The difficult thing about Orwellian mendacity is keeping one’s verbal guard up. It is a simple enough matter to declare that “War is Peace” as did the masters of Newspeak in 1984. But even if one exercises ceaseless vigilance, reality has a way of breaking in and demonstrating rudely that war, after all, really is not the same thing as peace. This is the case with “affirmative action,” which we have always regarded as one of the great Orwellian coinages of our time. What the phrase really means, of course, is “preferential treatment”: i.e., institutionally enforced discrimination on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, or some other victim trait-of-the-month quality. And while, with practice, liberals find it easy to say that “affirmative action” promotes fairness and discourages discrimination, the results are so obviously unfair and discriminatory that even the most committed liberal ideologue is bound to slip up now and then.
So it was recently with The New York Times, one of our most reliable purveyors of politically correct piety on this and other issues. On April 24, the Association of American Universities ran a large advertisement in the Times reaffirming its “commitment to diversity as a value that is central to the very concept of education.” Endorsed by the Association’s sixty-two member institutions—including Yale, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, and Brandeis—the advertisement was prompted by the growing public uneasiness about the discriminatory policies enshrined in “affirmative action.”
In content, this statement by the Association of American Universities was little more than a public declaration of virtue. “We, the undersigned, endorse liberal Newspeak”: that, in a nutshell, was what the advertisement meant. Its authors spoke of reaffirming “the broad principles of equal opportunity and equal protection”; they then went on in the same sentence to list the “many factors … including ethnicity, race, and gender” that they would adduce as reasons for denying “equal opportunity and equal protection” in admissions.
Of course, such contradictions are simply business as usual in the academic world these days. What did catch our eye, though, was the news story that the Times ran in a column right next to the advertisement: or, rather, it was the headline of the story that really made an impression: “62 Top Colleges Endorse Bias in Admissions.” Yes, we thought, that about sums it up. But since when did The New York Times admit that “affirmative action” and a commitment to “diversity” constituted bias? That headline writer was quite right: “affirmative action” is bias, and “diversity” is the shibboleth under which it is routinely pursued. Until now, however, that dirty little secret had been kept tightly under wraps by the liberal establishment. What happened?
What happened was that, in a careless moment, the truth leaked out. But not for long. The very next day an Editor’s Note informed readers of the Times that running the headline was the result of an “editing error.” As The New York Post reported, the Times’s editors couldn’t quite bring themselves to come right out and say that the headline was wrong or inaccurate. Instead, they insisted that “‘Bias,’ as a term for affirmative action, was neither impartial nor accurate” and that “it should not have appeared.” But of course “bias” is an exquisitely accurate and impartial term for “affirmative action,” capturing in two short syllables exactly what it is, though not what it would like to seem to be. The question is whether, when it comes to issues of great public moment, one prefers to call things by their real names or whether we will be satisfied with euphemism, equivocation, and deceit—with Newspeak, in short. We have long suspected that our Paper of Record had a weakness for Newspeak. It was, in a grim sort of way, gratifying for once to have it illustrated so graphically.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 15 Number 10, on page 3
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