In the biggest blow to the “paper of record’s” credibility in its 152-year history, on May 1, Jayson Blair, the 27-year-old supposed journalism phenom, resigned from The New York Times after admitting to committing plagiarism in a number of articles. Considering his history of falsification, the implications of his resignation and the facts concerning his employment at the Times, there is little doubt of his guilt. One other thing: he is black.
If that last sentence seems startling, if it seems out of place and irrelevant – inappropriate even – it would be wise to direct attention toward conservatives who are turning this incident into an argument against taking measures to promote diversity in the workplace. Those with a predisposition to dislike the Gray Lady because they abhor the paper’s liberal editorial positions and envy its unrivaled prestige in the world of journalism are quick to mention executive editor Howell Raines’ comments at the 2001 National Association of Black Journalists convention focusing on the Times’ commitment to achieving diversity. Raines specifically cited Blair as an outstanding example of a talented young black reporter. He said, “This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, diverse.” This statement is now being used to imply that the Times’ folly was the result of prioritizing diversity over quality.
While allowing Blair’s star to rise unimpeded for so long in the face of numerous errors certainly is disgraceful, Raines’ assertion that having a diverse staff is an asset to the entire newspaper, is on the mark. Any newspaper that purports to present unbiased news including a variety of viewpoints has the responsibility of attempting to represent a variety of demographic groups. For a newspaper such as the Times, which caters to a diverse nation – and indeed, to the entire world – it is of particular importance that as many ethnicities as possible be represented. This is important not only to ensure that equal opportunities are granted to all ethnicities, but also to increase the credibility of the newspaper in the eyes of readers. Furthermore, it is these policies of inclusion that have helped minorities join the ranks of the elite in this country.
The real problem encountered by the Times is not its emphasis on diversity. Instead, the issue at hand is a failure by the paper’s editors. They ignored his factual errors not once or twice, but repeatedly. Not even the desire to create a diverse workplace can excuse this.
The Times’ article about the fiasco features metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman claiming that he did all in his power to make Blair’s journalistic inadequacies known; however, Landman also claims that he “wasn’t asked so much as told” when Blair would be promoted.
The most logical explanation for this mess is that those at the top of the ladder neglected and ignored lower-ranking editors. In this environment, it is evident how a charismatic and seemingly hardworking employee such as Blair could climb from being a lowly intern to a staff reporter covering stories of great import.
In reality, the Blair debacle is not a matter of race at all, though it is being marketed as one by opponents of affirmative action. Instead, it is the result of a tremendous organizational failure. Affirmative action in the work place is invaluable and is being unjustly attacked because of one journalistic con artist’s skin color.