Indian Summer
In Jayson Blair's wake, newspapers inch away from political correctness.

The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, June 4, 2003

The recent scandals at the New York Times seem to be prompting some introspection at other newspapers. Last month John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, issued a staff memo in which he faulted a story by reporter Scott Gold for liberal bias.

Mr. Gold's article was about a law in Texas requiring that women seeking abortions receive counseling on the purported link between abortion and breast cancer. Mr. Carroll faulted Mr. Gold for using the slanted phrase "so-called counseling"; for failing to cite any scientist who believes there is a link between abortion and breast cancer (a minority view, to be sure); and for describing a legislator who backed the law as having "a professional background in property management," while making no similarly disparaging characterizations of its opponents.

Explaining that he was "concerned about the perception--and the occasional reality--that the Times is a liberal, 'politically correct' newspaper," Mr. Carroll declared: "Occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today." The Texas law may be misguided, but Mr. Gold should have stuck to the facts and let readers form their own opinions.

Meanwhile the Minneapolis Star Tribune, probably the nation's most politically correct big-city daily, says it may drop its policy of censoring "offensive" names of sports teams--specifically, those with American Indian themes such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins. Those of us not afflicted with PC humorlessness will surely mourn this policy, for it is a source of endless entertainment.

For one thing, it's not a blanket ban; reporters may use quotes that contain an offending name. Thus if a player for, say, the Minnesota Vikings says, "We're gonna beat the Redskins," you can read about it in the Star Tribune. But a reporter paraphrasing the quote would have to write something like: "He said the Vikings would beat the football club from Washington."

This raises another question: Why is it permissible to refer to the hometown Vikings, but not to the Braves, the Chiefs and so forth? One could argue that "Redskins" is racially offensive in a way that the other names aren't, but if the Cleveland Indians invidiously stereotype indigenous Americans, don't the Vikes do the same thing to Nordic types?

Then there's the case of the Cincinnati Reds. In 2001, Star Tribune ombudsman Lou Gelfand announced that the paper was ending its embargo on this team's name, after an alert reader informed him that "Reds" has nothing to do with Indians and is, rather, a shortening of the team's original name, the Red Stockings.

The paper hasn't yet adopted the policy change. The Associated Press reports that editor Anders Gyllenhaal plans to vet it first with local American Indian leaders and will make a decision only after they've responded. All hail the fearless, independent press.

The AP adds that Mr. Gyllenhaal may replace the ban with a new set of "guidelines aimed at being sensitive to readers," including "using alternative logos for potentially offensive ones--a script 'I' instead of the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo, for example--and avoiding slang terms or abbreviations such as 'Skins' for 'Redskins.' " So a reference to "Skins" is more offensive than a reference to their color?

In a staff memo, Mr. Gyllenhaal explained why he's contemplating the new policy: "At a time when newspaper accuracy and balance are constantly challenged, our commitment to direct and straight-forward reporting has to be the priority."

It's hard to argue with that. But it does make one wonder: Just what was the priority before?

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