When Diversity Trumps Quality........

John A. Quayle blueoval at SGI.NET
Wed May 14 22:55:07 MDT 2003


Feasting on the Times' 'fraud'
Jonah Goldberg 
(<http://www.townhall.com/columnists/jonahgoldberg/archive.shtml>archive)

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 
there.)

         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 
Grey Lady.

         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 
Soviets?

         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" 
senior management.

         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 
apologia.

         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 
member group.

©2003 Tribune Media Services

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