Most of what is wrong with modern journalism showed up in the recent news coverage of a minor event:
Flip Wilson, the late comedian, endowed several colleges with journalism scholarships of $23,500. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but how the money will given out is the problem.
Two bad conditions come with the money: First, only blacks can get it. Second, they get it after pontificating about Wilson in an essay.
Wilson, the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reports, leaves money for "African-American" students because his publicist convinced him it was a good way to help black kids after his death. Indeed it is.
This was Wilson's money. He had a right to give it to whomever he wanted. But it seems unfair, in an officially colorblind society, to limit scholarships to one race.
Of course, we don't live in a colorblind society, so no one will protest. Indeed, in journalism, racial favoritism is the order of the day with its many "diversity" programs, one of which led to the hiring of Jayson Blair, the professional liar who brought down two editors at the New York Times.
Imagine Charlton Heston leaving money behind for white journalism students. You don't have to imagine long to know a university would not accept such money unless it could distribute it to anyone, regardless of race. Charges of racism would fly, the schools would run for cover.
Not so, however, with the Wilson scholarship, or jobs at newspapers reserved for minorities. This is known as "diversity," not discrimination.
How students get Wilson's money is another matter. The exercise is preposterous, another example of how pathetic higher education is.
The students must be juniors or seniors, show financial need and maintain a 3.0 grade average. This last is a no-brainer in a modern college, particularly when the "major" is journalism. Majoring for four years in journalism is itself a bit of a laugh, but in any event, the key condition on the money is a 500-word essay on Wilson.
As the chairman of the journalism department at Rutgers University's campus in New Brunswick put it, students must wax poetic "on some aspect of Flip Wilson's work and impact on television or comedy."
Time was, students wrote about more weighty matters, but alas, this is the age of television. At least the students will be doing a little history, as the Ledger observed, because most of them weren't born when Wilson was in his prime.
Comedy aside, colleges routinely accept this kind of nonsense as scholarship. Wilson's "impact on television or comedy”? Sorry to point it out, but however funny "Geraldine" was, the cosmos would have survived and little would have been missed had Wilson been repairing televisions instead of appearing on them.
A Free Society
Wilson had a right to give away his money as he pleased and to anyone he wanted. The students should be grateful for his generosity, and so should the rest of us.
But if racially targeted scholarships are acceptable for blacks, then they are acceptable for everyone. We'll see what happens if anyone ever is ever crazy enough to endow a whites-only scholarship.
As for the essay, it's a laugh. If this is what we journalists now accept as serious writing, then the joke is on us.
Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.