In Prospect

Summer 1999

Oh no, you may well be saying as you peruse our cover, not more about Diallo! Enough, already!

But trust us. We know you are sick of reading more than a story a day for months about the dreadful tragedy on a Bronx street back in February. But Heather Mac Donald’s cover article, "Diallo Truth, Diallo Falsehood" on page 12, goes behind those stories, not only sifting out the truth surrounding the case but also showing how all those news reports amounted largely to a tissue of misrepresentation and falsehood that harmed the city by creating an unjustified sense of crisis.

The anti-police protesters accounted for a fair share of fabrication. Exhibit A is the television ad they produced, paid for by the Local 1199 health-care workers union and others, which showed a beautiful black child peering in wide-eyed terror through a crack in his apartment door as blue-uniformed white cops ominously galumphed down his apartment building’s hall and banged roughly on a door opposite, shouting in bully tones, "Open up! Police!" No single aspect of this ad was a lie; but its overall message—that New York’s cops are so brutal, racist, and out of control that they strike terror into the hearts of all minorities, even innocent black children—was mendacity from start to finish.

Demagoguery like this is inevitable in the postmodern multiculti era of deconstruction, where only perspectives—not truth—hold sway. Under this dispensation, the ad isn’t a lie: it’s a representation of somebody’s perspective. As Roger Scruton has pointed out ("What Ever Happened to Reason?" Spring 1999), however, multiculti has only one approved perspective, one politically correct story: that of the white oppressor and the multiculti victim, whether black, brown, female, or homosexual. And that is the story, Mac Donald shows, that the press—and above all the New York Times—chose to tell about the Diallo case, presenting the police as oppressors of minorities, depicting the protesters as a gorgeous multiracial mosaic of the righteous (and their leader, Al Sharpton, as a Mandela-like statesman), even writing that in Diallo’s African homeland citizens go about in tranquillity, unafraid of the benevolent police. All bunk, not even close to true.

The mainstream press, with the Times heading the pack, has made much of achieving "diversity in the newsroom" by affirmative-action hiring to ensure the desired quotas of minority reporters and editors. But "diversity" doesn’t mean diversity. It means finding members of approved victim groups, and only those who embrace, moreover, the correct "perspective" for their group, so that iconoclastic blacks of the Thomas Sowell stamp—independent thinkers who reject racial shibboleths—need not apply. As for the perspectives of religious traditionalists or working-class ethnics or businessmen or even ordinary taxpayers, forget about it.

Trouble is, if press bosses hire on the basis of diversity, rather than looking for those with the skill, judgment, tenacity, and dedication needed to find out the truth and tell it—not to mention those with the historical knowledge necessary to put it in meaningful context—can’t we expect ever more travesties like the Times’s Diallo coverage? Won’t we get ever more versions of the approved morality tale from reporters uninterested in what used to be called the facts? And how different is this from the days of Grub Street, when everyone asssumed that journalism was written by party hacks and discounted accordingly?

That’s a loss, because a press that tries to learn and tell the unbiased facts is an invaluable force for keeping politics relatively honest. And as Hillary Clinton readies her Senate run, New York is about to get a shot of postmodern politics, stiff and icy—politics that is all "perspective," careless of truth; that behaves as if espousing the right morality tale excuses any distortion of the facts, even to the point of donning a Yankees cap and  claiming a lifelong allegiance that everyone knows to be a lie, or putting an arm around Chancellor Crew and asserting that there’s nothing wrong with our public education system that money wouldn’t fix (see "How Businessmen Shouldn’t Help the Schools" on page 64), or inviting Al Sharpton to the White House, fresh from his slander conviction and police-bashing, as if he were respectable.

When "perspectives" trump truth, reasoned argument—whose purpose is to find out truth—becomes impossible. What remains is only the rule of the best manipulator. It’s not an enlightening prospect.