Commentary

Diversity Jeopardy!

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Three points to ponder if for some reason you have put “diversity” on your list of things to agonize over today.

1. At our weekly bridge game, my friend the Navy veteran was kidding me a little about something my branch of the service supposedly did.

“The Army’s promotion board is going to start putting the photos back in candidates’ packages because not enough minorities are being advanced.”

But he had to email an apology because it turned out that the Navy was also engaging in that bit of social engineering.

From Stars and Stripes:

“The Navy could include service photos in promotion packages again after data suggested minorities are less likely to be selected blindly in some situations by promotion review boards, the service’s chief of personnel said Tuesday.

“Diversity among leadership dropped after photos were removed last year from Navy promotion packages, Vice Adm. John Nowell said during a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.

“... Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed all services in July 2020 to eliminate photos from promotion and selection boards to support diversity in the ranks. But Nowell said adding them back could do more to build a more diverse leadership force.

“‘It’s a meritocracy, we’re only going to pick the best of the best, but we’re very clear with our language to boards that we want them to consider diversity across all areas,’ he said. ‘Therefore ... I think having a clear picture just makes it easier.’ ”

Try to follow that. The photos were taken out so the candidates would be judged solely on merit, not something superficial like skin color. But not enough people of the right skin color were promoted, so the photos will go back. And still this is called a ‘meritocracy” in which only the “best of the best” will be chosen.

2. Very soon after the bridge game came the news that the show runners of “Jeopardy!” were in final negotiations with Mike Richards to be the permanent host to replace the late Alex Trebek. Richards has been the show’s executive producer and, if you can remember back that far, was the second of 16 guest hosts given a trial run.

Those trying out were a dizzying mix of sex, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious affiliations, everything a modern inclusion and equity advocate could hope for. But when the show seemed to go with just another boring white guy, there were howls of outrage — it was a “diversity fakeout,” one fan claimed on Reddit.

Personally, I think the show’s producers, with their phony talent hunt, and its critics, with their incessant cheerleading, equally missed the point. It’s about the contest and the players, not the host. I didn’t care for LeVar Burton, the apparent crowd favorite, because he was too ostentatiously exuberant. I disliked Aaron Rodgers for the opposite reason; he was so laconic he put the audience to sleep.

I favored Big Bang Theory co-star Mayim Bialik or former Jeopardy! champion Buzzy Cohen because they both had the right mix of charm and low-key enthusiasm that would allow them to grow with the show and let it shape them, the way it did Trebek.

But that’s just me.

I don’t want to get into the whole “diversity is our strength” versus “we must seek common ground” debate, either as a military veteran or a longtime trivia fan. I would just point out that organizations will generally get what they work for. If it is diversity they want, it is diversity they will get.  If they want something else, such as excellence or productivity, they will get that.

An organization should therefore clearly state its goal — whether it is to defend the United States against its enemies or to entertain while possibly informing a few million viewers — then hire those best able to further that goal. Anything else is utter nonsense.

Oh, almost forgot. I promised three points.

3. Of those two diversity issues, guess which one has engaged the public imagination.

Social media are on fire about the Jeopardy! controversy. Thousands and thousands of people are chattering back and forth about what it means for television and the health of our society. Hardly anyone, on the other hand, is saying a single thing about the Navy.

Make of that what you will.

 

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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