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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, May 13, 2003  
Jayson Blair and the diversity sham

School-reformers rightly criticize so-called "social promotions" whereby minority kids keep getting passed until they graduate, unable to read or write. It's frustrating to note this sort of thing occurs not only in classrooms but in newsrooms, at the highest levels of American journalism.

Romenesko is all over the Jayson Blair scandal.

So is Media Minded, who offers a personal anecdote:

About 10 years ago, a black co-worker of mine at a 12,000-circulation daily was hired to be a copy editor by a 300,000-plus metro daily after just a year of reporting. He wasn't seeking a job; THEY contacted HIM from a list he'd filled out at a minority-recruitment job fair in college, and HE didn't even have any experience as a copy editor! Meanwhile, I was ALREADY an editor, and had been in the business a couple of years longer than this guy, but I had been told a few months earlier by my boss that I might be ready for such a job "in a couple of years."

It was one of those things that made me question my support for affirmative action, and a lot of other things I used to take for granted. (I was a "good liberal" back then. Absolutely swimming in white guilt. I even voted for Clinton -- gladly.) Then came a job interview at a 55,000-circulation paper a few months after that. The formal part of the process went fine. But at an informal lunch, I was told by a rank-and-file reporter that, hey, sorry kid, but you don't have a shot, because our bosses told us they were intent on hiring a minority. Which they did...

Welcome to the wonderful world of newsroom diversity. There are so many more stories I could tell, but time won't permit it.

Having been on the receiving end of just this sort of speech, I can say MM's story rings true. Looking back, I can say, perhaps I wasn't qualified for this or that job, but even so, I'd rather have been turned down on merit -- on the up-and-up. Basing hires on race not only places an unfair stumbling block before the candidate of the wrong color who is truly qualified, but also provides a false but handy excuse for rejecting a candidate of the wrong hue who is unqualified for lack of experience or other reasons. In either case, the end result is resentment.

Meantime, this from TimesWatch:

Melissa Block, a host of the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered," interviewed Times executive editor Howell Raines on the Blair fiasco--and challenged Raines with a rather incriminating blast from Raines' past:

"Mr. Raines, you spoke to a convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001, and you specifically mentioned Jayson Blair as an example of the Times spotting and hiring the best and brightest reporters on their way up. You said, 'This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.' And I wonder now, looking back, if you see this as something of a cautionary tale, that maybe Jayson Blair was given less scrutiny or more of a pass on the corrections to his stories that you had to print because the paper had an interest in cultivating a young, black reporter."

Raines' defensive reply: "No, I do not see it as illustrating that point. I see it as illustrating a tragedy for Jayson Blair, that here was a person who under the conditions in which other journalists perform adequately decided to fabricate information and mislead colleagues. And it is--you know, I don't want to demonize Jayson, but this is a tragedy of failure on his part."

It sounds like a failure of nerve on the part of Raines. And as for his proud admission to the NABJ that increasing racial diversity was more important to him than increasing the quality of his paper's journalism--that's just pathetic.

The National Association of Black Journalists has released a statement reading, in part: NABJ stands staunchly opposed to those who "play the race card" in this unfortunate incident. While Jayson Blair is black, his race has nothing to do with allegations of misconduct.

But race had everything to do with his holding and keeping a job at the NYT.

See this NRO review from 2001 of William McGowan's Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism. And visit the Coloring the News website.


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