There actually is a problem concerning race and journalism in America, but that problem is not an overabundance of objectivity. It’s that America’s newsrooms remain crushingly and embarrassingly white, especially in the positions of leadership, and have proven stubbornly resistant to attempts to diversify. This is an absolute disaster, professionally as well as morally. According to Census Bureau data, while ethnic minorities make up 40 percent of Americans, they constitute just 17 percent of newsroom staff and 13 percent of newspaper leadership. Diversification efforts all too frequently relegate journalists of color to the “softer” sections of newspapers — culture, “hot takes” on the news or entertainment, arts, and lifestyle — or to the online versions of legacy media. It’s shameful. Just as it is a problem that the people tasked with telling the American story don’t report on the lives of everyday Americans, erasing huge portions of American lives from their pages and airwaves, it is also a problem that they don’t themselves reflect America’s racial diversity.
— Batya Ungar-Sargon, Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy
I got Ungar-Sargon’s book after reading an impressive excerpt in the Spectator last month. Her scrutiny of the shifting economic incentives in digital media reminded me of Martin Gurri’s own analysis in The Revolt of the Public. Much of the book is a satisfying attack on the progressive elite for being — if I may paraphrase — a bunch of spoiled rich kids whose monomaniacal focus on other people’s racism serves as cover for their refusal to question their own class privilege. Like mutant Calvinists, they condemn most of their fellow Americans to eternal damnation for the original sin of racism, while allowing their own prosperity and status to stand as proof of the Right Side of History’s favor. Bari Weiss described Ungar-Sargon as a left-wing populist, which sounds about right. Whereas Gurri’s book aimed more at rigorous description, Ungar-Sargon is happy to editorialize on behalf of some vaguely-defined beast called “the working class.” I’m inherently skeptical when a deputy opinion editor of Newsweek, holder of a Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley, starts waxing rhapsodic about a chimera like working-class-consciousness, but that’s easily overlooked. It’s enjoyable enough to see progressives being hoist with their own privileged petard. When the class-based left goes to war with the identitarian left, everyone else should just get the popcorn and cheer for mass casualties.
This part, though, is just baffling. Why would you include this unnecessary sop to identity politics in the middle of your class-based polemic? Why would you lazily conflate immutable characteristics like race with point of view? Which ethnic minorities need to be promoted to positions of leadership, and who gets to decide? How do you avoid the same old problem of “meritocracy,” which she rails against throughout the book, where the “minorities” turn out to be the same products of wealthy upbringings and elite educations, different only in their superficial appearance? Why is it only a problem when elite occupations aren’t diverse enough? Here, again, the contrast with Gurri is illuminating — while he sees the old ideal of 20th-century mass media as a dinosaur blinking stupidly at the approaching asteroid of digital media realty, Ungar-Sargon ends her book with an exhortation to “the national liberal media” to “lead the way back to a more democratic, more moral, and more equal society.” The rest of us, in the meantime, have to rediscover the lost art of getting along with people from different walks of life and learning how to agree to disagree with no hard feelings. Again, this seems like an elite problem for the professional class which spends all its time ensconced in digital-media silos. If you want to encounter genuine diversity and learn how to work and get along with very different people, go work in retail or manual labor. Given the trends in media economics, you might have to do that anyway before long.