The continued overuse of words like ‘diversity’ masks the absence of ideas and gives bu-reaucrats a barrier to hide behind.

Have you ever noticed how words lose their meaning once they’ve been seized upon by politicians, bureaucrats or human resources specialists?

The word “diversity” is surely a prime example.

The New York Times claimed it was advancing the cause of diversity in assigning important stories to Jayson Blair, a young black reporter who turned out to be a card-carrying sociopath. Blair, in turn, has blamed his behavior on pressures stemming from the Times’ absence of diversity.

Women in Film, which staged its annual ingathering last week, continues to press for more diversity — that is, more opportunity for women — despite the fact that many top management positions in movies and TV are currently held by women. But no one wants to deal with a related question: Has this trend resulted in a greater diversity of product?

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There’s that awful word again.

Both sides of the debate on the new FCC rules like to cite issues of diversity. Relaxed rules of media ownership will reduce programming diversity by concentrating power in fewer hands, says one side.

Wrong, say the free marketeers of the Wall Street Journal: “The explosion of everything from 24/7 cable news to talk radio to thousands of Matt Drudge wannabes is better for democracy and free speech than politically influenced FCC regulation.” Thus the forces of diversity already are proliferating.

In truth, the ranks of those opposing the FCC reflect the only example of diversity that everyone can agree upon. What other cause has united the NRA, NOW and the evangelical right, not to mention bonding Sens. Trent Lott and Dianne Feinstein?

Having become the buzzword of the moment, the word “diversity” is invoked not to advance an idea but to disguise the absence thereof. It is a euphemism for bureaucrats to hide behind.

Editors at the Times (the top two were ousted last week) surely failed to achieve their worthy goals of social engineering in assigning important stories to an utterly unqualified young reporter. The only thing the newspaper accomplished was to present its readers with an unfortunate diversity of news articles — those that were true and those that were untrue.

When it comes to women’s issues, I completely support the push for more women directors and cinematographers. Paradoxically, the presence of women in these roles was far greater in the very early days of the industry.

But shouldn’t the real issue focus more on sensibility than body count? The women who run the movie studios are giving us a steady diet of action and special effects. Yet our wives and girlfriends say they want more “people pictures.” Were we all wrong in thinking that, once the women took over, diverse sensibilities would be in greater evidence?

Which brings us back to the FCC. The media giants assure us that the relaxation of arcane FCC restrictions will spur improved programming. After all, if you let companies become bigger and richer, they inevitably pour their resources into their product.

“Restrictions we place on ownership must be based on concrete evidence, not on fear and speculation about hypothetical media monopolies intent on exercising some type of Vulcan mind control over the American people,” said Kathleen Q. Abernathy, one of the FCC commissioners favoring new broadcast rules.

That’s downright re-assuring. Media concentration is hypothetical; so are fears about control of content. Our democracy will flourish because of its buoyant mix of opinions and ethnicities, which our diverse media will propagate, says Abernathy.

Now, isn’t that the sort of diversity you can hang your hat on?