125 “Coloring the News”

                Years ago a distinguished columnist, Nat Hentoff, received the National Press Foundation’s award for “lifetime distinguished contributions to journalism.”  A renowned ACLU-style civil libertarian–generally endorsing   the political left as a writer for the Village Voice–Hentoff was surprised at the award ceremony when a friend of his, a member of the jury, told him that he’d almost been blackballed, despite his highly regarded journalistic work, because he espoused a pro-life position.  The jury shared his non-religious, pro-labor, anti-capital punishment stands, but his opposing abortion nearly disqualified him. 

                To understand such journalistic prejudices, Hentoff recommends we read William McGowan’s Coloring the News:  How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism (San Francisco:  Encounter Books, c. 2001).  McGowan has reported for a variety of publications (Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal), as well as BBC; he now works as a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.  He represents a rather old-fashioned type of journalist, committed to “objectivity” and neutrality in reporting the news.  A decade ago, he says, journalists embraced “new religion”–diversity–and now kneel at its shrine (p. 10).  In 1992 the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., declared diversity as “the single most important issue” his paper should address (p. 19).  Similarly, Mark Willes, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, determined to appeal to women and minorities by requiring stories be “more emotional, more personal, and less analytic” (p. 18). 

                Consequently, as a veteran editor at the Washington Post, Bob Baker,  laments, reporters are pressured to “appeal to people’s most superficial qualities, their race or gender” (p. 19).   The nation’s elite newspapers, McGowan shows, now prescribe rigid dogmas and ruthlessly  punish deviations.  (The notorious Index and Inquisition are now dead in the Catholic Church, but they are alive and well, in secular form, in the nation’s newsrooms!)  This is particularly evident in the treatment of “race issues.”  Publishers and editors have decreed that racial minorities must receive favorable treatment in the press.  For example, journalists intent on avoiding “the demonization of black men” gloss over facts, including the fact that “nearly a third of all black men between the ages of 17 and 35 are either in jail, on probation or on parole” (p. 49). 

                So-called “hate crimes,” rather than targeting racial minorities, are disproportionately committed against whites.  The fact is that “in the 1990s blacks were at least three times more likely to commit hate crimes against whites than the other way around.  Yet in case after case, media coverage either refuses to acknowledge the racial subtext of such crimes, or fails to subject them to the same scrutiny used when the racial roles are reversed” (p. 60).  The same truth emerges when one studies the falsely alarming reports of black churches being burned in the 1990s.  In fact, fewer churches than ever were being burned, and white churches were ignited at the same rate as black churches.  But the press was not interested in the truth, so only the false reports (helped along by President Clinton’s effort to profit politically from them) gained attention.

                Media coverage of prominent black leaders dramatically illustrate race bias.  Despite assorted criminal behavior, Washington D.C.’s Mayor Marion Barry has generally received a pass by the Washington Post.  Reporting a meeting where several women reported that Barry had raped them, the Post’s reporter persuaded the paper’s “editors to use the word ‘coerce’ instead of ‘rape.’  ‘No use of the “R” word,’ she would later crow.  ‘Now that’s spin control!'”  Al Sharpton has received similar treatment–“toothless and partisan”–in the New York Times.  Ignoring the obvious, National Public Radio provided a profile of Louis Farrakhan, blandly declaring that he “was a misunderstood figure and that his anti-Semitism was exaggerated” (p. 71). That Farrakhan enjoys favorable press is understandable when one learns that “Members of the National Association of Black Journalists gave Farrakhan a standing ovation when he addressed their 1996 national convention” (p. 72).

                “Gay and feminist issues,” McGowen next shows, receive the same coloring.  Two murder cases reveal the power of homosexuals in the nation’s newsrooms.  When Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming in 1998, an enormous outcry rocked the nation.  During the month after the crime, more than 3000 news stories appeared.  The New York Times devoted 195 stories to it.  Conservative Christians, such as James Dobson, were accused of incubating the malignant prejudice that led to Shephard’s death.  The next year, a 13-year-old boy, Jesse Dirkhising was brutally raped and killed by two gay men in Arkansas.  But only 46 stories treated it.  “The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC ignored the story altogether” until a guilty verdict was rendered (pp. 99-100).  When homosexuals are killed, the media seethes with outrage; when homosexuals kill, little is said. 

                Radical feminists in the media make sure the nation’s discussion of abortion receives a proper spin.  More than 80 percent of the nation’s journalists support abortion rights, and their commitment shows in the news.  Female reporters, for example, quote abortion advocates more than three times more frequently than abortion opponents.  “The most egregious misrepresentation of the issue, however,” McGowen shows, “came from CBS News’s 60 Minutes” (p. 125).  Treating the issue of partial birth abortion, Ed Bradley interviewed a woman who had needed the procedure to remove a baby with a brain growing outside his head.  Presenting her case as typical of such abortions, Bradley then interviewed a physician “who claimed no doctor would perform this procedure ‘on a healthy baby in the last trimester'” (p. 125). 

                Viewers were assured such abortions were rare, required by abnormalities of some sort.  Pro-abortion spokesmen claimed only 500 partial birth abortions were performed in the nation in any given year.  Ron Fitzsimmons, speaking for the National League of Abortion Providers, assured viewers of Nightline that such was true.  A New Jersey reporter, however, did some quick checking and discovered that 1500 partial birth abortions took place in that state alone!  Virtually none were done “for medical reasons” (p. 125).  Finally confronted with hard data, Fitzsimmons admitted that he had “lied through the teeth,” that he “just went out there and spouted the party line” (p. 126).  But the party line prevails, and few in the media dare defy it by questioning the legitimacy of unrestricted access to abortion.  Indeed, McGowen says, typical journalists cannot even understand how a person could be so ignorant and unenlightened as to oppose abortion-on-demand.

                Given  the media’s stance regarding “race and gender,” one would rightly assume they would support affirmative action on behalf of racial minorities and women.  They further support immigrants and virtually any preferential treatment they receive.  Such views underwrite, McGowen warns, a “demographic transformation” which “is unprecedented in America, turning a majority white nation with European cultural roots into a nonwhite plurality with no shared cultural heritage.  No other country in history has ever willingly attempted, much less accomplished, a social makeover on this scale” (p. 211).  America’s citizens (including Hispanics) have never approved this makeover, but powerful politicians, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, have orchestrated the process.  Few citizens realize what is occurring because the media champion the Kennedy agenda.  For example, despite the will of the people of California, evident in adopting Proposition 227, despite the failures of bilingual education, the Los Angeles Times consistently promotes the views of activists within the Latino community.  “Immigration and crime is an even touchier subject for journalists, even though one out of four federal prisoners is an illegal alien, and foreign felons, abetted by a dysfunctional visa system” (p. 199) easily enter and engage in criminal activities in the U.S.  Police who mistreat such criminals receive rapid, often ruthless examination.  But aliens’ crimes receive little coverage, for reporters never want to risk appearing racist.

                In his final chapter, “Reasons Why,” McGowan says there is no grand conspiracy, but simply an unexamined prejudice, which colors the news.  Journalists generally go to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, and talk to the same people, assimilating unexamined assumptions.  They “tend to be an inbred bunch, uneasy away from their own kind” (p. 227).  Though great effort has been expended on behalf of “diversity,” there is little true intellectual diversity in the media.  That white, black, Latino, and lesbian writers work together means little when they all agree on issues such as abortion and affirmative action.  Consequently, all too often “news organizations have become the same kind of petty, dysfunctional cultures as college campuses, where transgressions against the dominant line of thought can result in ideological blackballing and ostracism” (p. 230). 

                Coloring the News is filled with precise information, the result of careful research and balanced judgment.  McGowan cares for his profession, and he hopes to call his colleagues back to some of the finer aspects of journalism. 

                The second book Nat Hentoff recommends is Tammy Bruce’s The New Thought Police:  Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds (Roseville, CA:  Prima Publishing, 2001).  Setting the stage in her introduction, she writes:  “I am an openly gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death penalty, liberal, voted-for- Reagan feminist.  Certainly a contradiction in terms” (p. xi).  During the 1990s she headed the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for Women, and, she says, “watched the development of a disturbing phenomenon that today has gripped almost all of American society:  the fear of offending by making a judgment and forming an opinion” (p. xi).  Intimidated by a corps of “new Thought Police,” led by organizations such as NOW, GLAAD, and the ACLU, increasing numbers of people fear to violate the canon of Political Correctness lest they lose their jobs, or their niche in polite society.

                “Groupthink,” Bruce insists, has become entrenched throughout the Left.  As George Orwell predicted (in 1984) “The Party is not interested in the overt act:  the thought is all we care about.”  The frenzy fomented by “hate crimes” and laws implemented to punish them illustrates this.  After taking, at face value, media reports of hate crimes, Bruce decided to look at the evidence and discovered that the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics Report for 1999 reveals that only 17 murders could be considered “hate crimes.”  No epidemic there!  But special interest groups, journalists and politicians, can manipulate reports of “hate” in order to suppress speech.  “Make no mistake,” Bruce concludes, “‘hate crime’ is a euphemism for Thought Crime, allowing the government to gain the public’s assent to prosecute people for what they think in addition to what they do” (p. 47).

                In her chapter entitled “Pot. Kettle. Black.  The Hypocrisy of the Gay Establishment,” Bruce explains that her disillusionment with the Left reached the breaking point when she defended a woman who had treated her kindly and helped her greatly, her colleague at KFI radio in L.A., Dr. Laura Schlessinger.  “Ironically,” she says, “in all my work with the feminist establishment, I seldom encountered the level of encouragement and support that Dr. Laura, the supposed anti-feminist, showed me” (p. 60).  Dr. Laura honestly disagreed with Bruce, but she cared for her.  When Dr. Laura tried to develop a television program, the homosexual establishment unleashed a campaign of villainy and abuse designed to destroy her.  Her statements about homosexual behavior were wrenched out of context, her sponsors were intimidated, and she received so many death threats that she needed bodyguards. 

                Responding to all this abuse, Tammy Bruce decided to write an opinion piece defending Dr. Laura.  Although The Los Angeles Times had eagerly printed her letters before, the paper declined to publish this one.  So she sent it to The New York Times, which initially accepted it.  Soon however, it became clear they would publish it only by re-writing her piece so as to misrepresent her position.  After two months, during which the anti-Schlessinger crusade gained momentum,  she finally managed to get an article published in the entertainment section of the LA. Times, though her most important paragraph was totally deleted.  Defending Dr. Laura cost Tammy Bruce considerably in the gay community.

                Defending Nicole Brown during the O. J. Simpson trial cost her equally in feminist circles.  While O.J. was on trial, Tammy Bruce (still heading the NOW chapter in L.A.) worked to highlight the problem of abused women.  To her amazement, the nation’s feminist leaders were more concerned with placating the pro-Simpson black community than standing up for a murdered woman!  Conversely, she was amazed to find “religious, pro-life, and other conservatives who wrote a check to Los Angeles NOW” because she dared stand up for abused women (p., 260).  “It was then I realized, although we disagreed on many issues, there were fundamental questions about values that truly separated conservatives from postmodern liberals.  For me, that finally exposed by counterpoint the soullessness of the Left” (p. 260). 

                Combining personal experiences with journalistic anecdotes, Bruce explains her break with NOW and its gender feminism.  Her problems began as soon as she was elected president of NOW’s L.A. chapter.  Entering the chapter’s office for the first time, she found it filled with Democratic Party operatives using the space and equipment “as though it were Party headquarters” (p. 119).  A Democrat herself, she recognized the impropriety of such activity in a non-profit organization and removed them.  Subsequently, she had various encounters with NOW presidents, Molly Yard and Patricia Ireland, whom she came to recognize as more deeply committed to socialism than feminism.  Gloria Steinem, too, as an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, clearly put political aspirations ahead of genuine concerns for women in America.  The national icons for feminism lost their luster once encountered.

                She also discovered why NOW’s leaders consistently supported Bill Clinton.  While mired down in the Paula Jones controversy, Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, granted California NOW a half million dollar grant.  The money, taken from the Centers for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health, was designated for “tobacco control.”  More money, from the same fund, was granted the national NOW office during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  All told, NOW “received over three quarters of a million dollars ($767,099) during the Jones and Lewinsky scandals” (p. 138).  No wonder NOW leaders defended a President who seemed to be a walking negation of all the organization allegedly stood for.  

                The New Thought Police ranges far and wide, dealing with issues I’ve not mentioned.  It’s readable and illuminating.  For it gives the reader first-hand information regarding the innards of the cultural and political Left, written by one who knows it intimately.

                The best known (though least impressive) of the three books Hentoff recommends is Bernard Goldberg’s Bias:  A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2002).  Its importance lies in its author, long a fixture on CBS, rather than the information he provides, for Bias is something of an angry diatribe, taking revenge for his own mistreatment, rather than a careful examination of the problem addressed.  Nevertheless, it is readable and illuminating, and Goldberg’s treatment, once he dared challenge the bias of his network, reveals how savagely the media treats whistle-blowers.            After three decades as a faithful employee of CBS, Goldberg dared to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal pointing out the liberal bias of media elites.  A smirking Eric Engberg had scoffed at Steve Forbes’ flat tax proposal, injecting his personal views into an alleged news report.  So Goldberg wrote his op-ed piece, condemning such “junk journalism.”  He quickly discovered that journalists consider only one thing sacrosanct:  themselves!  That he dared criticize his own profession identified him as a traitor!  One of his CBS superiors declared that his “betrayal of trust” was akin to “raping my wife and kidnapping my kids!” (p. 28).  Engberg, along with many of his erstwhile “colleagues, the news liberals who had always preached openness and tolerance, stopped talking to me” (p. 30).  Then his old “friend,” Dan Rather, who assured him that nothing could come between them, banished him from the inner court.  Something of a dictator, controlling CBS Evening News, Rather gets what he wants.  And he wanted Goldberg punished for his betrayal. 

                Suitably ostracized, Goldberg decided to detail the thesis of his op-ed piece, and Bias presents his argument.  He had never supported a Republican candidate, but he had noticed how reporters such as himself subtly shaded their articles to support Democrats.  “Conservatives” were almost always so identified, but reporters rarely referred to liberals as “Liberal.”  During President Clinton’s impeachment trial, Peter Jennings consistently identified “conservative” senators, but never referred to any “liberal” senators.  Goldberg also noticed that some problems, such as “homelessness,” miraculously disappeared once Bill Clinton became President.  Nothing had actually changed, but candidate Clinton could massage the “homeless” problem to get votes.  Once elected, journalists (89% of whom voted for Clinton), along with the President, forgot the problem! 

                Another favored group is the feminists.  Men now serve as convenient targets for media broadsides.  Harry Smith, long a co-anchor for CBS This Morning, is “as affable a feminist as you’ll ever meet” (p. 132).  According to Smith, men are “cheaters,” “philanderers,” frequently failing to care for their families.  In an interview, he referred to men as “putzes,” a Yiddish word for jerk.  Asked if he could have referred to women with a similar slur, Smith dismissed the question as a joke.  More broadly, Goldberg says, most anything can be said to disparage men, but one’s job is at risk for wounding feminist sensitivities. 

                Consequently, “the most important story you never saw on TV” would tell the truth “about the terrible things that are happening to America’s children” (p. 164).  This nation’s moms and dads are spending less and less time with their kids.  Parents work, leaving children alone at home.  Children suffer in many ways for this absence, but “elite journalists in network television have no desire to connect the dots.  They don’t report the really big story–arguably one of the biggest stories of our time–that this absence of mothers from American homes is without any historical precedent, and that millions upon millions of American children have been left, as Eberstadt puts it, ‘to fend for themselves’–with dire consequences” (p. 166). 

                Despite Goldberg’s penchant to settle scores with the CBS folks who turned against him, Bias persuasively documents the pervasive prejudice of mainstream media.  If you’re concerned about what to do regarding it, Goldberg has a simple solution:  turn it off.

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