With the inauguration of America's first black president less than a week away, it was inevitable that the self-obsessed media would insert their own diversity into the occasion. Sure enough, in his Monday Washington Post wrap-up, Howard Kurtz laments the lack of black reporters covering the White House as "a pale reflection of America." Summing up the piece's prevailing sentiment is the Post's Michael Fletcher, who is black. "It feels like you would want to have black journalists there to bring a different racial sensibility," he says.
Whoa, hold on a minute: Hasn't the mantra from media types all along been that journalists are objective?
If we accept that black reporters will have a different take from their white colleagues on Barack Obama, does it follow that one of those views is more "accurate" or legitimate than the other? And now substitute "conservative" for "black." Doesn't this underrepresentation argument concede the point that conservatives have made all along about press bias? After all, it's hardly a secret that most reporters and editors are liberal or left-leaning.
At the heart of this monochromatic lament is the same shopworn fallacy that groups like the Congressional Black Caucus have peddled for years—and that Obama, to his and the electorate's great credit—has moved beyond: that only blacks can represent blacks and only whites can represent whites. As black journalist April Ryan tells Kurtz, "Imagine you're president, at the lectern, looking out at those faces—is this a representation of America?" And is a ratio of 50 liberals to (maybe) 1 conservative a representation of America? Lastly, which is more important for journalism: diversity in skin colors or minds?
While Kurtz maintains that the "relative paucity of black journalists at the White House is striking," the relative paucity of conservative reporters and editors at newspapers is far more troubling. After all, the Washington press corps acts as a filter for the battle of ideas that concerns the very soul of this country. If that filter skews left, wittingly or not, then that's a problem.
But let's stipulate that the alleged black-white divide in journalism is important. What kinds of stories could we expect if it were fixed? William Douglas, a black reporter with McClatchy Newspapers, provides an example:
"In talking to a bunch of black ladies at a dinner party," Douglas says, there was much buzz about "[Michelle Obama's] impact on obesity in the black community because she's so fit. I'm not sure a nonblack reporter would pursue that avenue."
Good grief. Frankly, I'm not sure any serious reporter would pursue that avenue.