newsroom treatment of affirmative action. One New York Times reporter told McGowan, "No one wants to do a story on affirmative action because they just don't see anything wrong with it." In the papers I read, coverage is slack. When articles do appear, reports that put race and gender preferences in a good light are much more common than discouraging news. The newsroom air is so thick with orthodoxy that it is very hard for readers and viewers to figure out what is really going on. The best recourse is to get on the Internet and check things out yourself.

McGowan argues, in case-by-case detail, that diversity ideology has corrupted the newsroom. Hiring more women, gays, and minorities was fair, but it pushed the newsroom further to the left, since those groups are more liberal than white males. These groups acquired the ability to monitor coverage of their own activities, often with the ability to airbrush out anything they considered negative or hurtful to the cause.

Militant gays took over AIDS beats, often with little or no protest about a conflict of interest. Office commissars began to appear-"senior vice president, diversity" or "diversity director"-who sometimes sat in on daily news meetings and contributed to coverage decisions. (Just as a teacher or someone from the principal's office used to sit in and contribute to coverage of your high school paper.) Managers were brought in line by linking their promotions and bonuses to the number of minority journalists they hire, retain, and promote. A clever move.

For quelling resistance to a dubious new order, there is nothing like offering a financial stake to managers and mentioning the possibility of their careers being ended. "Diversity was the new religion," McGowan writes. The faithful fell in line.

Ingrained assumptions about the awfulness of the "dominant" (i.e., white male) culture began to flow into coverage. Standard lines for coverage emerged. Assimilation and integration are bad. Open immigration and bilingual programs are good. Women and blacks have made little progress against institutionalized oppression. Religion is dangerous, except when the churches accept diversity ideology. The script on gays and feminists, McGowan writes, "tends to depict any objections to their causes-however well grounded in constitutional, moral, or institutional traditions-as outright bigotry, worthy of cartoonish portrayal."

Signed off. Worst of all, the mostly white male bosses raised no objections as minority journalist associations became more and more political, taking explicit stands on issues and holding workshops on how to spin coverage of those issues. Presumably if a Christian fundamentalist caucus should appear in a newsroom (consider this unlikely) and work to turn news coverage against abortion and in favor of school prayer, their editors might think of objecting. But not to a racial version of the same thing.

A couple of years ago at a conference of the PC-afflicted American Society of Newspaper Editors, the society's "credibility project" showed a film to help explain why readers increasingly don't believe newspapers. The film dealt with a mother's complaint that her son scored two touchdowns in a high school football game, but the local paper attributed the touchdowns to a teammate. And I thought: Is it possible to be more out of touch with reality? Newspapers' dramatic loss of credibility has little to do with faulty details at sports events or other minor carelessness. As surveys show, readers are stampeding away because they are alienated by diversity-skewed reporting. Speaking about the newsroom's "disconnect from the rest of mainstream society," McGowan writes: "Much of the American public has the sense that news organizations have a view of reality at odds with their own and that reporting and commentary come from some kind of parallel universe." The diversity revolution was supposed to increase readership and enhance credibility.

Just the opposite has resulted. How long will it take the business to figure this out?

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture. Send your comments by clicking here.

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