White Man Publishes Book! USA Today Mistakes This for News

Our most finely tuned instruments were unable to detect even trace amounts of irony in this USA Today headline. (Media clip via FAIR.org)

White Man Publishes Book! USA Today Mistakes This for News

A collection of short stories published by entertainment lawyer Kevin Morris makes the front page of USA Today's Money section (1/4/15). Why? The startling thing about the book, according to USA Today media writer Michael Wolff, is that it deals with "one of the least-popular media subjects, middle-aged white men."

Yes, "White Men Have Stories to Tell, Too," as the headline of Wolff's column declares.

You might think that if you wrote about media for a living, you would notice that publishers mostly publish, and newspapers mostly review, books written by white men. A few years back, Ruth Franklin of the New Republic (2/7/11) found that the authors at eight out of 13 book publishers she surveyed were 75 percent or more male, and 11 were at least two-thirds men; at none of the houses were most of the writers female.

Meanwhile, Roxane Gay (Rumpus, 6/6/12) calculated that 88 percent of the books reviewed in the New York Times are written by white authors.

As Gay notes, these numbers are depressing but shouldn't be too surprising in a media universe where white men predominate in nearly every countable category. (One exception: the CounterSpin radio program, whose white male guests in the first five months of 2014 matched their representation in the US public at large.)

Yet Wolff appears to live in a world where "what might be called white man's media" is "a lost form or marginalized genre." A world where "fiction is now largely a form dominated by women readers and hence women's stories." A world where, of all cultures, the "middle-aged, culturally undistinguished, American male [is] now the most overlooked."

Heartbreakingly, it's "a world where success robs you of the right to express yourself."

Whose story, Wolff wonders, will replace "the dominant culture tale" provided by white men? "The women's narrative? The anti-one-percent narrative?"

As far as I can tell, he's completely serious.

Wolff finds it remarkable that Morris, "instead of leveraging his personal media muscle and vast contacts to get his book published," self-published it on Amazon. And then, "in a minor reversal of fortune," one of Morris' neighbors, who also happens to be one of his clients and the co-creator of South Park, threw a book party for him. The publisher of Grove/Atlantic just happened to be there, and just happened to buy the rights. Amazing what can happen when you don't leverage your vast contacts!

Wolff refers to Amazon's self-publishing program as "one of the greatest outpourings of unrewarded writing in history," which isn't actually true either. But it gives him more fuel to wax bathetic: "Too many stories is just another sign of a broken world."

Given the way Wolff experiences the overwhelming white male domination of publishing as a near total silencing, it's hard not to read that as: Remember the good old days, when it was just our stories.

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