Journalism and media critic William McGowan spoke Wednesday on what he considers reporters’ “disturbing level of conformity” on issues including race, immigration, gay rights and affirmative action.
McGowan, who wrote “Coloring the News: How Political Correctness has Corrupted American Journalism,” spoke to about 25 students at a Branford Master’s Tea about drawbacks to what he referred to as a crusade for diversity in the media. McGowan said this crusade can be divided into three distinct parts: increasing the ranks of minority journalists and editors, enhancing the sensitivity of reporting to minority concerns, and identifying unique minority perspectives.
McGowan said the media’s use of identity politics, with terms such as diversity and multiculturalism, has influenced popular culture.
“The press became a player in this debate, rather than maintaining its normal role as a skeptic or referee,” McGowan said. “Journalists seem to be using a limited script when they are reporting on matters of diversity. They like to see racism everywhere, despite major racial progress.”
McGowan criticized Gannet, the largest newspaper group in terms of circulation and the owner of USA Today, for employing a minority counting system. Reporters and editors are evaluated on the number of times that they cite minority sources and the number of minority favorable articles that they publish each year, he said.
In his book, McGowan endeavored to scientifically analyze the manner in which the media reports on diversity.
“This book is largely case studies of stories that have been misreported,” McGowan said. “I looked at the 10 biggest print and media organizations to see if there were consistent and established discrepancies [in their reporting on diversity issues].”
Political science professor Jim Sleeper described McGowan as “slaying the dragons of journalism,” but noted that the New York media has been hitting back hard.
“I was impressed at how the media was getting [the issue of diversity] wrong,” Sleeper said. “The New York Times so mis-assiduously covers matters of race. [McGowan] started to ask where these conceptions of diversity come from.”
McGowan also said he thinks the issue of immigration is overly romanticized.
“The media ignores the downsides of immigration,” he said. “Any opposing thought on the issue is instantly stigmatized as nativism.”
But McGowan said he believes reporting on immigration has improved since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He said he is also impressed with the “sensitivity the media has displayed in discussing gay rights.”
“But there has become a desire to place a gay individual on a pedestal,” he said.
To illustrate his point, McGowan critiqued The New York Times for an article that it published on a gay Marine officer.
“They made him out to be this All-American hero who was going to be forced to retire because he was gay. Despite what the Times indicated about his lack of promiscuity, he was outed a few weeks later — as leading a secret life as a gay porn star.”
Savina Boyadjieva-Mackedonski ’06, a student in Sleeper’s seminar entitled “New Conceptions of American Identity,” said she was particularly interested in McGowan’s opinion on the tensions between race and class and the ability of elites to influence the media.
McGowan concluded his talk by describing the effects of what he called “racial and ethnic cheerleading” and its effects on journalistic integrity.
“If the coverage of other subjects was as bad as it is in regard to diversity, these [news] organizations would be out of business,” he said.
McGowan said he is currently working on a book about the 2003 Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times.