CBS 'Evening News' Bemoans Lack of Diversity in FDNY

Katie Couric, CBS On Monday's CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric praised the heroism of the New York City Fire Department but fretted: "...a federal judge says something is missing in their ranks: Diversity." Correspondent Jim Axelrod began a report on the topic by noting: "Fire Captain Paul Washington has a big problem with his department." Washington declared the FDNY to be "all-white, lily white."

Axelrod described how "Eight years ago, the fire department was 92 percent white and only 2.8 percent black, in a city that was 24 percent black. A disparity that remains largely unchanged." A sound bite was featured from Columbia Law School Professor Suzanne Goldberg, who like Couric, noted the department's heroism, but went on to describe the lack of diversity as a "singular embarrassment."

Touting how "a federal judge agreed" with Goldberg, Axelrod explained: "...the hiring test to become one of New York's bravest was not just discriminatory, but illegal. [The judge] ordered the city to fix it."

As Axelrod mentioned the judge's ruling, a few sample questions from the supposedly discriminatory test appeared on screen. One set of questions asked applicants to respond to a particular firefighting scenario: "What would be the most direct entrance for firefighters to take to save the children?...The probable cause of the fire was?...How many ways can firefighters enter the house?"

Axelrod never cited any specific criticisms of the entrance exam. Even so, a clip was played of Washington claiming: "Blacks don't fare as well as whites on this test, probably due to the disparity in education." Axelrod added: "Now the judge says the city has been dragging its feet and tightened the screws, appointing a special master to ensure New York does what big cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami did long ago when they were sued."

Acknowledging opposition to the judge's ruling, Axelrod mentioned: "FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix doesn't think New York needs to follow their example." In an exchange with Mannix, Axelrod pressed: "Look at Los Angeles. Look at Philadelphia. Look at Boston." Mannix replied: "Quotas. Quotas. Quotas." Axelrod insisted: "Whatever your method, they corrected racial imbalance." Mannix responded: "By using quotas, and we are against quotas."

Axelrod continued: "Mannix believes the current FDNY test focuses too much on producing a racially diverse department and not enough on identifying the strongest candidates regardless of race." Mannix explained: "You're asking me to make my job more dangerous to – to satisfy a social engineering experiment."

Axelrod's report concluded with another sound bite from Goldberg: "I find it shocking that the fire department looks like it does today. And the city is fighting the decision and threatening appeal rather than going ahead and giving the city the fire department that it deserves." A final sound bite of Washington was also played: "I want to see black New Yorkers share in this job, because, as I say, it's not a good job, it's a great job." Axelrod proclaimed: "The only thing Paul Washington wants to change about this great job is the way New York City decides who gets it."

Here is a full transcript of the segment:
6:44PM

KATIE COURIC: The fire department here in New York City is one of the most respected in the world and second only to Tokyo in size. The FDNY has well over 11,000 firefighters and officers, and their heroism on 9/11 and on many other occasions is legendary. But as Jim Axelrod reports, a federal judge says something is missing in their ranks: Diversity.

JIM AXELROD: New York City Fire Captain Paul Washington has a big problem with his department.

PAUL WASHINGTON: This fire department has been all-white, lily white, for almost 150 years now. And I mean, it has to end.

AXELROD: Eight years ago, the fire department was 92 percent white and only 2.8 percent black, in a city that was 24 percent black. A disparity that remains largely unchanged. A group of African-American firefighters sued.

SUZANNE GOLDBERG [COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL]: The fire department in New York on the one hand is tremendously heroic, and the whole world knows about its heroism. And on the other hand, we have this kind of singular embarrassment.

AXELROD: Last January, a federal judge agreed, ruling the hiring test to become one of New York's bravest was not just discriminatory, but illegal. He ordered the city to fix it.

WASHINGTON: Blacks don't fare as well as whites on this test, probably due to the disparity in education.

AXELROD: Now the judge says the city has been dragging its feet and tightened the screws, appointing a special master to ensure New York does what big cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami did long ago when they were sued. They now have much greater diversity, but FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix doesn't think New York needs to follow their example. Look at Los Angeles. Look at Philadelphia. Look at Boston.

PAUL MANNIX: Quotas. Quotas. Quotas.

AXELROD: Whatever your method, they corrected racial imbalance.

MANNIX: By using quotas, and we are against quotas.

AXELROD: Miami, in particular, expanded recruitment by targeting young minorities still in public schools with high school EMT training classes. Today they have firefighters like Maurice Kemp to show for it. That's Chief Maurice Kemp, the department's first African-American in charge.
MAURICE KEMP: Like all other major city departments, it doesn't come without a struggle. I mean, we have to be conscious of the fact that we need to be diverse.

AXELROD: Mannix believes the current FDNY test focuses too much on producing a racially diverse department and not enough on identifying the strongest candidates regardless of race.

MANNIX: You're asking me to make my job more dangerous to – to satisfy a social engineering experiment.

AXELROD: Mannix doesn't officially speak for the city, but both the fire department and the mayor declined our request for an interview. In a statement, the city said that it disagrees with the court's findings that these tests were discriminatory and intends to appeal. The city says next time it hires, the incoming class will be one-third minority. But no new firefighters have been hired in the last two years and no one knows when the city will hire again.

GOLDBERG: I find it shocking that the fire department looks like it does today. And the city is fighting the decision and threatening appeal rather than going ahead and giving the city the fire department that it deserves.

WASHINGTON: I want to see black New Yorkers share in this job, because, as I say, it's not a good job, it's a great job.

AXELROD: The only thing Paul Washington wants to change about this great job is the way New York City decides who gets it. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, New York.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC