Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Affirmative action and the N.Y. Times

I haven't spent a great deal of time considering the downfall of Jayson Blair, the New York Times' lying reporter. A number of conservative pundits want to treat Blair's story as a parable on the evils of affirmative action, since Blair was an African-American hired under a Times "diversity" initiative. I'm not convinced that this is a race story. Diversity surely can lead to inferior quality, be it in business or academia, but the problem at the New York Times seems to run much deeper. I suspect Cynthia Cotts, the perceptive media reporter for the Village Voice, is close to the truth:

One Times veteran suggests Blair received excess favor not so much because he was black, but because he was green. According to this source, Blair is typical of the latest crop of reporters anointed by the [Howell] Raines administration. "They're young, they're energetic, they say the right things, they kiss ass—but they don't have the skills to do the jobs they're handed," says the source. "This kind of favoritism is repulsive to people who have been there awhile."

Other insiders say the Blair case is symptomatic of a deeper issue: The Times newsroom does not operate as a meritocracy. Instead, sources say, Raines and [managing editor Gerald] Boyd pick their favorites for whatever reasons and become so invested in showcasing these reporters that they turn a blind eye to their flaws, which are said to range variously from inexperience and laziness to intellectual dishonesty and a high volume of factual errors.
Raines is a whim-worshipping autocrat who lacks the integrity to edit a tabloid, much less a major metropolitan daily. The great thing about the Internet-age, however, is that self-proclaimed authorities like the New York Times are becoming less relevant by the hour. Hopefully the Blair scandal will elevate the Times' decline into irrelevancy.

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