Jewish World Review July 14, 1999 /1 Av, 5759
is not unity
I am more than my skin color. I am more than my parents' homeland. I am more than the bean-counters' box on a job application. For better or worse, I want readers to know me for my ideas, ideology and idiosyncrasies - not for my Filipino heritage.
This is why, after more than a half-dozen years in the newspaper business, I refuse to join race-based organizations such as the Asian-American Journalists Association.
The AAJA is one of four major minority journalists' groups that promotes so-called diversity in the newsroom. Last week, the influential quartet of Asian-American, black, Hispanic and Native American associations sponsored a national media confab in Seattle. More than 5,000 "journalists of color" attended Unity '99. Presidential hopefuls Al Gore, George W. Bush, Bill Bradley and John McCain came, saw and pandered to the rainbow crowd.
Lavish funding for Unity '99 flowed in from corporations and philanthropic foundations. Many of the events at the five-day conference were unobjectionable: makeup tips for TV reporters, resume polishing, and so on. But the fatal flaw of Unity '99 was its unspoken mandate of strict political conformity.
Ignore the smoke screen platitudes about "valuing differences." Unity demands unanimity. If you don't accept the left-leaning agenda of advocacy journalism, you're enabling racism. If you don't support the pursuit of racial hiring goals as a primary journalistic goal, you're selling out. If you don't buy the idea that a first-generation Filipina should feel ethnic solidarity with a fourth-generation Japanese-American simply because they share the same hair and eye color, you're denying your "identity."
This pressure to bow and scrape before the false god of skin-deep diversity was overwhelming at two typical workshops I attended.
"Tracking Hatred" was a session on hate crimes and the media. The moderator, reporter Gary Fields of USA Today, gained national attention in 1996 with an extensive series on the purported epidemic of racist church-burnings in the South. After printing a year's worth of Fields' fear-inducing pieces claiming an increase in black-church burnings and blaming "a climate of racial hostility," USA Today debunked the hate-crime conspiracy theory.
So did the president's National Church Arson Task Force, the New Yorker, the Associated Press, and investigative reporter Mike Fumento, who noted the irony that "no media outlet in the country had done more than USA Today to build the myth in the first place." Yet, no one at Unity '99 questioned Fields' authority.
The session was more of a late-night college gripefest than a professional forum on providing accurate news coverage. One panelist, Brian Levin, railed about critics on the "extreme right" who question the legitimacy of federal hate-crimes legislation. Reporters nodded approvingly. Levin, an activist academic whom Fields frequently quotes, glossed over the constitutional perils of punishing people for their personal biases or political beliefs. Instead of a coherent discussion on case law, participants shared dubious anecdotes.
When one news reporter complained that her editors wouldn't let her write a story about an alleged hate crime against a personal friend, the panel expressed collective empathy without asking for any of the facts or noting the obvious conflict of interest. The session climaxed with an emotional appeal from Karen Narasaki, an Asian-American activist whose organization peddles an annual hate-crimes audit - which the panelists unanimously praised and distributed to the audience.
The second workshop was titled "How to Arrive, Thrive, and Survive as an Editorial Writer or Columnist." I served on a panel with writers who were black, Hispanic and Native American. I was not there because the organizers had actually read my work before inviting me. I was there because my brown face - not my dissenting opinions - counted first.
My fellow panelists won hearty applause for ridiculing reverse discrimination and dissing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Calmly and civilly, I argued against ethnic pigeonholing and expressed my opposition to racial preferences. No cheers here.
An editor from an East Coast newspaper who attended the workshop left a phone message the next day: "I just wanted to say that while I didn't necessarily agree with what you said, I really admired your arguments and how you handled yourself in that situation. It takes a lot of guts and courage to not only hold the views you have but to be able to express them firmly and politely in such forums. I was extremely impressed and wish you all the best." Click.
Why must it take courage to hold my views? Why should it take guts to question prevailing opinion in a roomful of reporters whose job is to question? Why does the media's diversity agenda chill the kind of honest political discourse a free press is supposed to encourage?
Treating minority journalists as trinkets to be tallied and displayed
does not enhance diversity. It fosters cynicism. A newsroom that
looks like America is worthless if it doesn't reflect the diverse and
discordant beliefs of its readers. Journalism doesn't need more
like-minded foot soldiers who march in political unity. It needs
straight shooters who think fearlessly for