Magazine article USA TODAY

Political Correctness Has No Place in the Newsroom

Magazine article USA TODAY

Political Correctness Has No Place in the Newsroom

Article excerpt

A FREE PRESS is one of the foundations of a free society. Yet, Americans increasingly distrust and resent the media. A major reason is that many journalists have crossed the line from reporting to advocacy. In effect, they have adopted a new liberal creed--"all the news that's `politically correct' to print."

How does one define political correctness in the newsroom? One need look no further than the stylebook of the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest, most influential newspapers in the nation. It forbids reporters to write about a "Dutch treat" because this phrase allegedly is insulting to the Dutch. Nor can one report that a person "welshed on a bet" because that would be insulting to the Welsh. Moreover, one certainly can not write about a segment of the population once known simply as Indians--they always must be referred to as Native Americans. Jokingly, I asked one of the Los Angeles Times editors, "How do you refer to Indian summer? Is it now Native American summer?" He replied that he would substitute "unseasonably warm weather late in the year."

This is what political correctness can do to language--it destroys meaning. It also demeans the ethnic groups it supposedly protects. Do we really think that these groups are so unintelligent as to be unable to distinguish between conventional idioms and genuine prejudice? Is their identity so fragile that it must depend on censorship? People who believe in the real dignity of the individual, no matter of what race, sex, ethnicity, or other condition, shouldn't embrace political correctness because it is bad philosophy; and reporters shouldn't do so either because it is bad journalism.

In 1972, I wrote a paper in which I alienated many of my colleagues (and won the approval of a few) for publicly stating that the national media--the 500 or so reporters and editors based mainly in Washington, D.C., who work for newspapers, wire services, and television networks--had become elitist. I noted that reporters no longer were the typical working-class populists of earlier years who lived on small salaries and had constant contact with ordinary people, problems, and views.

Today, the members of the Washington press corps are even more elitist. I am not referring just to media stars like Diane Sawyer, who is earning $7,000,000 annually. Most run-of-the-mill reporters and editors in the national media are in the top one-two percent of income earners in the nation. A Washington bureau chief makes more than $100,000 a year; a senior reporter, over $70,000. Is it surprising that many of them have trouble understanding and appreciating the difficulties other Americans face or that they think differently about such issues as taxes, government regulation, crime, family values, and religion?

I also declared in 1972 that members of the national media tend to share a uniformly liberal ideology. This does not mean they are meeting secretly every other week in someone's basement to get their marching orders. Rather, their ideology originates from a number of left-of-center experiences in their university education, tightly knit peer groups, and the milieu of popular culture since the 1960s.

Am I exaggerating the impact of this liberal ideology? Of the approximately 500 reporters and editors I mentioned earlier, I am aware of just two who are well-known, admitted conservatives. Nationwide, there are about 10 editorial pages in America that properly could be called "conservative," and that stance does not extend beyond the editorial page at more than a handful. At the very least, this striking imbalance speaks volumes about the potential for liberal ideology to dominate the news.

Of course, many journalists hotly deny that they are liberals. Others claim that they do not allow their liberalism to influence their reporting. Yet, here are some unquestionably liberal "axioms" that I believe (based on polls and other sources as well as my own experience) are held almost universally by the members of the national media:

* The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. …

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