The 'New McCarthyism.' (Maclean's Magazine, Political Correctness)

By Smith, Doug | Canadian Dimension, September 1991 | Go to article overview

The 'New McCarthyism.' (Maclean's Magazine, Political Correctness)


Smith, Doug, Canadian Dimension


Maclean's magazine is in the news verification business -- if you have read it elsewhere, you can be sure you'll soon be reading about it in Maclean's. And so when Newsweek, the New Republic, The Atlantic and New York all ran cover stories on the so-called "politically correct" movement in the United States, one could rest assured that Maclean's would follow suit.

In fact the week before Maclean's tackled the topic I received the latest issue of Extra!, the newsletter of the leftish Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. The cover story was titled White Male PhD's: The Media's Favorite Oppressed Minority. The article by Laura Fraser surveyed the media's treatment of "political correctness" in the United States. She summed the various stories up quite neatly: "All the articles are by none-too-liberal men, usually white, defending the traditional academy. In these articles, the PC point of view is described only in caricature, without the kind of depth that might count as 'objectivity' (highly valued among the anti-PCs) or honest intellectual inquiry."

Maclean's must have received its issue of Extra! that same week -- but unfortunately it appears the editors mistook a vigourous critique of lazy journalism for a story proposal. The cover May 27 issue of Canada's weekly newsmagazine bore the frightening headline "THE SILENCERS: 'Politically Correct' Crusaders are Stifling Expression and Behaviour." The cover photograph was of two white academics -- one male, female -- with gags in their mouths.

The series of articles started off with a description of the treatment University of Toronto anthropologist Jeanne Cannizzo was subjected to after charges of racism and insensitivity were levelled against an exhibit on Africa which she had curated at the Royal Ontario Museum. According to the article her classes were disrupted by students who denounced her as a racist and at one point she was chased down the hall by a large male.

The personal persecution of Cannizzo was a disturbing event -- but it says at least as much about the continuing vulnerability of women on campuses and Canadian society in general as it does about "political correctness." Maclean's chose to transform the Cannizzo story, several months old at that point, into a springboard from which to attack a variety of hithertofore unrelated social reform and action movements under the rubric of "political correctness."

As described by Maclean's reporter Tom Fennell "political correctness embraces a number of liberal causes -- from feminism to homosexual and native rights. Their critics say that many of these groups believe that male-dominated Western civilization is the source of almost every evil in society, from violence against women to environmental pollution."

It is a sign of the high-mindedness of Maclean's treatment of this topic that it has to turn to critics of "political correctness" to find out what PC people really believe. Through the course of three articles Maclean's is never able to find anyone who articulates the extreme set of views the magazine attributes to the movement -- despite the fact that "political correctness" is allegedly sweeping the academic world -- a world where every idea is written down and published.

This style of attack has a long and honourable tradition in right-wing circles; take all the people you don't like and even if they have nothing to do with each other accuse them of engaging in a conspiracy. The Canadian government did this when it charged a group of feuding socialist leaders who would not have given each other the time of day with conspiring to organize the 1919 General Strike. The American government pulled the same stunt when it charged the Chicago Eight for plotting the disruption of the 1968 Democratic Convention despite the fact that some of the conspirators had not met.

Before going any further I should note that the Left, and the other social movements lumped in to the PC category, has its own history of sectarian lunacy. …

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