When Diversity Trumps Quality........
John A. Quayle
blueoval at SGI.NET
Wed May 14 22:55:07 MDT 2003
Feasting on the Times' 'fraud'
May 15, 2003
I feel like I'm on "Supermarket Sweep." That's the game show where
contestants race through a supermarket trying to grab as many goodies as
possible as quickly as they can. That's how I feel writing about the
ongoing revelations that The New York Times aided and abetted what it
describes as a "journalistic fraud" on its readers. There are so many
choice items and such little time to address them all.
Jayson Blair, a charming young black man, was an affirmative
action hire who never graduated from college. (The Times claims it didn't
know that, but it must have according to the administrators who placed him
His work was never great and it got worse over his career. As he
was promoted, his error rate soared, according to an epic-length mea culpa
published by The New York Times last Sunday. Blair wasn't just filing bad
copy, he was misbehaving at company expense, particularly at the watering
hole around the corner.
"His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional,"
admits the newspaper of record, "that by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the
metropolitan editor, dashed off a two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom
administrators that read: 'We have to stop Jayson from writing for the
Times. Right now.'"
Senior management of the newspaper had another idea. They promoted
him, giving him a coveted spot on the national desk. He covered the
Maryland sniper story and the reactions of families of American troops in
Iraq, including rescued POW Jessica Lynch.
Now, I could easily get bogged down - like a "Supermarket Sweep"
contestant in the frozen food section - just marveling at Blair's behavior
and his management's blindness to it. With a cell phone and a laptop, he
claimed to be zig-zagging the country although he never left New York City.
Blair fabricated quotes, copied details from other news organizations and
pretended to interview grief-stricken people he'd never met.
But I don't want to get bogged down in that because everyone
agrees that what Blair did was outrageous. The more exciting topic is the
self-serving, arrogant, nigh-upon propagandistic apology offered by the
The Times says that this episode marks a "a low-point in the
152-year history of the newspaper." For Times worshippers, this was an
admirable admission of wrongdoing. But we skeptics want to know if this
blow to the Times' reputation outranked, say, the newspaper's deliberate
downplaying of the Holocaust?
Did this "journalistic fraud" exceed the Pulitzer-winning
deception of Walter Duranty, the Times correspondent who explicitly lied
about Stalin's purges and forced famines? How about correspondent Herbert
Matthews, who promised the world that the rebel-leader Fidel Castro wasn't
a communist, even as Castro slaughtered innocents and struck deals with the
There's nothing wrong with admitting that this Blair fiasco is a
big deal, but no one died because of anything Blair wrote. It seems the
egos of a few execs are on par with the deaths of millions.
And speaking of the execs, their apologies come across as buying
absolution on the cheap. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times' publisher,
insists that this was all Blair's doing and that no one should "demonize"
OK, but can we blame them? Apparently so, because a reported
backlash in the newsroom forced Sulzberger, Executive Editor Howell Raines,
and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, to admit personal responsibility for the
disaster in a memo to the staff the Monday after the story broke. Funny how
they couldn't find room for that admission in the original 7,000 word
There's really so much more. Time and again the newspaper insists
that Blair's race had nothing to do with this fiasco, angrily denying even
the suggestion that diversity might come at the price of quality.
But when Raines addressed the National Association of Black
Journalists in 2001, he specifically bragged about Blair's blackness,
adding, "This campaign (for diversity) has made our staff better and, more
importantly, more diverse." So excellence does take a back seat to
diversity at the Times.
The Times is caught in a catch-22. As Heather Mac Donald of the
Manhattan Institute explains, by "denying that the Blair fiasco hinges on
race, the Times has left itself open to a far more serious charge: that
winking at journalistic blunders is standard Times practice."
In other words, if Blair wasn't cut slack for being black, such
slackness is standard policy. Numerous Times' veterans say in the past even
a few minor errors would have cost a young reporter his job.
Actually, I doubt that this is entirely about race. Cynthia Cotts
of The Village Voice and others suggest that Raines has hired a new
generation of sycophantic youngsters who cut corners and kiss-up.
It's certainly true that white reporters have committed similar
frauds. But by refusing to cover the Blair story with even an ounce of an
open mind to the race angle, the Times perpetuates its reputation for
allowing political agendas to drive its coverage - even coverage of itself.
Alas, we'll have to leave it there, with so many more aisles of goodies to go.
Jonah Goldberg is editor of
<http://www.nationalreview.com/>National Review Online, a TownHall.com
©2003 Tribune Media Services
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