August 27, 2007

Proof: The News Journal is politically correct

A few days ago I e-mailed the News Journal asking why this article failed to mention the race of the assailants who have been victimizing Hispanics recently. They responded with their editorial policy regarding such matters, established by an asst. managing editor. Note that in its first paragraph, it says it's "not about being politically correct." You be the judge:

Our policy is not about being politically correct, it's about being accurate. Race is such an unreliable descriptor. What race is Halle Berry or Tiger Woods or Jennifer Lopez? They are extreme examples, but project them onto everyday people and you see the problem.

Or what real information is conveyed in a description that says: She is a 5-foot-6-inch white woman with brown hair? How many women fit that description? Who is that of use to? By the way, that description is of me -- and I haven't committed any crimes.

I offer you these excerpts from Keith M. Woods, a noted journalism scholar, in an essay called "The Language of Race": "What, for example, does a Hispanic man look like? Is his skin dark brown? Reddish brown? Pale? Is his hair straight? Curly? Course? Fine? Does he have a flat, curved nose or is it narrow and straight? Telling the public that heís 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, with a blue shirt and blue jeans says something about the personís appearance. But what do you add to that picture when you say Latino?

"And what is black? Itís the color of pitch. Yet, the word is used to describe people whose skin tones can cover just about every racial and ethnic group in the world, including white people. What does the word "black" add to the mental picture the public draws? How do you draw the lips? The eyes? The nose? What sort of hair does a black person have? What color skin does a black person have? The combinations are infinite.

"All racial and ethnic groups do share some common physical characteristics. Still, we donít see the phrase "Irish-looking man" in the newspaper, though red hair and pale skin are common Irish characteristics. Would a picture come to mind if a TV anchor said, "The suspect appeared to be Italian"? Couldnít many of us conjure an image if the police said they were looking for a middle-aged man described as "Jewish-looking."

"There are good reasons those descriptions never see the light of day. They generalize. They stereotype. And they require that everyone who hears the description has the same idea of what those folks look like. All Irish-Americans donít look alike. Why, then, accept a description that says a suspect was African-American?

When police have a surveillance photo of a suspect or a sketch -- by far the best way to help citizens identify someone sought by the police -- we are happy to run that.

Personally, I am struck by the absolute arrogance of this. Keep in mind that the police report and local radio all included the race of the attackers in their reports of the incidents against local Hispanics. (Note, too, the irony that "Hispanic" was used in the NJ to describe the victims ... OK, I know I know ... they or the police probably told the NJ themselves their ethnic background, but you get the point.) I mean, consider:

  • She is a 5-foot-6-inch white woman with brown hair? How many women fit that description? Who is that of use to?

If there was a killer out there, wouldn't you want this information -- to narrow down the number of potential suspects just a little??

  • Telling the public that heís 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, with a blue shirt and blue jeans says something about the personís appearance. But what do you add to that picture when you say Latino?

A LOT! You've now excluded a TON of potential suspects! And doesn't the editor realize that this 5-foot-8, 180 lb. man can actually change his "blue shirt" and "blue jeans" -- but not his race? Are you kidding me??

  • Still, we donít see the phrase "Irish-looking man" in the newspaper, though red hair and pale skin are common Irish characteristics. Would a picture come to mind if a TV anchor said, "The suspect appeared to be Italian"? Couldnít many of us conjure an image if the police said they were looking for a middle-aged man described as "Jewish-looking."

That's right, we don't see the phrase "Irish-looking man." We do see -- and should see -- the phrase "white man with pale complexion and red hair." "Irish" is not a race, after all. Nor is "Jewish."

  • "There are good reasons those descriptions never see the light of day. They generalize. They stereotype. And they require that everyone who hears the description has the same idea of what those folks look like. All Irish-Americans donít look alike. Why, then, accept a description that says a suspect was African-American?

See response above. "Irish" is not a race much like "Nigerian" is not. White is a race as is "black." In the US, "black" is synonymous with "African-American" (due to, I might add, the insistence of [some] black leaders). This is why the public would be best informed if the race of police suspects was revealed along with other pertinent info.

But here you have it -- to the News Journal, valuable information for the public isn't as paramount as being fearful of "stereotyping" a group of people. Despite what the NJ says to the contrary, this is the epitome of political correctness, folks.

Posted by Hube at August 27, 2007 06:08 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Hube, do you think that even w/ the inclusion of race along w/ the other usual descriptors (approx age, height, hair color, clothing etc.) that it really makes a difference in helping the public identify suspects? Short of a photograph or an artistís sketch, I wonder why they bother to provide much description at all.

Posted by: Dana Garrett at August 27, 2007 11:20 PM

From yesterday's News Journal, regarding a holdup just off Main Street, Newark, yesterday morning:

"The suspect was described as between 24-30 years old, thin built, with dark hair and a red baseball cap, wearing a white t-shirt, light blue jean shorts, with a backpack."

Well, I work on Main Street, and I'd appreciate a bit more info as to race of the perp. Mentioning dark hair doesn't really do it for me if I want to avoid having a gun in my back.

Posted by: G Rex at August 28, 2007 01:56 PM

Dana: Absolutely. As you say, why even provide a description at all, but especially so if you're not going to include the race of potential suspects? I found this line to be the most laughable of all in the NJ policy:

- Telling the public that he's 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, with a blue shirt and blue jeans says something about the person's appearance. But what do you add to that picture when you say Latino?

I rebutted this crap in the post itself, but again, isn't this just ridiculous? Don't outlets like the Journal owe it to the public to be as informative as possible? If the police report can say it, and local radio can say it, why can't the NJ?

Posted by: Hube at August 28, 2007 04:39 PM

Just to show that they're entirely unwilling to offend anyone with a pulse, they won't even admit to being politically correct. That's the kind of courage we're come to expect from corporate journalism.

Posted by: Alby at August 29, 2007 06:08 PM

They can deny it all they want but the NJ is most definitely politically correct. I saw a great definition of PC in another place. I wish I could give credit to the person who said it but I don't remember where I saw it. Very apropos the NJ.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: A doctrine spewed by a delusional minority; promoted by an unscrupulous press; spouting the proposition that it's possible to pick up a turd by the clean end

Posted by: John B. at August 31, 2007 10:42 AM