Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, February 2002
William McGowan, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, Encounter Books, 2001, 278 pp.
Coloring the News has been well received in conservative circles as a brave book that lays bare the liberal prejudices and deceptions of the media. This view is not altogether mistaken, though the achievement is dimmed by the fact that exposing liberal press bias is like shooting fish in a barrel. Former journalist and current Manhattan Institute fellow William McGowan blazes away for nearly 300 pages, and covers a lot of useful ground, but ultimately falls victim to the very thinking he claims to be denouncing. Despite all the reasons he offers to oppose the “diversity” that is corrupting the news and damaging the country, Mr. McGowan is still all for it; it just hasn’t been handled right. Perhaps he also thinks Marxism was a great idea that never had the chance it deserved either.
Coloring the News starts with the assumption that in the old days the press was run by hidebound white heterosexual men who couldn’t write fairly about anyone else. Newspapers needed a stiff dose of exoticism to ensure a kind of representative democracy of the press. Blacks, homosexuals, Hispanics, and feminists would all be objective journalists first, and then bring to bear unique sensitivities to make the news more fair and true. They would win the trust of “excluded” communities, whose grateful members would buy papers and boost sales. Mr. McGowan seems to have fallen for this silly idea, and is disappointed the new recruits turned out to be activists first and foremost.
The way they got their jobs had something to do with it. As Mr. McGowan explains, from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Enquirer on down, big media companies have had open hiring quotas. Many papers enrolled only non-whites in their intern programs, and on recruiting trips to journalism schools the New York Times would sometimes interview only minorities. In 1991, Times editor Max Frankel admitted he hired one non-white for every white, and would hesitate to fire an incompetent black woman. In 1992, publisher Arthur Sulzberger said diversity was “the single most important issue” for the paper. At Time-Warner magazines and the Gannett newspapers, bonuses for executives depended on how diligently they hired and promoted protected classes. As Los Angeles Times publisher Mark Willes explained, “people want to feel like the paper is theirs. They can’t do that if the paper is a fundamentally white male newspaper.”
Many newspapers made sure that coverage was diverse, too, with USA Today famously decreeing every day there had to be a photo of a non-white on the front page, above the fold. Many papers also rated reporters on their sources, marking them down if they quoted too many white men. At the Los Angeles Times, there is a Latino Team that meets every day to ensure Hispanics get the coverage they deserve. At many papers, says Mr. McGowan, there is a vice president for diversity who makes sure the right people are hired and the news has the right tint.
The inevitable result has been open advocacy. Mr. McGowan quotes black journalist Jack White, who explained at a 1997 seminar at the Columbia School of Journalism that he was both a good reporter and a “loyal brother” who got into journalism “to advance the liberation of an oppressed people.” “Many younger journalists,” explains Mr. McGowan, “particularly members of minorities, see objectivity as a reflection of ‘white’ cultural values.”
Managers and editors apparently see nothing wrong with this. They gladly send writers off to associations of black, Hispanic, or homosexual journalists, where there is open plotting about how to slant the news. For the chosen classes, there is no such thing as a conflict of interest.
Mr. McGowan has noticed that racial issues are among the most flagrantly misreported. He writes that the press assumes white America is a hopeless fen of racism, tormenting blacks and Hispanics at every turn. At the same time, the press downplays news that might show non-whites in a bad light — and Mr. McGowan has found editors willing to admit it. For example, in 1990, five police officers in Buffalo, New York, were arrested for corruption, but the Buffalo News did not publish their photos. All were black and, as editor Murray Light explained, there was a “commanding need” for black role models, and to have noted the race of the offenders would have been “devastating.”
Others are candid about how they report political issues. At the time of the ballot initiative in California to eliminate racial preferences, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders explained, “It is the belief [here] that the real job of the paper is to defeat this thing.” Los Angeles Times reporter John Balzar explained why the paper never mentioned that non-white immigrants fresh from Mexico were getting racial preferences over native-born whites: That would be “reckless,” he said, because “we live in a state where feelings about immigrants boil over so easily.”
Almost all the offenders in the Los Angeles “Ramparts” police scandal were Hispanic, but the Los Angeles Times was careful to avoid giving this impression. Likewise, writers at the Washington Post knew that many blacks joining the DC police through preference programs were incompetents and even criminals, but the paper never hinted at a link between affirmative action and the police corruption stories they were later obliged to write. For years, the Washington Post also spiked any unflattering stories about black DC mayor Marion Barry. As Juan Williams, a black who wrote for the paper explains, white editors thought “black politics were in their infancy and it would be unfair to hold them to the same standard.”
Mr. McGowan has noticed that newspapers that give great prominence to bias attacks somehow find other things to write about when the “attack” turns out to be a hoax. When it has given the fakery so much play it cannot help covering the awkward dénouement, the New York Times sometimes likes to point out that even a hoax has the benefit of giving people a chance to “reach out” to other races.
Almost all newspapers adore racial preferences. In both California and Washington state, every major state paper opposed voter initiatives to end preferences — and then had to report that the initiatives passed by large margins. The publisher of the Seattle Times even spent $275,000 of the paper’s money on ads supporting racial preferences.
One of the classic cases of racial foolishness Mr. McGowan reports is the New York Times Magazine’s worshipful account of Patrick Chavis, the affirmative action black who got into medical school ahead of Allan Bakke, and helped bring about the famous 1978 Bakke Supreme Court case. In June, 1995, Nicholas Lemann wrote a glowing cover story about Dr. Chavis’ caring practice, which even won the doctor a trip to Washington for a Senate hearing, where Senator Edward Kennedy crowed about the triumphs of affirmative action.
Just two years later, the Medical Board of California suspended Dr. Chavis’ license, citing his “inability to perform some of the most basic duties required of a physician,” and warning that for him to “continue in the practice of organized medicine will endanger the public health, safety and welfare.” If Mr. Lemann had not been so determined to write puff, he would have learned that Chavis had long been indifferent to the pain his patients suffered, and that many people knew of his incompetence. The Times, of course, considered it wholly un-newsworthy when its favorite example of affirmative action had his license lifted. Mr. Chavis said it was all a racist plot against him, but the Times didn’t report that either.
On the other hand, when two Ivy League university presidents wrote a 1998 book defending racial preferences in college admissions the Times showered it with ink. There was a Sunday book review for The Bend in the River, a review in the daily paper, and a long news feature accompanied by an excerpt in the Week in Review — all capped with a fawning editorial called “The Facts About Affirmative Action.”
Mr. McGowan points out that media coverage of homosexuals is almost as badly slanted. In 1998, in the month after the homosexual Matthew Shepard was murdered, there were 3,007 news stories about him. When, in 1999, two homosexuals kidnapped the young heterosexual boy Jesse Dirkhising, raped him, and killed him, there were only 46 stories in the first month. Not one appeared on the networks or in the national dailies. The Washington Post ran one tiny AP dispatch.
Likewise, when hundreds of thousands of homosexuals marched in Washington in 1993, the major media made them seem clean-cut and normal. It was only those watching unedited C-Span who saw the topless lesbians, the obvious transvestites, and the men in leather harnesses. They also heard one lesbian speaker say she wanted to “fuck” Hillary Clinton, and another say she “wanted to get it on with Anita Hill.”
Mr. McGowan notes that the press went along with homosexuals when they claimed heterosexuals were just as likely to get AIDS as men who let themselves be buggered by a dozen “lovers” every week. This led to needless worry, and testing among people who had essentially no chance of getting AIDS, but also — as Mr. McGowan fails to note — public support for huge government programs to find a cure for what was billed as a disease that could kill anyone but was concentrated among homosexuals.
After the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Boy Scouts’ right to keep out homosexuals, some papers gave the mistaken impression that scores of companies and school districts withdrew support for the Scouts. This was actually quite unusual, and many groups increased support.
Homosexual journalists are often as partisan as their non-white colleagues. At the 1995 meeting of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association there were seminars on how to write news stories to persuade, as one participant put it, “a majority of people to come out in favor of gay marriage.”
“Women’s issues” often get the same treatment. An official with the National League of Abortion Providers admits he “lied through his teeth” when he claimed there were only about 500 late term abortions every year and only for serious health reasons. This was at the height of the national debate on partial birth abortion, and the press kept on reporting this figure long after it was known there were far more, and that many women had them for reasons of convenience.
Mr. McGowan also covers the cases of Karen Hultgreen and Carey Lohrenz, failures who were pushed through flight training so the Navy could claim women were landing jets on carriers, and of Kelly Flinn, the lady B-52 pilot guilty of adultery and perjury. The media invariably made liars and dangerous incompetents out to be victims of male oppression. During the Gulf War, 36 of the 160 women among the crew of the USS Acadia had to be evacuated for pregnancy disability — yet the press continues to assure us women make dandy sailors, soldiers, and pilots.
Mr. McGowan even takes a poke at the way the media cover immigration: “[N]ews organizations have been too ready to follow a romantic script that exaggerates its benefits and ignores its downsides.” “Instead of questioning whether multiculturalism was something we really wanted, and letting the American public decide,” he adds, “the press treated it as an immutable fait accompli . . .”
He notes that anything unpleasant about immigrants — crime, disease, illegitimacy, welfare chiseling, drug peddling, etc. — gets little coverage. Stories about fake marriages, smuggling, or ID forging read like celebrations of immigrant ingenuity. Mr. McGowan quotes a New York Times story about illegal Bangladeshi construction workers in New York City, who drive down wages for natives and force them out of work, but this is just another example of how “immigrants create niches for themselves in the city’s economy.” Typical New York Times headline: “Immigrants Jam Schools, Invigorate System.”
Mr. McGowan notes that during the 1990s it was nearly impossible to find a news story about immigrants on welfare. However, when late in the decade the federal government looked into cutting back on services, there were suddenly plenty of stories telling us how many of the little dears were going to be kicked off welfare. Likewise, the New York Times publishes next to nothing about immigrant criminals — until they are deported back to their homelands. Then it writes mournful stories about how unfair it is to dump American-trained thugs on peaceful Third-World countries.
The duty to pander to immigrants can outweigh even feminism. The New York Times wrote that for immigrants from the Jain sect in India, arranged marriages gave them a strong “sense of family and identity.” A feminist at the Times likewise said that though she didn’t care for African genital mutilation, as a white woman she could not denounce it. Any campaign “must be led by African activists.”
Mr. McGowan reports that a few editors may have some dim understanding that “diversity” hasn’t quite worked out as planned. In 1992, publisher Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Times admitted that the various multi-cultis at the paper were “at each other’s throats.” Indeed, the UNITY conference in which all the non-white journalist associations participate is often anything but united. In 1999, the blacks didn’t want to meet in Seattle because Washington was about to vote on an anti-preferences initiative. The Hispanics were happy with Seattle, and the argument got so hot a “diversity consultant” had to be called in to sort things out. As the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists explained, “We couldn’t get past one group feeling that their concerns were more important than another group’s.”
In 1989 the publisher of the Miami Herald, David Lawrence, decided his paper would go for diversity full tilt and show the rest of the country “how you work it out.” Since then, according to Mr. McGowan, the paper has become a lapdog for the Cuban power structure, and was so busy truckling and cheerleading during the Elian Gonzalez affair that out-of-town papers scooped it several times.
Diversity can backfire in other ways. Patricia Smith, the first black woman columnist for the Boston Globe, had to be dumped in 1998 for making up sources and quotes. She had been doing this for years. Her previous employer, the Chicago Sun Times was on to her, but the editor admitted he hadn’t fired her because she was a black woman.
As for the idea that showcasing non-whites and homosexuals would turn these people into avid newspaper readers, Mr. McGowan assures us it’s been a flop. Middle-class white people are still the main market, and many of them have been driven away by pandering and double standards.
So what is there to dislike in a book that describes so much fraud and foolishness? The fact that it accepts the very assumptions that led to the fraud and foolishness. Here is Mr. McGowan at his worst:
Given the industry’s past sins of racial, ethnic and cultural exclusion, the steps it has taken to enhance minority representation in newsrooms and in news coverage represent a worthy, overdue, and historically necessary event.
A willingness on the part of the media to move away from its history of male condescension and chauvinism in the coverage of women and women’s issues was unquestionably necessary.
With respect to gay and feminist issues, diversity’s enhanced sensitivity has purged news coverage of many of the pernicious stereotypes that governed reporting and commentary in the past.
If the industry really was riddled with “chauvinism,” “exclusion,” and “pernicious stereotypes,” what but hiring quotas, race-preference bonuses, and mandatory pictures of blacks above the fold could have saved it? If reporters were such bigoted swine, there had to be Latino Committees to make sure they covered Hispanics the right way, and monitoring systems to make them call up non-white and homosexual sources.
Most of the time, Mr. McGowan writes as if past wickedness can be so taken for granted there is no need even to give examples of it, but he does produce two. Time, he says, quoting not the magazine but an obscure secondary source, once wrote in the 1960s that homosexuality is “a pathetic, second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life” that deserved “no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste and above all no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.”
Never mind the context of the quote, whether it was typical, or whether it is something many Americans today would consider a vigorous and truthful statement — this “ugly backdrop” meant that the press had to hire openly homosexual journalists in order to save its soul.
Here is his only other example of repulsive journalism that justified industry-wide housecleaning. Once more from Time, an Aug. 31, 1970 article described feminist Kate Millet as “an unsmiling thick-eyebrowed sphinx with emerging eyebags and a laser-beam stare that could melt male testicles from 50 yards.”
Whether he realizes it or not, what Mr. McGowan is saying is that these two passages are not just wrong, or unkind, or silly (melt male testicles?). He is saying they are so loathsome they should never have been published, that they are offenses so monstrous they indict every publication in America and justify the wholesale corrective that somehow degenerated into militant self-righteousness. What therefore makes his critique of “diversity” so shallow is his unquestioning acceptance that there was some horrible disease that required treatment in the first place. He doesn’t seem to like some of the effects of the cure, but doesn’t dispute that a cure was needed, and fails to propose one that would have worked better.
Mr. McGowan claims to be disgusted by the ideological conformity of the press, but this is obviously not true. If he really wanted spirited dialogue he would welcome articles that call homosexuality “a pernicious disease” or make fun of homely feminists. He writes of “the worthy goal of enhancing diversity,” one advantage of which is that “the realities of minority life that were once excluded from mainstream view are more accessible.” But he has just told us the opposite is true! His book is bursting with examples of “the realities of minority life” the press won’t touch: Mexican gangs, corrupt black cops, and immigrant welfare cheats, not to mention homicidal homosexuals and pregnant lady sailors.
Even as he catalogues diversity’s horror stories, Mr. McGowan manages to come up with a particularly lickspittle defense of the very thing he is attacking: “Having greater racial and ethnic breadth on staff also pays dividends in moral authority, as minority reporters often enjoy a license to weigh in on touchy issues that white journalists are reluctant to approach.” Apparently whites are such invertebrates they can’t be expected to call a spade a spade, so the press has to hire blacks to write about ghetto crack houses and Mexicans to write about pregnant 14-year-olds. But Mr. McGowan has just told us non-white journalists want to sweep this stuff under the rug. Are we supposed to imagine a New York Times editor telling a young black writer his job is to cover all the sordid black news whites are too squeamish to touch?
Mr. McGowan is clearly a confused man. If he had limited himself to a straight description of what is happening he would have written a much more effective, coherent book. By accepting the foolish assumptions of the diversity boosters, he undercuts his own efforts and disarms his best arguments.