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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Great Black Hope: The Jayson Blair Case and the New York Times

By Nicholas Stix

June 3, 2003
Originally published in Toogood Reports

Jayson Blair was the Great Black Hope. The white publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and Sulzberger’s white executive editor, Howell Raines, were intent on creating the Great African-American Reporter, and Blair was their guy. No matter, that Sulzberger and Raines were 80 years late. The Great Negro Reporter had already come and gone. George S. Schuyler (1895-1977), whose career was ended by the civil rights movement whose most trenchant critic he was, was a self-made man, who needed no white philanthropist/image-makers to invent him. But that’s a story for another day.

In William McGowan’s excellent book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, McGowan shows how Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s diversity campaign destroyed the Times as a newspaper, if not as a political force, leading to the non-reporting or misreporting of stories big and small. Having covered many of the same stories, and shown how the Times has intentionally misrepresented the facts in many others, I know that McGowan’s criticisms are valid. Indeed, regular newspaper features, and even entire web sites have been devoted to chronicling the Times’ penchant for fraud.

William McGowan reports that at the quasi-revivalist, December, 1992 “joint Diversity Summit Meeting of the of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Newspaper Association of America,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr. “described a breakdown of communications on his multiracial diversity management committee that had its members ‘at each other’s throats.’ The ‘cultural change’ involved in diversity, he said, had proved to be ‘hard, brutal stuff.’ Sulzberger could have been previewing the complaints of the entire industry which followed his lead in the years to come, embracing diversity without really debating it much, and thus finding itself in a quagmire of diversity-related troubles.”

McGowan notes further that Sulzberger “has repeatedly stressed that diversity is ‘the single most important issue’ facing his paper. According to Sulzberger, ‘We can no longer offer our readers a predominantly white, straight male vision of events and say that we, as journalists, are doing our job.”

It never occurred to Sulzberger, that in reducing reality to the conflicting “visions” of irreconcilable groups, he was denying the possibility of objective truth, and thus of journalism.

And the publisher did not brook criticism, whether internal or external. Thus it was, that when McGowan’s ultimately award-winning book was published in 2001, the Times refused to review it, and searches I performed in recent weeks of its database came up with no mention of Coloring the News in the pages of the Times. It was not until the Times ran a letter by McGowan regarding the Blair scandal, on May 16, that an editor’s postscript finally mentioned the title of his book.

During a massive, May 14 meeting held in a local movie theater by the Times for its news staff, Howell Raines stated the obvious, in confessing that he had carried Blair for much too long, simply because he was black.

So much for black Managing Editor Gerald Boyd’s song and dance, ‘What’s Race Got to Do with It?’

A Profile in Black Courage?

And yet, five days after Raines admitted that Blair owed his stay at the Times to race, unrepentant black Times columnist Bob Herbert not only denied the obvious, but went on the offensive, insinuating that any white who refused to kowtow to the party line that he and the mainstream media were promoting, was a sheet-wearing, white supremacist.

Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair’s reporting.

But the folks who delight in attacking anything black, or anything designed to help blacks, have pounced on the Blair story as evidence that there is something inherently wrong with The Times’s effort to diversify its newsroom, and beyond that, with the very idea of a commitment to diversity or affirmative action anywhere.

And while these agitators won’t admit it, the nasty subtext to their attack is that there is something inherently wrong with blacks.

There’s a real shortage of black reporters, editors and columnists at The Times. But the few who are here are doing fine and serious work day in and day out and don’t deserve to be stigmatized by people who can see them only through the prism of a stereotype.

The problem with American newsrooms is too little diversity, not too much. Blacks have always faced discrimination and maddening double standards in the newsroom, and they continue to do so. So do women, Latinos and many other groups that are not part of the traditional newsroom in-crowd.

So let’s be real. Discrimination in the newsroom - in hiring, in the quality of assignments and in promotions - is a much more pervasive problem than Jayson Blair’s aberrant behavior. A black reporter told me angrily last week, ‘After hundreds of years in America, we are still on probation.’

I agree. And the correct response is not to grow fainthearted, or to internalize the views of those who wish you ill. The correct response is to strike back - as hard and as often as it takes.


I wonder if Herbert has confronted Raines yet, regarding the latter’s “misrepresentation” of the Jayson Blair case?

Bob Herbert calls Jayson Blair “a first-class head case,” yet Herbert, the quintessential, upper-middle-class racial thug, would ram ever more incompetent, dishonest black journalists down the throats of whites, and then condemn the whites as racists, for choking on them. Who’s the real “first class head case” here?

Bob Herbert leads a charmed life. He can race-bait whites all he likes, because the Times protects him from criticism. As with other politically correct Times columnists, and especially those who are black or female, the paper rarely if ever publishes any letters to the editor criticizing Herbert. Thus, he has never had to take what he dishes out. Due to the Jayson Blair case, on May 21, Herbert’s editors made the barest of exceptions, publishing the briefest, most restrained letter imaginable contradicting Herbert.

To the Editor:

Bob Herbert (column, May 19) asserts that ‘the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair’s reporting.

This would seem to be at odds with the acknowledgment by The Times’s executive editor, Howell Raines, in a May 15 news article: ‘But 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.

MEL KREITZER Cincinnati, May 19, 2003


Imagine trying to work in a newsroom in which a Bob Herbert is an influential figure, a man who stands ready to denounce - and get fired -any white man who doesn’t know his place on race matters. Now multiply Herbert by a thousand. For there are a few Bob Herberts patrolling every urban and suburban newsroom of any size in America. That is the real meaning of the notion of “critical mass” trumpeted by supporters of affirmative action - having enough incompetent racists on hand to bring an institution to heel.

Telling the Right Kinds of Lies - from the Bob Herbert File

My veteran colleague, Mary Mostert, was the first commentator to point out that Jayson Blair’s fault wasn’t in lying - Timesmen do that every day - but in telling the wrong kinds of lies. Stealing other newspapers’ work, and selling it as your own, is embarrassing, and could lead to the sort of lawsuit where extraordinarily broad interpretations of the First Amendment will not help the offending publisher. The right kind of lying includes lying in an op-ed column about a public figure your bosses hate, or quoting an obvious liar saying something that fits your bosses’ agenda. Herbert is an expert at both methods.

During Rudolph Giuliani’s New York mayoralty (1994-2001), Bob Herbert was a rabid purveyor of the racial profiling hoax, one of the most pernicious of all the many race hoaxes that we have seen since the 1980s. Herbert flat out accused Giuliani of ordering police to terrorize innocent black folks based merely on the color of their skin. Herbert threatened that blacks were no longer going to “tolerate” such persecution.

This was incendiary, deeply dishonest writing. Herbert was doing his darnedest to provoke race riots, without ever providing one iota of evidence to back up the charges he made against Giuliani. (Oddly, a couple of months ago, Herbert pulled a 180, and gave Giuliani credit for reducing crime in New York during his tenure. But the compliment was a rhetorical throwaway, to manufacture instant credibility for an attack on a new, white mayor.)

Note that while Herbert seeks to provoke race riots, he also believes that police must be handcuffed, in the face of rioters – or at least, non-white rioters.

In a story from the mid-1990s, during Rudy Giuliani’s first term as mayor, Herbert told of the fatal police shooting of a black murder suspect in his car, by white policemen in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Police on the scene - who supposedly did not know the driver was wanted for a murder – had a call that the car the man was driving had been reported stolen. When they told the driver to freeze, he made a move for something; they fired. It turned out that he had been reaching for the anti-theft tool, “the club.”

Never mind that a policeman’s paycheck does not oblige him to be a mind-reader, or to risk dying at the hands of a suspect who, ignoring his orders, makes sudden hand movements. For Herbert, it is acceptable behavior for a man told to freeze by police, to go about his usual parking routine. But then, Herbert never had to face down death, while keeping the streets safe.

But Herbert went way beyond that. He quoted a hairdresser from a nearby beauty parlor, as claiming that the police had yelled the “n”-word at the black driver, just before shooting him.

Rather than seek to dilute the fantastic nature of the hairdresser’s claim (fantastic, that is, to anyone who knows the streets of New York), Herbert laid it on even thicker. The hairdresser maintained that, while everyone else on the street dove for cover amid the fusillade, in the shooting zone she stood and watched, calmly smoking a cigarette.

Note that the neighborhood was black. Cops who shout the “n”-word in black neighborhoods don’t live very long.

In almost eighteen years in New York City, I don’t believe I have never heard a single white call a single black the “n”-word. (The qualification is due to a young white drug dealer in Far Rockaway, Queens, whom I had long assumed to be Puerto Rican. I may have once heard him use the term against a black rival.) During that time, I’ve only heard whites say the word in private three times. Of course, during those years, I’ve heard the “n”-word spoken in public over one million times. But roughly ninety five percent of those times, the speaker was black; the other times, the speaker was Puerto Rican. Trashy Puerto Ricans have honorary black status, which is why a couple of years ago, actress Jennifer Lopez, who is from The Bronx, felt she had the prerogative to publicly use the “n”-word. She was widely and unfairly attacked by blacks, who reneged on a longstanding, implicit agreement between blacks and trashy Puerto Ricans. (I suppose it served Lopez right, since her parents are not trashy people.)

The Good Old Days

As William McGowan reports, already in 1991, the Times’ then-editor-in-chief, Max Frankel, “admitted at a forum at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that because of political considerations he would hesitate to fire a black female reporter if she was ‘less good’; minority staffers at the New York Times said that Frankel was being patronizing and that his admission threw their competence into doubt.” I always thought that it was never patronizing to tell the truth; rather, it’s patronizing when you lie to people, and tell them they are better than you think they are, in order not to hurt their feelings.

And yet, compared to now, in 1991, the Times was a meritocratic utopia. In 1992, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (whose nickname is “Pinch,” following his father’s moniker of “Punch”) took the reins from his father, as the Times’ publisher. As Stanley Kurtz notes in a National Review Online article on the Jayson Blair case, citing Harry Stein’s book, How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace):

“Pinch was a political activist in the Sixties, and was twice arrested in anti-Vietnam protests. One day, the elder Sulzberger asked his son what Pinch calls, ‘the dumbest question I’ve ever heard in my life.’ If an American soldier runs into a North Vietnamese soldier, which would you like to see get shot? Young Arthur answered, ‘I would want to see the American get shot. It’s the other guy’s country.’ Some Sixties activists have since thought better of their early enthusiasms. Pinch hasn’t.

“Sulzberger once remarked that if older white males were alienated by the changes he was making to the Times, that would only prove ‘we’re doing something right.’ Clearly, by Pinch’s standards, the Times has lately been doing very well indeed.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is an emperor of the media world. That means that, surrounded by sycophants, family retainers, and bodyguards, instead of knowing more about reality than anyone else, he is as insulated from reality as a man can be, short of living in a cave.

Instead of challenging Sulzberger, and seeking to knock him off the top of the hill, most leading newspapers slavishly follow his lead, even to the point of basing their reporting around the Times. Thus it was that Jayson Blair’s fraudulent sniper story (about the supposed source of suspect John Muhammad’s “anger,” anger which Blair had also invented) was echoed around the country, and the world. Leading newspapers also slavishly follow Sulzberger’s lead, when promulgating their personnel and journalistic policies.

At the beginning of Coloring the News, William McGowan cites a 1996 poll, in which 40 percent of white journalists believed that “lower standards for promotion were applied to blacks. They also frequently complain that race, ethnicity and gender play an unfair role in assignment policies; that managers indulge behavior from minority colleagues (including racist behavior) for which they themselves would be fired or demoted …”

Granted, such complaints are, in themselves, subjective statements that may or may not be true. But McGowan spends the rest of his book proving that they are objectively true.

McGowan describes the mainstream media - particularly the biggest daily newspapers, but also TV news, as a business which, regarding the crucial issues of the day, simply cannot be trusted to get the story right. Large media organizations routinely hire unqualified, unprofessional black and Hispanic reporters and editors essentially as political cadres, and give them control over urban and ethnic reporting (doing the same thing with openly gay reporters for “gay” issues). Rather than honestly report on the beats they control, the diversity hires make a point of cheerleading for the groups they identify with, “killing” real investigative stories that bear on those groups, and harassing any white reporter with the temerity to try and do his job, until he either gives up or quits. Indeed, mirroring the consolidation of socialist power in America’s universities, which pushed out thousands of dedicated instructors and administrators, many veteran newsmen - themselves invariably old-time liberals – have left the most respected newspapers or the profession altogether, over the past ten years, unable to overcome politically corrupt editors and publishers, the anti-white-male diversity training sessions, or the black, Hispanic, gay and feminist newsroom enforcers.

(In Speaking Freely, the second volume of his autobiography, journalist Nat Hentoff talks about how many longtime colleagues at the Village Voice simply stopped talking to him, after he announced that he was opposed to abortion. Had Hentoff not been a journalistic institution, and one of the few original Voice staffers still around 35 years after the paper’s founding, he’d surely have been fired.)

And so it was, that many mainstream media reporters, rather than gleefully expose the corruption at 43rd St, have rushed to put out the fire, engaging in unpaid damage control for their supposed rival. That is how powerfully entrenched affirmative action/diversity is in the media, the truth be damned. (Some observers have argued that such self-censorship in reports on the Times is based on reporters’ hopes for a job at 43rd Street.)

The current red herring meant to take readers’ eyes off the prize, is the claim that Blair was a junkie (white, powder cocaine), a drunk, and a manic-depressive. However, since he has supposedly been clean and sober for over one year - i.e., during the time of his greatest fabrications and plagiaries – his alleged addictions are irrelevant to his downfall. Are reporters such as Newsweek’s Seth Mnookin trying to tell us that Blair’s problem was that he was clean and sober, or are they just trying to confuse us?

The most hysterical attempt at damage control was performed by New York Magazine’s Michael Wolff. In a snide, incoherent rant in the May 26 issue, Wolff seeks to distract the reader from raising any of the obvious questions with gutter language (“The kid was a f---up.”) and white-baiting (“[Blair] was there, in the angry-white-man interpretation, because the black No. 2 editor, Gerald Boyd, was his patron.”)

Wolff denigrates the claim that the Blair scandal was the worst in the paper’s 152-year history, but the two examples he gives as supposedly trumping it, serve only to undermine his case. He blames the Times for not revealing in advance, in 1961, its knowledge of the CIA’s plan for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, never considering that such a story would probably have landed the Times’ editors in prison - and rightly so – for treason. The other example he cites is the Wen Ho Lee case. The Times attacked the Los Alamos scientist who was suspected of passing nuclear secrets to the Red Chinese, and who was formally charged with dozens of crimes. Later, the paper published “an epic correction.” But this example is dishonest. Wen Ho Lee was never acquitted of any of the charges against him, and was convicted on one charge. That excepting the one charge, his prosecution was dropped, was due solely to media-aided race-baiting by Asian political hustlers.

Wolff does turn one nifty line (“The Times suggests that [the deceptions] were the result of the young man’s emotional problems - he is now commonly referred to as a sociopath, which probably means he was very charming ...”), but otherwise seems envious that he doesn’t work at the Times. Ultimately, Wolff comes off like a cloning experiment gone terribly wrong, in which a scientist tried to create a liberal version of the great wit, Mark Steyn.

Is Wolff married to his publisher’s daughter, or something?

In a May 26 essay in Insight magazine,however, New York comedienne and columnist, Julia Gorin, did manage to mine some humor from the Blair saga. Gorin, you see, actually worked at the Times as an advertising department temp, typing up ads that customers called in. Meanwhile, she tried to get a reporting job. Walking around with news clippings ready to spring on editors, like a Hollywood waiter with a screenplay tucked into his cumberbund, Gorin got only abuse for her trouble.

“Then I heard about the summer-internship program that Blair would get his start in, a conduit for an eventual staff position. I inquired but was told I was the wrong color; the internship was geared toward minorities. So I told them I was Jewish, an even smaller minority than black at 2 percent of the country’s population. But that seemed only to elicit giggles.

“It was just assumed that Jews are industrious and successful and never in need of a boost. Well, I’m tired of that vicious stereotype! This Jew has been struggling for eight years. I just may be the poorest Jew in the country. I’ve actually had to borrow money from black friends. What a country!”

Gorin quotes the 11 May Times report on Blair: “His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional.... Blair was further rewarded when he was given responsibility for leading the coverage of the [D.C.] sniper prosecution.”

“The only warnings I ever got were my walking papers. Blair’s foul-ups resulted in a promotion!

“Blair’s immediate supervisor, Jeanne Pinder, told the Times’ investigative team on this that she ‘offered to discuss Mr. Blair’s history and habits with anybody’ - mostly, she said, ‘because we wanted him to succeed.’

“No one ever cared if I succeeded! No one fought for me with the higher-ups! If a temporary assignment was up, and no one had bothered to do an evaluation, I wasn’t given a second thought. It was like: Oh, is she still here? We don’t need anyone!

“But back to Blair: By way of explaining his being hired from the initial internship program, recruiting editor Sheila Rule said that during his 10 weeks as an intern, ‘He did well. He did very well.

“This same lady told me to go work at a newspaper in another city for 50 years first, then come back and try the Times. Why was I so married to working for the Times anyway, she wanted to know.

“While he was at the Times, Blair even had the confidence to be contentious with editors who gave him a problem, and pull on them the rank of others.

“What chutzpah! I envy the protection Blair had.

“All the while, the Times describes many in the newsroom as having grown fond of ‘the affable’ Blair. ‘He had charisma, enormous charisma,’ Times media reporter David Carr said.

“Whereas my charisma usually is resented! Of course, if there’s one thing we know about the Times, it’s that charisma goes a long way. This wasn’t the first time a black man’s charisma charmed the objectivity right out of the newspaper and allowed him to get away with all but murder, lest we forget Bill Clinton.”

Inasmuch as in college (the jury is still out on his high school career), Jayson Blair was already known by colleagues to be a habitual liar and plagiarist, and then, as he received increasing encouragement from his superiors and other well-wishers, became ever more audacious in his frauds and plagiaries, he resembles one of the earliest beneficiaries of affirmative action, long before the term had even been coined. As my old Chronicles editor, Ted Pappas, shows in his book, Plagiarism and the Culture Wars, already as a child, Martin Luther King Jr. coveted other people’s words. And as King was helped along by supporters at mostly white institutions of higher education, and then became a preacher and civil rights leader, his plagiaries became ever more audacious.

Jayson Blair may not plan on becoming a civil rights leader, but he claims to be a victim of white racism, and already has retained an agent, in order to cash in on his new-found notoriety. And more than a few black folks have depicted him as a martyr to white racism. Maybe he can still be the Great Black Hoax, er, Hope.

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