Backfire: A Reporter's Look at Affirmative Action

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"Make no mistake, this is going to be a controversial book. Bob Zelnick, a first–class journalist who is also a lawyer, has looked beyond the successes and well-meaning goals of affirmative action and found a bureaucratic morass that seems to have been designed by Kafka and implemented by Lewis Carroll. If our goals are fairness and racial harmony, we are obliged to address and answer the questions Zelnick raises."

—Ted Koppel, ABC News

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Among the recent spate of books critical of affirmative action, ABC correspondent Zelnick's bookwhich concentrates on the policy's effects on blacksis one of the most sweeping. Many such programs may involve unfairness or dishonesty, and Zelnick forcefully criticizes race-norming (the practice of developing a separate list of minority applicants for a given job), disingenuous attempts to diversify university admissions and set-asides for minority contractors. Exceeding his announced focus on affirmative action, Zelnick takes on related issues like self-segregation in campus housing, "tracking" in high school and the maintenance of historically black universities. In only a few chapters, however, does Zelnick propose constructive alternatives: critiquing set-aside programs, he suggests special training in business techniques and financial strategies for aspiring contractors; discussing mortgage statistics, he recommends a more mechanical "credit scoring" process to minimize any chance of loan-officer bias. Zelnick acknowledges that, at best, affirmative action can only serve as a rough tool for the redress of racial injustice and for correcting the nation's underlying race-consciousness. Given his righteous tone of criticism, however, and his failure to propose visionary alternatives to affirmative action, readers will be better served by Richard Kahlenberg's The Remedy (Forecasts, April 22). (July)
Mary Carroll
Ignore seemingly neutral titles: the "best" clue to the agenda of a book on affirmative action is how it balances race and gender. Though ABC-TV News correspondent Zelnick may exercise objectivity on the tube, his book is a well-written but familiar recital of standard "angry white male" complaints (with far stronger emphasis on "white" than on "male" ). Like other affirmative-action opponents, Zelnick trumpets his longtime support for civil rights and equal opportunity but challenges preferences, set-asides, and disparate impact as heinous reverse discrimination that disastrously distorts markets (for education, jobs, and contracts) in whose current meritocratic fairness Zelnick appears to have unquestioning faith. "Backfire" recycles classic affirmative-action horror stories; curiously enough, race (rather than gender) is almost always the matter at issue. There's little new or groundbreaking here, but Zelnick's high visibility as ABC's Capitol Hill correspondent makes reader interest likely.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780895264558
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing, Inc., An Eagle Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 6/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 415
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.35 (d)

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