[Paleopsych] National Review: Heather Mac Donald on Diversity & Blogosphere

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Heather Mac Donald on Diversity & Blogosphere

    March 30, 2005, 7:58 a.m.
    Diversity Mongers Target the Web
    Can quotas rule the ultimate meritocracy?
    By Heather Mac Donald

    Bad move, guys. The "diversity" mongers have just brought up the one
    thing that they should have stayed far far away from: the web.
    Newsweek's technology columnist Steven Levy has [4]declared that the
    lack of "diversity" among the web's most popular blogs requires
    corrective action. The goal? A blogosphere whose elite tier "reflects
    the actual population" -- i.e., where female- and minority-written
    blogs are found among the top 100 blogs in the same proportion as
    females and minorities are found in the general population.

    Levy's complaint comes on the heels of Susan Estrich's [5]campaign
    against the Los Angeles Times for allegedly refusing to publish female
    op-ed writers, a campaign that has caused widespread wringing of
    editorial hands about male-dominated op-ed pages. For Levy to have
    mentioned the web at this moment is about as smart as inviting Stephen
    Hawking to an astrologers' convention: The web demolishes the
    assumptions behind any possible quota crusade.

    A Harvard [6]conference on bloggers and the media triggered Levy's
    concerns. Keith Jenkins, a Washington Post photo editor, had [7]warned
    during the conference, via e-mail, that the growth of blogging
    threatened minority gains in journalism. Whereas the mainstream media
    have gotten to "the point of inclusion," Jenkins wrote, the
    "overwhelmingly white and male American blogosphere [might] return us
    to a day where the dialogue about issues was a predominantly
    white-only one."

    Who would've guessed it? The mainstream media, Jenkins admits, has
    gotten to "the point of inclusion." You'd never know it from the
    ongoing agitation for more race- and gender-conscious hiring and
    publishing. Just this December, the National Association of Black
    Journalists [8]wrung from the president of NBC News a promise to hire
    more black journalists at the highest levels of the newsroom. At an
    NABJ conference last April, a Denver Post editor [9]accused newspapers
    and broadcast outlets of refusing to hire blacks and called on NABJ
    members to denounce such alleged discriminators. The Association
    tallies and publicizes black representation in newsrooms to the
    minutest detail, including the [10]ratio of black supervisors to black
    reporters. Susan Estrich, meanwhile, has had her female law students
    at USC logging daily ratios of female- to male-penned op-eds in the
    Los Angeles Times for the last three years -- numbers that she has
    used to try to bludgeon editor Michael Kinsley into instituting female
    quotas. The [11]Media Report to Women, cited by the New York Times's
    Joyce Purnick, pumps out statistics on the percentage of female
    interviewees on network-news shows and of female news directors in
    radio, among other crucial discoveries. Female book reviewers in The
    New York Times Book Review are weekly stacked up against male
    reviewers at Edward Champions "[12]Return of the Reluctant."

    These diversity grievances follow the usual logic: Victim-group X is
    not proportionally represented in some field; therefore the field's
    gatekeepers are discriminating against X's members. The argument
    presumes that there are large numbers of qualified Xs out there who,
    absent discrimination, would be proportionally represented in the
    challenged field.

    If the quota mongers really believed these claims, they should welcome
    the web enthusiastically, since it is a world without gatekeepers and
    with no other significant barriers to entry. Imagine someone coping
    with real discrimination -- a black tanner, say, in 1897 Alabama. To
    expand his business, he needs capital and access to markets beyond the
    black business corridors in the south. Every white lender has turned
    him down, however, and no white merchant will carry his leather goods,
    even though they are superior to what is currently on the market. Tell
    that leather maker that an alternative universe exists, where he can
    obtain credit based solely on his financial history and sell his
    product based solely on its quality -- a universe where race is so
    irrelevant that no one will even know his own -- and he would think he
    had died and gone to heaven.

    For allegedly discriminated-against minority and female writers, the
    web is just that heaven. They can get their product directly out to
    readers with no bigoted editors to turn them away. As Steven Levy
    himself conceded in a column last December, there are virtually no
    start-up costs to launching a weblog: "All you need," he explained,
    "is some cheap software tools and something to say." In case reader
    prejudice is a problem, web writers can conceal their identity and
    simply present their ideas. And there is no established hierarchy to
    placate on the way to the top. As Levy wrote: "Out of the inchoate
    chatter of the Web, the sharpest voices simply emerge."

    So here is the perfect medium for liberating all those qualified
    minority and female "voices" that are being silenced by the mainstream
    media's gatekeepers. According to diversity theory, they should be far
    more heavily represented in the blogosphere's upper reaches than they
    are in traditional journalism. In fact, the opposite is the case, as
    the Washington Post's Keith Jenkins pointed out. The elite blogging
    world is far less "diverse" than the mainstream media.

    Why? Could it be that the premise of the "diversity" crusade is wrong
    -- that there are not in fact hordes of unknown, competitively
    talented non-white-male journalists held back by prejudice? Don't even
    entertain the thought. Steven Levy certainly doesn't. After fleetingly
    rehearsing his own previous analysis of the web as a pure meritocracy,
    he dismisses the argument without explanation and trots out the
    hoariest trope in the "diversity" lexicon: "the old boy's club." Why
    is the top rung of the blogosphere so homogeneous? Levy asks. He
    answers: "It appears that some clubbiness is involved" -- that is,
    that white male bloggers only link to other white male bloggers.
    (Susan Estrich likewise accused the Los Angeles Times's Michael
    Kinsley of favoring writers in his old boy's club.)

    Appears to whom? Where does this alleged club meet? In fact, the web
    is the antithesis of a closed, exclusive society. Levy offers no
    evidence for a white male bloggers club beyond the phenomenon he is
    trying to explain: the popularity of certain blogs. If the top blogs
    link to other top blogs, Levy assumes that they are doing so out of
    race and gender solidarity. Levy is suggesting that if an Alpha
    blogger comes across a dazzling blog, he will link to it once he
    confirms that a white male writes it but pass it up if he discovers,
    for instance, that a Latino woman is behind its sharp and clever
    observations on current events. The charge is preposterous. Moreover,
    as [13]Buzz Machine notes, bloggers don't know the race and gender of
    many of their colleagues.

    Here's a different explanation for why the blogosphere is dominated by
    white males: because they're the ones producing the best product.
    Sorry, ladies, but there aren't as many of us engaged in aggressive,
    competitive opinionizing and nonstop consumption of politics as our
    male tormentors. In 2001, the Hartford Courant, desperate to promote
    women on its pages, analyzed its letters to the editor, expecting to
    find bias in letter selection. It turned out that women write only one
    third of the letters that the paper receives, exactly the percentage
    published, incidentally. Even Gail Collins, editor of the New York
    Times's editorial page, admitted through clenched teeth to the
    Washington Post in the wake of the Estrich blitz: "There are probably
    fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel
    comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff."

    As for minorities, the skills gap in reading and writing means that,
    at the moment, a lower percentage of blacks and Hispanics possess the
    verbal acumen to produce a cutting-edge blog. For decades, blacks and
    Hispanics have scored 200 points below whites on the SATs' verbal
    section. Black high-school seniors on average read less competently
    than white 8th graders; Hispanic 12th graders read only slightly
    better than white 8th graders. And those are just the ones who are
    graduating. In the [14]Los Angeles school system, which is typical of
    other large urban districts, 53 percent of black students and 61
    percent of Hispanic students drop out before graduating from high
    school; most of the dropouts exit in the 9th grade. Assuming,
    generously, that those dropouts have 5th-grade skills, they are
    unlikely candidates for power blogging.

    Here's Steven Levy's minimum prescription for joining the ranks of
    Alpha blogging: "You have to post frequently . . . link prodigiously,"
    and, like one technology guru he describes, spend two hours daily
    writing your weblog and "three more hours reading hundreds of other
    blogs." If you have difficulty reading, you're probably not going to
    find that regime attractive. Obviously, many individual blacks and
    Hispanics possess more than the necessary skills to power their way
    into the top 100 blogs. But diversity zealots don't look at
    individuals, they look at aggregates. And in the aggregate, blacks and
    Hispanics lag so far behind whites in literacy skills that it is
    absurd to blame racial exclusion for the absence of racial
    proportionality on the web. Junking progressive pedagogy, with its
    absurd hostility to drilling and memorization, is the only solution to
    the education lag; diversity bean-counting is window-dressing.

    No one has succeeded in closing the skills gap yet, but over the years
    we've developed numerous bureaucratic devices to paper it over. These
    devices will undoubtedly prove highly useful in addressing what Levy
    calls the web's "diversity problem." Levy proposes, as an initial
    matter, that the power-bloggers voluntarily link to some as yet
    unspecified number of non-male, non-white writers. The history of
    'voluntary' affirmative action efforts need not be rehearsed here;
    suffice it to say, once 'voluntary' race- and gender-conscious
    policies are proposed, mandates are not far behind.

    But even Levy's "voluntary" regime calls out for regulation. How will
    the diversity-minded linker know the "identity" of a potential linkee?
    To be workable, a diversity-linkage program needs some sort of
    gatekeeper -- precisely what the web has heretofore lacked. One can
    imagine something like a federal Digital Diversity Agency that would
    assign a diversity tattoo to each blog: a lavender pig, for example,
    signifying a white male blogger with an alternative sexual
    orientation. A mismatch between the diversity tattoo on a site and its
    content could trigger a federal audit to track down identity fraud.
    Let's say an allegedly black female site (tattooed with a black halo)
    canvassed technologies for sending humans to Mars. Regulators might
    find such content highly suspicious, since everyone knows that black
    females are supposed to write about black females.

    As absurd as such a regulatory regime would have to be, it still would
    not be enough to make a properly "diverse" blogosphere, for the web's
    real diversity flaw is the role of readers. It is readers who
    determine which blogs zoom up to Alpha orbit, and until now they have
    been frustratingly outside any sort of regulatory reach. Only when
    Internet users are required to open up a representative sample of
    sites can we be confident that the web's "diversity problem" will be

    The diversity blogging debate has just begun, and it has already
    descended into [15]self-parody. Still, it has produced one invaluable
    admission: The gatekeepers in the mainstream media -- supposedly
    bigots who deny opportunity to members of various groups unless shamed
    or bullied into overcoming their prejudice -- are not the problem,
    they are the solution! Far from being bigots, they are, in fact,
    obsessed with diversity. As Levy puts it, they have "found the will
    and the means to administer [the] extra care . . . required to make
    sure public discussion reflects the actual population." Diversity
    utopias, it turns out, require top-down management; open-ended
    democracies like the web are less certain propositions.

    The next time someone charges a gatekeeper with racism or sexism --
    the next time, say, Jesse Jackson pickets a corporation -- remember
    Levy's admission. It could save a lot of hot air.

    -- [16]Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the [17]Manhattan Institute
    for Policy Research.


    4. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7160264/site/newsweek/
    5. http://www.dcexaminer.com/articles/2005/02/16//OPINION/OP-ED/01aaaafestrichoped.txt
    6. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/webcred/
    7. http://keithwj.typepad.com/commentary/2005/03/blogging_the_ne.html
    8. http://www.nabj.org/newsroom/news_releases/story/920p-1445c.html
    9. http://www.nabj.org/newsroom/news_releases/2004/story/507p-25c.html
   10. http://www.nabj.org/newsroom/news_releases/2004/story/981p-1539c.html
   11. http://www.mediareporttowomen.com/statistics.htm
   12. http://www.edrants.com/
   13. http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2005_03_15.html
   14. http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/news/pressreleases/dropout05.php
   15. http://civilities.net/Webcred-Inclusiveness
   16. http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/mac_donald.htm

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