Conservative Spotlight: William McGowan


If anyone doubts that pervasive media bias exists, there are now two well-received books that make the case very persuasively: Bias (Regnery, 2001) by Bernard Goldberg and Coloring the News (Encounter, 2001) by William McGowan, both of which have been reissued in paperback this year. Subtitled “How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism,” Coloring the News takes specific example after specific example of biased reporting in the name of “diversity” and picks them apart.

“It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a very narrow consensus of liberal values,” said McGowan in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS last week. When reporters and editors at major news organizations gather to discuss a story, “there is a dearth of people in the room who have a conservative point of view or who empathize with the conservative point of view.” They are not even in touch with conservative-leaning grassroots people who could lead them to different sorts of stories, said McGowan. Not many of them could say at a story meeting, “I went to a Knights of Columbus picnic the other day and I heard this,” he said.

McGowan said that the media rarely lie outright, but rather provide an ideologically distorted view of reality to their customers by failing to do certain stories or doing ones that are “false by omission,” he said. Example: A Washington Post story by Michael Fletcher about a black police major in Florida who had an altercation with a white officer. Even though videotape of the incident made it clear that the black officer was at fault, Fletcher chose to spin the story as an example of prejudice against blacks. “He picked whatever he wanted out of the story that fit his view of institutionalized police racism,” McGowan said.

Race is just one aspect of the politically correct orthodoxy that has corrupted journalism, McGowan writes. “[R]ather than offer the information to help society assign the proper place to gay and feminist perspectives in public policy, the press has tried to prescribe answers to a number of issues: AIDS, abortion, gays and women in the military, gay marriage, gay adoption,” he writes in a chapter called “Gay and Feminist Issues.” “Although there are many journalists able to articulate and defend gay and feminist positions on these concerns, few in today’s newsrooms are as willing or able to identify with the cultures and value systems of more traditional institutions such as the military or the church.”

As Trevor Butterworth put it in the Washington Post, “The irony here is that McGowan’s charges do not disclose an incorrigibly liberal press, as conservatives would charge, but rather an illiberal press, which works to restrict the free market of ideas.” And it is not real diversity that the media seek, wrote Butterworth, and McGowan does us a service “by exposing the bogus pluralism of newsrooms that try to mirror American demography in every way except for diversity in political, religious and class affiliations.”

Even conservatives who follow the news closely might be surprised by the facts McGowan mentions that the mainstream media omitted in their coverage of well-known stories from the Texaco racial discrimination case to the adulterous Kelly Flinn to the Los Angeles riots to the death of Amadou Diallo. And when it comes to the denials that Jayson Blair’s race played a major role in his retention and promotion by the New York Times despite years of deception, McGowan said that the Times’ editors are like the man who said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and also author of Only Man Is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka, McGowan spends most of his time doing freelance work as a journalist, particularly for the Wall Street Journal. His work has ranged from book reviews to a story about an Afro-Cuban cult of grave robbers in Newark, N.J. He recently assisted a Hollywood screenwriter with a script based on the true story of a “gay extortion scandal,” he said. “It was a nationwide ring of blackmailers posing as corrupt vice squad members” who-decades ago-would threaten to expose prominent people’s homosexuality if not paid off.

McGowan believes that the media bias problem may be improving. “News executives are starting to get it. They haven’t gotten it yet. . .,” he said. “The elephant’s there and no one wants to talk about it. Diversity has been considered a completely unchallengeable given.” One powerful indication of change: The National Press Club gave Coloring the News the 2002 Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism.

To purchase Coloring the News from HEBookservice, click here.

McGowan may be reached c/o Encounter Books, 665 Third St., Suite 330, San Francisco, Calif. 94107-1951 (415-538-1460; fax: 415-538-1461; website: