- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

The New York Times has become a case study on the effects of affirmative action in the newsroom since the resignation of Jayson Blair, a black reporter who left the paper May 1 under charges of plagiarism and fraud.

A memo to Times staffers yesterday from Publisher Arthur Sulzburger, Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd said that “our organizational safeguards and our individual responses were insufficient,” and it guaranteed “improved safeguards.”

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said yesterday that the paper had no further comment about Mr. Blair.

But the Media Research Center is calling the situation “Raines-gate,” implying that Mr. Raines chose racial quotas over journalistic quality, to the detriment of his paper. The center chronicles the Times’ travails at www.timeswatch.org.

Despite the Times’ publishing a detailed explanation and apology on its front page Sunday, the center says it believes that Mr. Raines and the Times have yet to admit that they were fooled by Mr. Blair’s guile to maintain minority representation on the staff.

“Mr. Raines needs to stop dodging,” the center’s Clay Waters said. “According to Times columnist William Safire, the editors had ‘plenty of warning: his 50-plus corrections in less than four years as a reporter, his evasion of questions about his whereabouts, complaints from colleagues.’ Why was Jayson Blair continually carried by the Times in the face of these developments?”

Some observers are blunt.

“To what extent did NYT editors not pass on their doubts about Blair for fear of being called racists?” asked Slate’s Mickey Kaus yesterday, calling the situation the “huge and preventable Blair scandal.”

Columnist Andrew Sullivan faulted the Times for not investigating Mr. Blair’s troubles earlier because, in Mr. Raines’ words, he did not want to “stigmatize” the young writer, who was said to be chummy with Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd.

“Am I the only person that sees a racial dimension to that word? It’s almost an admission that any criticism of a black staffer is somehow racially stigmatizing. When you hear words like that, you get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the p.c. newsroom. Offending minority journalists is more of a no-no than allowing the paper’s reputation to hit a 152-year low,” Mr. Sullivan wrote on AndrewSullivan.com yesterday.

The 3,300-member National Association of Black Journalists calls Mr. Blair’s resignation a “wake-up call” for the press in general.

“Such breaches of trust are especially damaging at times like these, when it is so vitally important for citizens to have confidence in what they read in their newspapers or see and hear in news broadcasts,” said Condace Pressley, the group’s president. “There is no room in our profession for those who betray both their fellow journalists, and the readers and viewers they serve.”

She continued, “Suggesting Blair’s alleged actions reflect on the thousands of black journalists who daily uphold the highest standards of our profession is not only laughable and ludicrous, but also inaccurate and insulting.”

Joseph Torres, spokesman for the 2,000-member National Association of Hispanic Journalists, called Mr. Blair’s infractions “unspeakable, regardless of race.” He added that “to equate diversity in the newsroom with lowering journalistic standards is false.”

“It is an unfortunate situation that Jayson Blair violated the fundamental rules of journalism. However, it is only happenstance that Blair is a journalist of color,” said Mae Cheng, president of the 1,700-member Asian American Journalists Association.

“His race did not play into his actions, and therefore other journalists of color should not be penalized for the errors of one individual,” she said.

A 2003 newsroom “census” by the American Society of Newspaper Editors showed that the 55,000-member national print-press corps includes 2,919 blacks, 1,435 Asian-Americans, 2,212 Hispanics and 289 American Indians.


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