- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

There are two kinds of stupid. One kind of stupid spills soup in someone else's lap. The other kind spills it in his own. Similarly, questioning the merits of "diversity" mania in America can get you into trouble. But questioning the wisdom of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, for a syndicated columnist like myself, is just plain barmy. But let's do it anyway.

There has been so much thumbsucking about diversity in the newsroom that I wouldn't be surprised if there were a single viable thumbprint left at the Columbia Journalism School. At the forefront of the movement to get more minorities into journalism is the American Society of Newspaper Editors, whose members are not merely powerful, but very, very attractive (just covering my bases if any of you are thinking about buying my column).

Indeed, ASNE is publicly dedicated to achieving an outright quota in minority hiring - it insists 38.2 percent of newsroom journalists need to be minorities by 2025. Let's just call it a goal and a timetable and not an outright quota. Still, that's an ambitious number.

Which is why, at last week's annual meeting Washington, so many ASNE honchos (all wonderful people who are kind to their mothers) were in semi-official panic over the fact that, for the first time in the 23 years they've been surveying newsrooms, minority representation went down.

Tim McGuire, the incoming president of ASNE - and the Michael Jordan-like editor of the indispensable Minneapolis Star Tribune - declared, "Our industry's longtime effort to increase newsroom diversity has obviously hit a major snag."

So, how major is this snag? Well this dismaying first-time drop in minority representation was a staggering drop of 0.21 percent points. Yes, that decimal point is in the right place.

This year, the number of minority journalists working in daily newspapers was 11.64 percent as opposed to 11.85 percent the year before. If this study had even a 2 percent margin of error, then that 23-year streak would have remained intact. And yet Austin American-Statesman editor Rich Oppel, the outgoing president of ASNE (a man so talented he can bake 12-minute brownies in seven minutes) said the results are "simply not acceptable."

Now, I see nothing wrong with diversity in the newsroom. But I do get confused by what these guys mean by diversity.

Big-league editors swear that the media isn't biased to the left. And that may even be true in some cases. Surely, many journalists are capable of suspending their own biases in favor of getting just the facts. But if that is the case, why is diversity needed so desperately? If the role of the journalist is to be dispassionately uninvolved in the story, why will the news be so much better if Asians or blacks are writing the story?

The Washington Post's ombudsman explained in a column this week that increased diversity is the best way to guarantee "accurate and penetrating journalism" and the only way "newspapers are going to survive in this increasingly diverse and multimedia country."

Well, if the ethnic, racial and gender backgrounds of a reporter can have such a huge impact on coverage, isn't it possible that some other things influence coverage as well? Say, oh, I don't know: your politics?

Recall that according to a Freedom Forum survey, 89 percent of journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. Hiring more minorities is great, but the real minorities in newsrooms aren't blacks and Hispanics, but conservatives.

Or, what about religion? Surveys have shown that only about 11 percent of journalists attend church on a weekly basis, while more than one-third of Americans do. Wouldn't American journalism also be richer if more white evangelical Christians worked at major newspapers? Maybe if The Washington Post had a few more hanging around, it might not have let a front-page story slip by describing evangelicals as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command."

There's another flaw to the ASNE view of diversity. Obviously, the industry is not losing minority employees because of pervasive racism in the newspaper business, though the media is quick to assume racism when other institutions are slow in their diversity efforts.

Minorities are leaving because they can get better jobs elsewhere. Surely, this is a sign of social success in that, despite its best efforts, the news business can't compete with the demand for qualified minorities.

But it is also a sign that the newspaper business doesn't pay its employees well enough. This is true of whites and minorities alike. But it is clearly the most true of the hard-working patriots who decide whether or not to buy syndicated columns.

You can write to Jonah Goldberg in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected]

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