In his new book Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, William McGowan exposes in impressive and damning detail what George Orwell called "the smelly little orthodoxies" that today pervade the American news business. He argues that the dogma of political correctness has seized such a hold on American newsrooms that it distorts the way news is reported and narrowly restricts what can be assigned.
Most distorted, McGowan shows, are complex stories about racial and ethnic questions, gay rights, feminism and immigration--each of them issues in what has come to be known as "identity "politics. For years McGowan was a reporter in Sri Lanka--his first book, Only Man Is Vile, was about that deeply divided nation--where he learned the tragedy that racial and ethnic strife can bring to a country. That experience, he tells INSIGHT, "really attuned me to the issues of racial and ethnic fragmentation" and the damage that it can do. McGowan does not want to see that happen in the United States.
A descendant of four generations of New York City policemen, McGowan doesn't regard himself as strictly conservative. He supports gun control, for example. In large part, McGowan is an old-fashioned liberal who believes in the priority of freedom of speech and the right (and responsibility) of newsmen and women to pursue the truth wherever that may lead. In Coloring the News, he shows that the news profession has bartered the pursuit of truth for a pottage of political correctness.
Insight: How did your experience with the racial and ethnic discord in Sri Lanka influence your reaction to the multicultural and diversity movements in America?
William McGowan: When I came back to the states in the 1990s, the concepts of diversity and multiculturalism were marching out of the university into the newsroom and on into the rest of the society at large. I thought these trendy new buzzwords would be greeted by at least some skepticism in the journalistic establishment. After all, they did represent a profound shift in the way we conceptualize ourselves as a nation, from the old assimilationist melting pot into the multicultural mosaic.
But rather than serving as a bulwark against the drift that the new concepts represented, the press became a cheerleader for them. I found it rather odd that a group of people professionally committed to skepticism and rigor would allow the clich6s associated with multiculturalism and diversity to go unchallenged.
Those cliches are all around us. You hear them over and over again everywhere that diversity is being debated: "Demography is destiny" and "We need to treat people differently in order to treat them equally" and "Diversity is strength."
I soon realized that these were concepts that did not have another side. You were not allowed to question them. Here was the most far-ranging and sweeping change in American politics and cultural life--and yet you couldn't even balance a story about them! This is not journalism, it is social engineering--and that was and is dangerous.
Insight: How is the news being slanted to achieve these political goals?
WM: I noticed that a lot of news coverage was being skewed to favor diversity ideology. This new multicultural image of America affected coverage of the hot-button, diversity-related issues of race, immigration, affirmative action, gay rights and feminism. Almost any story associated with those broad issues would have such a profound slant to it that any good the diversity crusade was doing inside the media by opening up doors to minorities was, I think, more than canceled by the damage it was doing to the integrity of coverage.
The idea of free inquiry really is a dangerous idea to some. To them it seems dangerous that you actually would ask a question that might produce an answer that makes someone else uncomfortable. …