April 4, 2001
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The New York Times this morning weighs in with its third long, prominently placed article in three days about the lack of black men in the New York City police department. All three articles have been informed by an overwhelming receptivity to a kind of simplistic, deterministic, quota-driven racial bean-counting. But today's installment, labeled "success story," takes the cake. What is the "success story," in terms of race and policing? Well, according to the New York Times, apparently, it is Boston, where "the proportion of blacks in uniform approximates the proportion of black residents in the city."
The force's "integration success," the Times tells us, comes from the proposition "that something approaching racial balancing -- a police force whose demographics match those of the city -- can improve not just the social climate but the effectiveness of the police as well."
This is achieved by requiring the police "to select recruits from a list that includes one minority candidate for every white one."
Imagine if these standards were applied to Jews in college admissions. Would the Times judge it a "success story" if the proportion of Jews in Ivy League colleges approximated the proportion of Jewish residents in America? And if that proportion were achieved by considering Jewish background at the expense of the other criteria used for college admissions, like test scores, essays, high school grades and teacher recommendations?
Or suppose the National Basketball Association suddenly decided that it was going to fill its teams by "racial balancing."
If the Boston police are a "success story," then the New York Times newspaper would have to be judged a "failure story." According to statistics released this week by the American Society of Newspaper Editors -- and not reported yet by the Times -- the New York Times journalistic staff was 16.2 percent minority in 2000. That's less of a "success" than the Wall Street Journal (17.1 percent), the Washington Post (19.5 percent), USA Today (18.7 percent) or the Los Angeles Times (20.3 percent). The Times newsroom has far fewer minorities than the New York population or the national population. The Times newsroom even has far fewer minorities than the New York Police Department. Yet that hasn't prevented the Times from publishing, by its own claim, "the world's most authoritative newspaper."
Of course, the police department is a government agency, while the Times is a business. Sometimes it is appropriate to hold the government and businesses to different standards, But there can also sometimes be problems when government agencies are held to different standards than businesses are; for instance, the civil service system can make it harder to fire incompetent employees in government than it would be in a private business. Still, the Times is out on a pretty long limb with this big, multi-part series on race and the police, and with judgmental language like "success story." You'd think they would have thought through some of these complexities before inflicting on readers -- from a mostly white newsroom -- a news article dubbing "racial balancing" (a euphemism for quotas) -- a "success story."
Estate Tax Ad: When some of the richest Americans took out an advertisement in the New York Times opposing the repeal of the death tax, the Times covered it with a news article on its front page. Today's New York Times carries a full-page ad from African American business leaders who support the elimination of the death tax; the Times news columns have no coverage of it at all. Smartertimes.com doesn't think the Times should write a news article about every ad it runs, and it can see the man-bites-dog newsworthiness of rich people backing the death tax. But surely there's a similar man-bites-dog newsworthiness in the fact that these prominent blacks, members of one of the most loyal Democratic constituent groups, are siding with the Republicans on the death tax repeal.
Blame America First: A front-page news article in today's New York Times about the captured American pilots in Communist China reports, "American and Chinese officials are worried about damage to relations from this episode, the latest in a series of strains including the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during NATO's war against Yugoslavia, American allegations of Chinese nuclear spying, President Bush's plans for a national missile defense, weapons sales to Taiwan and American condemnation of human rights violations here." It's interesting the way the Times phrases this so that every one of the "strains" has been caused by America. In other words, the "strain" isn't the Chinese human rights violations, but the American condemnation of them. And it's not the Chinese nuclear spying, but the American allegation of it. The article also curiously omits the "strain" caused by the Chinese Communist effort to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the 1996 Democratic effort to re-elect Bill Clinton.
Containment Versus Rollback: Another front-page article in today's Times about the Communist China situation reports that President Bush "is caught between one wing of his party, propelled by American business interests, that wants deep economic engagement with China and another that wants to contain China's power." This mischaracterizes the views of many of the American hawks on China. The real hawks don't simply want to "contain China's power"; they want to end Communist rule there and help spread freedom. It's probably hard for the Times even to conceive of such a view, but the newspaper might understand it if it actually went out and interviewed some Republicans. Arguably, such a rollback plan is actually in keeping with long-term interests of American business.
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