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A Review of William McGowan's Coloring the News


Friday, Nov. 16, 2001

William McGowan, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism (Encounter 2001)

It is not news that the news is biased–that is, that the major newspapers, news magazines, and television networks skew their reporting towards the left of the political spectrum. But it is useful to document that bias, especially with respect to issues of race, ethnicity, and gender, where political correctness is most virulent. And it is particularly valuable to give some thought to the consequences of that bias.

All this makes William McGowan's new book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, important. And the events of September 11, while not discussed in the book, make the issues and the book very timely as well.

One-Sided Coverage, Over and Over, Across the Board

The approach McGowan takes is straightforward. He has a chapter on racial questions, one on gay and feminist issues, another specifically on racial and ethnic preferences (a.k.a. "affirmative action"), and one on immigration. He begins the discussion of each issue and subissue by pointing out that it is complicated, with legitimate arguments to be made on each side. And then he demonstrates how, again and again, the major news organizations have failed utterly to handle the issues with the care and evenhandedness that they deserve.

Instead, McGowan shows, the reporters and commentators inevitably present only one side, and either ignore or vilify the other. There are both sins of commission (slanting the coverage of what is written about), and sins of omission (deciding not to cover certain events at all).

For doctrinaire leftists, this point may be lost. If one is strongly of the view that one side clearly is correct and only an idiot would contend otherwise, then it is hard to fault the media for presenting only that perspective. (No one complains about reporting that assumes the world is round and treats flat-earthers as cranks.) But for everyone else, the book's documentation of bias should at least give pause.

Indeed, McGowan's evidence is so clear and repetitious that it becomes ultimately rather numbing, especially for those who are in the choir, already converted. But for others, as my Latin teacher used to say, Repetitio est mater studiorum ("Repetition is the mother of learning"): the consistency and sheer weight of McGowan's evidence is overwhelming.

Skin-Deep Diversity

The problem is not only that individual reporters are overwhelmingly liberal. It is also that, for instance, editors and publishers now routinely spike stories that portray immigrants, minorities, gays, or women in an unflattering light. And they do the same with those that might call into question liberal articles of faith on issues like racial preferences, bilingual education, and abortion.

Furthermore, reporters are deliberately hired to be representatives of certain groups rather than as skeptical newshounds. Editors are required to meet quotas in their quoting, by finding experts of every race and ethnicity; copy editors are given politically correct "style guides"; and there are like-minded "photo guides" as well.

The irony is that, in the name of diversity, independent-thinking reporters are blacklisted. The diversity that exists is, notes McGowan, only skin deep.

Does this bias matter? To some extent, no. The media's bias is so long-standing, consistent, and predictable that many Americans consume the news with more than a grain of salt–and supplement their diet with other sources.

They may listen to Rush Limbaugh or read the National Review. They may subscribe to the Washington Times instead of the Washington Post. Or they may choose to watch the Fox News Channel instead of Peter Jennings. Perhaps they stop reading the editorials in the New York Times, unless they want to get their blood boiling — and read Wall Street Journal commentary instead.

But in other respects, the bias is disturbing indeed. After all, many people get most or all of their news from the Establishment Media, and even those who don't cannot entirely avoid its explicit and implicit messages — for like it or not, they frame the terms of the debate, determining, for example, who is seen as moderate and who is seen as on or beyond the fringe.

Needed: Brave Souls

It is remarkable that editors and reporters–individuals in a profession that professes devotion to truth–are so cowardly (there is no other word for it). In one survey that McGowan cites, 38 out of 41 editors "answered, yes, political correctness had indeed led to a tilt or spin in their paper's coverage and had cut down or inhibited vigorous, candid and open debate and dissent."

But how many of these editors were willing to be quoted? Only two. If the abuses that this book so persuasively documents are to end, the latter number will have to change. The media's internal censorship will end only if media members have the guts to speak out against it.

And it is crucial that this happen. The voices that oppose the balkanization of America deserve a fair hearing. A nation that is nothing more than a patchwork of ethnic communities — communities that don't speak the same language; that identify more with their race or country of origin than with America; that reject assimilation, nurse historical grievances, and refuse to be held to common standards; and that are at each other's throats in their demands for preferential and special treatment — has always been disturbing to many of us.

And, after September 11, such a prospect should be scary for everyone.

Roger Clegg is general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C.

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