Affirmative action for conservatives

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR CONSERVATIVES…. Last week, Deborah Howell, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, had an item scrutinizing the paper’s coverage of the presidential campaign. She concluded that the Post had an “Obama tilt” over the course of the year, but her criticisms did not stand up well to scrutiny.

Yesterday, Howell returned to the subject, and suggested her newspaper start considering ideology when making staff decisions.

The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama. It’s not hard to see why conservatives feel disrespected.

Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.

[Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism] said, “There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism.”

This strikes me as an unusually bad idea. Worse, it’s an unworkable solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

First, as Michael Calderone noted, “I don’t know any newspaper editor who would be comfortable asking reporters their political views and then using that information to help determine whether they should be hired or not.” Indeed, I’m not even sure if that’s legal.

Second, as Eric Boehlert noted, “Who’s stopping conservatives from being hired in newsrooms? Honestly. If Newsbusters can document how scores of qualified College Republican grads were passed over by local newspapers to poorly paying jobs to cover local zoning commission jobs simply because the applicants were conservative, we’d love to hear about it. Because right now there’s nothing stopping young conservatives from joining newsrooms and working their way up from the bottom just like everybody else in media does. They just don’t want to do it.”

I’d just add that Howell may not appreciate the larger political dynamic, but the truth is conservative critics won’t be satisfied anyway. CNN political team now features Stephen Hayes, David Brody, Alex Castellanos, Tara Wall, Frances Fragos Townsend, J.C. Watts, and William Bennett. The right still doesn’t think CNN is nearly conservative enough.

Those whose whines Howell is taking seriously won’t be satisfied, because they’re really looking for a quality national newspaper; they’re looking for Fox News in print form. Affirmative action in the newsroom won’t help.