After the Jayson Blair fiasco, the New York Times promised its readers that it wouldn’t fake them out anymore. Then its publisher proceeded to fake them out about the firing of Howell Raines. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger led them to believe that Raines offered his resignation and he passively accepted it. Raines told interviewer Charlie Rose that Sulzberger, afraid of a staff mutiny, demanded his resignation. So even as Sulzberger assured readers that the paper’s inaccurate reporting wouldn’t continue, he was inaccurately reporting the firing of his editor.
Now comes more inaccurate reporting from the top of the paper: New editor Bill Keller is trying to fake out readers about the role of race in the Jayson Blair episode. “The fraud Jayson Blair committed on us and our readers was not a consequence of our diversity program,” writes Keller. This is false reporting. Read Raines’s own words at a post-Blair New York Times powwow: “Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts [Blair] appeared to be a promising young minority reporter…I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities…[You] have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”
Keller’s statement can’t even be squared with the Siegal report in which it appeared. The report acknowledges in a roundabout way that the Blair scandal stemmed from a diversity program gone bust: “And despite the fact that at times there was the necessary rigor in the management of Jayson Blair, sometimes punches were pulled in dealing with this young reporter for two reasons: One, as one manager described it, was that holding him back while other interns (minority and nonminority) went ahead might be seen as discriminatory. The other was a whiff of favoritism in the newsroom, a sense — advanced by Blair himself — that he had friends in high places at the paper. These sentiments flowed from a perception that some reporters had come to be favored in a ‘star system’ by the executive editor, Howell Raines, and from the fact that, like Blair, Gerald Boyd, who was then managing editor, is black.”
Can’t Keller read his own report? Metro editor Jonathan Landman, in testimony appearing in the report, spells the scandal out for him: “It was clear that Gerald [Boyd] felt pressure to promote Jayson and that he thought it was the right thing to do. The racial dimension of this issue and Gerald’s obvious strong feelings made it especially sensitive; in that sense it is fair to say that I backed off a bit more than I would have if race had not been a factor…I think race was the decisive factor in his promotion.”
From now on, vows the Times, we will tell the truth. This is hard to take seriously when its publisher and editor won’t tell the truth themselves. The “accuracy problem” at the Times starts with them.
At the end of the Siegal report appears “A Note on Affirmative Action, a statement from Roger Wilkins.” Even this contains a bald-faced lie. Wilkins says, “The Times‘s recruitment occurs mainly within the context of the American culture, with all of the extraordinary freight that it has accumulated in the 400 years since Europeans first set foot on this continent and encountered the people who already lived here. Essentially that culture taught that white men were the only people qualified to carry out the serious business of the world.”
Did Jayson Blair ever publish in the Times as outrageous a false claim as that one?