IN 1997, when I was working at National Review, we were attacked by what the editor at the time, John O'Sullivan, aptly dubbed the "Ethnic Grievance Industry." The EGI, O'Sullivan explained, is the arm of the civil-rights establishment that exists solely to take offense to any perceived slight, no matter how innocuous. It's ever eager to stage protests, and it calls for boycotts at the drop of a hat.
At issue was a cover illustration portraying Sino-fundraisers Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and her husband as Chinese Communists-complete with cooley hats and Chairman Mao garb. That depiction, the EGI loudly informed us, was racist. Members held rallies outside our office, assaulted O'Sullivan on a visit to Yale, and flooded our e-mail with cut-and-paste letters demanding an apology.
But they never got one. O'Sullivan refused to buckle. Instead, he bravely defended the offending cover, making no effort to atone for a sin her never committed. It was a rare, perhaps unprecedented example of the EGI meeting a sustained and committed resistance. In almost every other case, its targets are so spooked by even the most specious charges of racism that they immediately relent.
The Philadelphia Daily News is a case in point.
In August, the paper ran a cover story titled "Fugitives among us," (link no longer available) which examined the cases of dozens of alleged murderers operating in the Philadelphia area, despite longstanding warrants for their arrests. These are fugitives who are believed to still live in their old neighborhoods, shielded by friends, family, and the anonymity afforded by the underground economy. As such, they pose an ongoing threat to the communities they've purportedly victimized at least once before.
The article quoted John Apeldorn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley and a former Philadelphia homicide captain, who explained that the fugitive's "biggest enemy … is the public, who is going to see his mug shot in the paper and turn him in." To that end, the paper profiled 27 suspects, and featured on its front page photos of 18 wanted for murder by the Philadelphia police.
And therein lies the controversy.
The montage the paper assembled included black, Hispanic, and Asian faces, but no white ones, thus prompting a massive outcry from the EGI. A local talk-show host led the charge, and angry readers fired off letters to the editor (see here and here). Local African-American organizations threatened a protest and called for the resignation of the paper’s managing editor and editor-in-chief.
One letter-writer neatly summed up the outrage:
How could you plaster the front page of the Daily News with photos of fugitives who were primarily African-American males? I wonder why you didn’t do the same for the white-collar criminals of corporate America, the priests of the Catholic Church, the pedophiles, the serial killers. You are guilty of attempting to assassinate the moral, spiritual and cultural legacy of a people by attacking our men!
But the story wasn’t about criminal CEOs, priestly perverts, or serial killers, all of whom who have commanded more than their fair share of media attention. Its purpose was to combat a very real and largely underreported danger: suspected murderers “among us.”
And in Philadelphia, it so happens that none of them is white. The current list of suspected murder fugitives in the City of Brotherly Love includes 41 African-Americans, 12 Hispanics, 3 Asians, and no whites. The numbers are in part a reflection of broader demographics, but they’re also an indication that, in Philadelphia anyway, white people are more likely than members of racial minority groups to report their friends and family members who have been accused of serious crimes.
As Philadelphia police Sgt. Bill Britt told the paper in a follow-up story, “There are plenty of white people in jail for murder, but those guys are locked up. But people in the inner-city, in high-crime areas, they don’t want to get involved with the police,” be it because of bad past experiences with cops, immigration concerns, or misplaced loyalties. Ultimately, the cause is inconsequential; the reality is that facts, not bias, dictated the racial composition of the Daily News controversial cover.
But facts don’t mean much to the Ethnic Grievance Industry, which trained its sites on the newspaper, and with its usual success. Eight days later, the Daily News’ editors trotted out the predictable apology.
After "much soul-searching" in the newsroom, the paper's editors were still "proud" of their work, but admitted that "while we try our best to (make the paper) perfect, we sometimes fail." Moreover, "The front page photos . . . sent the message to some readers that only black men commit murder. That was a mistake." The stories "didn't address a key question: Why are there no white suspects on the loose? That also was a mistake."
If they could do it all again, would they do it differently? "Absolutely."
Good luck. If an objective reporting of the facts wasn't enough to placate the EGI, it's doubtful that dressing them up any other way would have done the trick. So committed is the EGI to stamping out racism that it pounces even where none exists. While it busily chases phantom bigots, it disregards far more real threats to the communities it claims to represent-like at-large murderers.
In the midst of the “Fugitives among us” uproar, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the article had achieved its intended goal, netting two accused killers in the first three days following publication. One fugitive was recognized by a tipster; the other got anxious and turned himself in. Both are now under arrest and safely in police custody.
Those are real victories the EGI should celebrate. Taking criminals off the streets does far more to improve the lives of average minority and inner-city residents than does extracting periodic cries of “uncle” from weak-hearted newsmen.