EARLIER THIS YEAR, William McGowan published an important book on how the media covers race in America. Coloring the News received a surprising number of favorable reviews. Even those who disagreed with his conclusions gave McGowan credit for his thorough reporting and his willingness to address a media taboo. The book sold well, too, considering that it examines just one part of a broader topic--media bias--that some view as settled and others dismiss as banal.
With optimism that perhaps shows our naivete, some of us hoped that sales were brisk because network executives and local news directors bought dozens of copies to hand out to reporters, producers, editors, and other news decision-makers. For too long, as McGowan convincingly demonstrates, many in this crowd have conceived and developed stories that reflect one specific worldview. The most controversial manifestation of this groupthink is race-norming--the practice of requiring reporters and editors to count sources and photo subjects by skin color. In some cases, news organizations even based promotions on the "success" rate.
It's probably too early to judge, but an e-mail I received last week demonstrates that there are still people who could learn from McGowan's study. It came from a journalism e-mail list to which I subscribe. Other subscribers use the list to share story ideas, to keep in touch, and occasionally, to request help on stories.
Here is the e-mail in its entirety:
"Hi everyone! I hope someone out there can help me. I'm looking for a young black entrepreneur--under 40, tech savvy, who has started his own dot-com or company--to profile for CNN NewsNight. Since this will be part of a series about race in America, the ideal candidate is someone who struggled or encountered discrimination while looking for jobs or working in the tech sector (also could be someone who became frustrated by the predominantly white male culture) and subsequently decided to strike out on his/her own. Or something along those lines. Could be anywhere in the U.S. If anyone knows of such a person or knows someone who does, please get in touch. Many thanks!"
There is no question that the person this journalist describes exists, somewhere. It's quite possible that the show will highlight a real problem. And I write this without knowing what other questions this CNN series will raise about race in America.
Still, aren't viewers and readers better served when reporters investigate an issue and then report on their findings? It is in that spirit of inquiry that I invite someone from "NewsNight"--the author of the e-mail or anyone else involved with the show--to elucidate the purpose of the series and the reporting that goes into it. We'll post the response here.
Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.