Diversity revolution hurts newspapers' credibility

John Leo

12/10/2001 12:00:00 AM - John Leo
In his impressive new book, "Coloring the News," William McGowan has an unusual take on the continuing battle over bias in the news media: He think liberals are as damaged by it as everyone else. Bill Clinton, he thinks, was victimized in a sense by the early non-reporting of the gays-in-the-military issue. Because the newsroom strongly supports 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 the 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, "Nobody 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, and articles favorable to race and gender preferences are much more common than not-so-favorable ones. 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.

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 clear 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 like 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, and the faithful fell in line.

Ingrained assumptions about the awfulness of the "dominant" (i.e., white male) culture began to flow into coverage. Standard narrative lines for coverage emerged. Assimilation and integration are bad. Opposition to abortion is inexcusable. Open immigration and bilingual programs are good. 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."

Worst of all, the mostly white male bosses raised no objections as the various minority journalist associations became more and more political, taking explicit stands on issues and holding workshops on how to spin coverage of those issues back in the newsroom. Presumably if a Christian fundamentalist caucus should appear in a newsroom (consider this unlikely) and openly 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 the annual 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 what they read in newspapers. The film dealt at length with a mother's complaint that her son had scored two touchdowns in a high school football game, but the local paper wrongly 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 football reporting 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?