Sunday, August 08, 2004

UNITY: Is It a Good Thing?

Wendi Thomas's Sunday Commercial Appeal column kinda made me laugh. It seems she's just recently discovered the Anyone But Bush people! Yeah, other folks have been discussing them in the politcal sphere since...oh, last September, just before the primaries. Hard core political junkies spotted it during the earliest stirrings in the Democratic campaign process almost two years ago.

Wendi had to go to the UNITY conference to really see it. The UNITY conference is a quintennial (that's every five years; the last two were in 1999 and 1994) conference for America's black, Hispanic, Asian and Native reporters. Almost 7000 attended this year. It briefly made the news when the conferees applauded Kerry's speech to them over and over, and even gave standing ovations (some reports say three standing o's!), but then gave Bush only lukewarm applause, no ovation (He's the President!), and more than a few grumbles and murmurs. Nope, no bias in that crowd!

Wendi, apparently, is so disconnected from politics she hadn't yet noticed that a lot of Democrats don't care who the vehicle is, they just want someone to get Bush out of office. If it wasn't Gore, then it was Dean; if not Dean, then maybe Edwards or Clark or Gephardt; if not them, well, alright then, Kerry. Whoever. Just hoist high the banner of "anti-Bush," rally the troops and drive him out. It's kinda surprising Thomas hasn't noticed yet, what with the 527 groups and all their ads, and the vitriol in the Democratic camp, but there you go.

In the article, after she touches on ABB she goes into a talk about the disparate treatment of Kerry and Bush at UNITY. Even though a few weeks back she noted that she couldn't announce political affiliations (in a column that nonetheless made her Democratic allegiance clear), she again manages to insert her politics.

She writes about Bush this way: Bush's failures, fodder, dishonest, bragged, grilled, disdain, reluctance. Compare that to her Kerry words: plans, talked, insisted, jab. Bush is "questioned." Kerry is "asked." Note the tonal differences. Then, there's this pair:
When Kerry misspoke, no one blinked.

When Bush garbled his words, we laughed.
Again, Kerry misspeaks while Bush garbles.

Thomas rather weakly bemoans the bias she sees but offers little in the way of true analysis and no presciptions for a cure. What she does show us, though, is that journalists of color seem pretty prone to biasing their reports.

A better look at the same conference and the same issue can be found in Jay Rosen's latest PressThink column. It's worth the read, but since more than a few of you won't go, I'll excerpt his list of what he calls "groupthink." That's the conventional wisdom that few question and most operate with. He writes:
* Group think among traditional journalists says the display of political feeling is unprofessional because professionals traditionally don't display political feeling. No argument less circular than that is required. Read Steele and see if you can find one; I couldn't.

* Group think among jourmalism ethicists says that credibility follows from obeying our profession's rules; and the profession's rules are The Rules because they produce our credibility. An argument like, "we'd be more credible with citizens if we acted like ciitizens more often" does not compute. Therefore it must not exist.

* Group think among conservatives says that it's right to slam journalists for being liberal when they deny it; and it's right to slam them when they show it. Too easy? Not to the American right.

* Group think among minority journalists holds that there are at most six groups in the category of under-represented-- Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians. Diversity means more of those groups in the mix because that's what diversity means. Conservatives can't be a minority because they can't. The devout aren't a minority because they aren't. Journalists with rural or working class backgrounds don't count because we don't count them.

* Group think among editors and bosses says that the diversity project we have can never be questioned because if it's questioned we will never have newsroom diversity. Could it be wrongly imagined? At present, that is not imaginable.

* Group think among Unity members says that if 12.9 percent of the workforce in journalism is minority, but 37 percent of the population is, then a "representative" press is still 24 percentage points away and the main reason is an industry not committed enough to diversity. Is it conceivable that even a fully committed industry can fall way short of 37 percent figure? No, it isn't conceivable because Unity wasn't conceived that way.

* Group think in journalism education takes no notice of the fact that in most J-schools--including NYU--women are 70 to 80 of the class. Courses are routinely taught with one man or none. That's pretty unrepresentative. Is it a problem? No, not a problem. When the newsroom is unrepresentative-- that's a problem.
The whole thing isn't much longer and I highly recommend it, as I usually do with Rosen.

Thomas goes to the UNITY convention, spending who knows how much of the CA's money and all we got was her lousy column. And her politics. Value for money? You decide.

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