Book Review

Incorrect Thoughts
Notes on Our Wayward Culture

John Leo
Transaction Publishers, 2001, 267pp


A person might be opposed to political correctness for one of two reasons: because P.C. activists use intimidation and coercion to impose their views on others, or because those views are different from one's own. Listening to John Leo speaking in public, one might think the basis of his opposition is the former. This book suggests that it is probably a bit of both.

This book is a collection of essays from the author's column in U.S. News and World Report. Most of these are related, at least tangentially, to the theme of Political Correctness. Leo uses his classic formulaic style of ridiculing the opposition not only to criticize political correctness and postmodernism, but also to express his opinions on education, feminism, abortion, affirmative action, and school prayer. In some of the essays he rightfully criticizes P.C. activists for blocking his attempts to speak, and suppressing free speech on college campuses. In others, he ridicules his opponents on issues such as school prayer, abortion, and government-sponsored religious displays. Some of the shenanigans he describes, such as a statement by the chairman of the Sierra Club that "Trees and rocks have rights to their own freedom", the feminist who believes that Beethoven's 9th symphony is about rape, and the P.C. activists who believe that blacks built the Egyptian pyramids, are truly wacky. However, by commingling his political views with his views on P.C., he undercuts his case against P.C. and demonstrates how difficult it is for reporters and commentators to rise above the issues and take the objective viewpoint their social role requires.

Modern reporters believe they have a right to take a position on any issue that interests them. This biases their coverage of the news and destroys their credibility as neutral, unbiased reporters of factual events. John Leo is no exception. His effectiveness as an opponent of political correctness is impaired by his exclusive use of ridicule instead of reason and evidence, by his espousal of various opinions on society, and by his biased if sometimes witty way of describing them. This is, of course, his role as a "commentator". Unfortunately, it conflicts with the message he is trying to convey in his book.

For all the faults in this book, it is immensely gratifying that someone in the news media is finally taking a stand in favor of merit-based education, respect for truth, and freedom of expression. Compared to other works, this book seems like a collection of sound bytes - commentary that works well in a short editorial, but is too flippant and superficial to make much impact in a book. But perhaps they shouldn't be taken too seriously. These are only magazine editorials and, lest anyone forget, John Leo's main competition is humorist Joel Stein from Time Magazine.