By: Dorothy Giobbe
Journalists attempt to define what it means today sp.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, THE term that was born in the 1960s and sparks fervent debates in the 1990s, was the topic of discussion at a recent meeting of editorial writers and columnists.
A panel of speakers, moderated by Stephen Isaacs, associate dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, met last week for the New York convention of the Association of Opinion Page Editors. One consensus point was that some current interpretations of “political correctness” don’t bear much resemblance to its original intent.
Amity Shales, editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, noted that during the 1960s and 1970s, the country became increasingly aware and welcoming of its growing diversity and the accompanying range of views. But, Shales said the good intentions of political correctness were lost, and “By the time I finished college, I was under the impression that what was happening in the name of diversity was occasionally the opposite of tolerance.”
For Shales, political correctness has come to symbolize, “a sense of airlessness . . . that is the opposite of the tolerant, interesting feeling that started all of this in the 1960s.”
Juan Gonzales, columnist for the New York Daily News, agreed the term has taken on negative connotations. However, he laid blame at the feet of those who, he said, want to protect long-held influence.
In Gonzales’ opinion, “Political correctness is a label foisted on dissident voices by those who want to maintain the mainstream views in media and education.”
Gabriel Rotello, a columnist for Newsday and New York Newsday said the term is wielded as a club “to bludgeon anybody who agrees with the idea that [for example], gay people should not be oppressed . . . . “
He also noted a self-defeating form of political correctness that “attempts to censor opinions that are different from the sort of classic left-wing ideology of the 60’s.”
Judy Dugan, Voices editor for the Los Angeles Times, views political correctness as a “pejorative label,” utilized by “people who are trying to put down the idea of a more rounded world in newspapers, or anywhere.”
Political correctness “makes you think of some Stalinist rigidity that is not the reality in trying to achieve diversity,” Dugan said.
The expression takes on various connotations in different parts of the country, noted Bob Moos, op-ed editor for the Dallas Morning News.
In Texas, political correctness is a “negative buzzword” used by “native Texans who are somewhat alarmed or concerned that Texas today is a lot different than Texas twenty or thirty years ago.”
Michael McGough, editorial page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes that political correctness has degenerated into a “club to hit liberals with.”
“These are words that people use at cocktail parties or at the water cooler,” McGough said. “Whether it’s as big a threat as people who of obsess about it think [it is] . . . or whether it has anything to do with the way conservatives use it to hit people over the head is still another question.”
While political correctness sets off endless rounds of debate in academic and journalistic circles, McGough said that “a lot of our readers are very sophisticated and have other things on their mind.”
Walter Braun, editorial page editor for the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury News said that “I think its becoming politically correct to be politically incorrect . . . “
Isaacs asked the panel members if, in an effort to achieve diversity, newspapers should link a portion of editors’ compensation to the frequency of minority groups that are quoted or are the subject of front page news stories.
Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal said the concept is “unprofessional, bribery and I think it’s shaping, deforming the news . . . “
But Sheryl McCarthy, a columnist for Newsday and New York Newsday, disagreed, saying that “the point is that the news has always been deformed. If you ever want to make [diversity] something real . . . you tie your goals to the bottom line, which is the way you tie all of your goals, and that says you’re serious about it.”
Gonzalez viewed the idea as “a mechanical solution to a much more complex problem.”
“I understand the intent, but it’s not the proper way I think to deal with this kind of situation,” he said. [Although] “I’m not opposed to the ideas of establishing hiring goals for any company, because companies set numerical goals for practically everything else.”
Gonzalez cited the dearth of Latino columnists when he grew up in the city 40 years ago.
“Now, 25 or 30 years later, with two million Hispanics in New York City, one quarter of the population . . . . Nothing has changed since I was a kid in terms of people in this city having an opportunity to have viewpoints that are markedly distinct,” he said.
John Leo, columnist for U.S. News & World Report, said that “The quota side of liberalism has mutated into something really dangerous . . . I hope that there are many more blacks, Hispanics and women as reporters and writers. That’s not the same thing as adopting a PC ethic.”
“Political correctness is a label foisted on dissident voices by those who want to maintain the mainstream views in media and education.”