Commentary Magazine


Racism by Any Other Name

The Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander is out to gently chide his employer for not doing better on “diversity.” In the process, he reveals the discriminatory practices and mindset at the heart of seemingly high-minded “diversity” programs.

First comes the revelation that Post managers are being instructed to hire or consider hiring based on race or suffer adverse treatment themselves: “The Post’s top editors were warned in a memo that they needed to expand newsroom diversity ‘or suffer the consequences.’” It is not legally acceptable to say, “Hire more minorities or your job is in jeopardy,” so it is dressed up in diversity- speak, but the mandate is clear. It’s plain that we’re talking about more than simply removing barriers to hiring minorities or expanding the Post’s hiring beyond mostly white, Ivy League graduates. Alexander fesses up, quoting Peter Perl, who oversees newsroom personnel: “Pools of job candidates must include minorities, he said, adding, ‘It’s a mandate, and every manager here knows it.’” It’s the result — the headcount — that matters:

Minorities are 43 percent of The Post’s circulation area, and a large part of the region is edging toward “majority minority” status. For The Post, being “good on diversity” isn’t enough. [Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli and his leadership team acknowledged the same in a note to the staff last Monday. “We are in danger of losing ground if we do not consistently try to recruit the best minority journalists,” they wrote.

Sorry guys, but that violates federal  law, which prohibits hiring on the basis of race — no matter what laudatory goal the proponents think they are pursuing.

And next comes the noxious justification for hiring by race:

“You can’t cover your community unless you look like your community,” said Bobbi Bowman, a former Post reporter and editor who is a diversity consultant for ASNE. (Full disclosure: I sit on its board). “If you have a community of basketball players, it’s difficult for a newsroom of opera lovers to cover them.”

The Washington area has an exploding Spanish-speaking population. Yet Hispanics on The Post’s staff include only eight reporters and four supervising editors. Similarly, African Americans account for about 12 percent of the staff, but the African American percentage of the population in parts of The Post’s core circulation area is more than four times greater.

Imagine saying that only whites can cover certain neighborhoods or particular beats. The lawsuits would be flying, and the pickets would be gathering outside the Post’s offices. The Post seems to argue for re-segregation of the news: African American cover “their” neighborhood and whites their own. (And does the Post management actually imagine that only Hispanics can speak Spanish?) This is the voice of “wise Latina” Sonia Sotomayor, who assumes that ability, skills, intellectual perspective, and empathy are determined by race or ethnicity. (“Predictably, what is ‘news’ risks being seen through a white prism.”)

Alexander, seemingly inured to the perniciousness of what he is writing, sums up:

“You use diversity as an advantage in these economic times to get a leg up on the next guy,” said former Post reporter Richard Prince, who writes “Journal-isms,” an online column about minorities and the media. Or you suffer the consequences.

Welcome to the post-racial world in which race is a weapon to be wielded against competitors and a stick with which to beat hiring managers. No, it’s not remotely legal, and it is nothing short of shameful.