When discussing one topic in particular, journalists, academics, political figures and self-described enlightened persons have tended of late to become babbling halfwits.
That topic is diversity.
Here's a case in point, as reported by MSN's Jack Shafer. It seems that Washingtonian national editor Harry Jaffe wrote a peripheral comment about Post-writer turned New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg:
Goldberg was up for a full-time job, he says, when an editor took him aside and said, "We would like to hire you, but we have to hire a Hispanic for that slot." He went on to report from the Middle East, but when he returned, editor Milton Coleman said the Post had no jobs.
OK, so Goldberg says the Post was pushing for diversity. There's not enough information here to tell whether he actually lost out on a slot because of that. (Who knows? Maybe he's just bitter and grumpy.) But that's irrelevant in some sense. The comment is hardly an attack against the Post, either way. Some employees from non-targeted groups will definitely lose out if a given business is truly trying to promote diversity, whether Goldberg was one of them or not. Hiring more members of group B implies hiring fewer members of group A. If you are proud of your efforts to promote diversity, then you do not recoil from this.
Conversely, if you're just hiring the best people who walk in the door, you can't be pushing for diversity. Imagine being ignorant of a person's race or gender. You couldn't very well hire blindly and then claim you were making great efforts to promote diversity.
You can't have it both ways. Either you are color blind or you are actively pushing for (or perhaps against) diversity. This is a logical necessity.
But listen to the response from the Post's managing editor Philip Bennett:
The Goldberg comment is appalling, offensive, idiotic. His own search for a diversity-free workplace may have succeeded. That's not where we live, or want to live, or intend to live. Diversity is a cardinal value of The Post and the communities we cover. Period.
The comment is offensive? Appalling? If diversity were truly a cardinal value, the comment is, in fact, a compliment. Goldberg would simply have alleged that the Post had the courage of its convictions. The comment would have indicated Post was working hard to make its workforce diverse, even to the point of sacrificing persons it might otherwise have promoted. My dictionary defines cardinal as "of foremost importance." What better evidence could there be that diversity is "of foremost importance" to the newspaper than that it made sacrifices to accomplish that goal?
Clearly, though, the Post does not have the courage of its convictions, or lacks conviction, or is simply too addled by the diversity topic to put together a coherent sentence. Its managing editor is "offended" by something that, if true, only demonstrates that he is not a liar.
Additional comments by the executive editor seem to indicate that the Post wants to have it both ways. They want to claim they never hire anyone but the best applicant and yet they actively "seek" diversity:
...I want to make clear that improving diversity in the newsroom and in our coverage has never been in conflict with hiring the best journalists and producing the best journalism.
So the Post hires only the best journalists, but diversity is a "cardinal value." The question is then: Would they never take a marginally less qualified employee over a marginally more qualified employee to promote diversity? It sounds as though the idea that they might have done such a thing was what offended Bennet to the marrow of his bones.
So let's get this straight: Bennet was profoundly offended by the notion that the Post might actually have been vigorously pursuing its own stated goal.
This is just silly. But it is everywhere, this empty and hopelessly nonsensical rhetoric. There are benefits to diversity. How best to balance the specific benefits and costs associated with making workforces more diverse is worth discussing. Splendid! Let's do that! But many arguments don't make sense at all, any way you look at them. Bennet's is among them.
Interestingly, Jack Shafer's column is almost as muddled as Bennet's rant. Shafer does not criticize the Post's editor for his absurd poses. Nope. Shafer's major claim is that Goldberg never used the turn of phrase "doomed by diversity" to describe his predicament.
Shafer misses the whole point, of course. The phrase is flowery, melodramatic, and overwritten, but does not alter any of the arguments above. Even if Goldberg had used that specific phrase, there would have been little reason for a diversity-minded editor to be offended by the notion that he or his paper had promoted diversity. Neither Goldberg's comment, nor the flowery phrase wrongly attributed to him, merit being labeled "offensive," "idiotic," or "appalling."
(Bennet's own self-righteous diatribe, however, fits the bill nicely.)