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Black and white and read all over?

Partha is technically correct: there is no formal proof that race was a deciding or even relevant factor in the Jayson Blair scandal. For all we know, Blair could have gotten special treatment because he was a University of Maryland graduate. (Or at least a pretend University of Maryland graduate, since he never actually did the work.) But to the best of our knowledge, Blair wasn't hired under an affirmative-action-for-Terrapins program. He was hired under an affirmative-action-for-ethnic-minorities program. To the best of our knowledge, the top brass at the New York Times never spoke out on the need to increase the ranks of turtle fans at the paper. The top brass at the New York Times spoke out on the need to increase the ranks of minorities at the paper. To the best of our knowledge, executives at the New York Times never singled out Blair as an example of his alma mater's importance to the paper. Executives at the New York Times singled out Blair as an example of his race's importance to the paper.

There is, of course, no evidence that Blair's malfeasance was caused by his race -- but that's a strawman, since nobody was claiming such. He's not corrupt because he's black; he's corrupt because he's corrupt. The issue is whether the treatment of Blair -- kid gloves doesn't even begin to cover it -- was affected by his race. And in that, there's no doubt. He was hired under an affirmative action program with virtually no credentials not even a college degree. His own editor at the paper -- as the Times' own narrative recounts -- felt that Blair's race made his promotions a fait accompli.

There aren't that many possibilities. Either

  • Blair is the first dishonest reporter they've hired, or
  • Black and white reporters alike get away with murder at the Times, or
  • Blair got special treatment.
And why would he get special treatment? No, there's no smoking gun memo saying, "I know Blair's work is shoddy, but let's be lenient with him because he's black." (At least, none I know of. Boy wouldn't it be a journalistic coup to find it, if there were.) But the Times was openly lenient with Blair for his lack of credentials, because of his race. And the Times was incredibly indulgent of him during his career there, despite his poor performance. Connect those dots, and where do you end up?


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Comments (3)


I have a slightly different take on this story that nobody else has seen fit to mention. Everyone who was involved with Jayson Blair states that he was a smart person who worked extremely hard to prove himself. The truth of the matter is that Jayson Blair is a con man. He conned everyone he worked with to get ahead. How else did he get his Journalism professors to praise him to the heavens when he did not even finish his degree?

When you read the NY Times article you see that he was an expert at playing office politics. As an intern he was on a first name basis with Raines and Boyd. He (an intern!) even recommended Boyd (his boss's boss!) for a special award. He had the brass at the Times eating out of his hand.

In the post below, Partha quotes Richard Cohen as follows:
However, he does admit that Blair "clearly has talent" as a reporter.

Sure he had talent, but as a con man, not as a reporter. The other reporters had a handicap that he did not have. They had to stick to the facts. They actual had to interview people in order to write their articles. It is so much easier to scoop the other reporters if you make it all up!

Dave S:

Richard, Terry Neal makes similar points in the Washington Post:


I don't entirely agree with him, because I'm not sure that the Post and Times are that comparable. A number of my friends from college went into journalism after graduation (within the past few years), and I am under the impression that the Post and other papers hire a lot more people straight out of college than the Times does (a few of my friends went to the Post, but none to the Times). In fact, someone I know said that it was impossible to get a job at the Times straight out of college "unless you're a minority." I'm sure some of that was just sour grapes, but it's still interesting.

The other problem I have with the Neal piece, besides the one you raise, is that he conflates plagiarism and fiction-writing. A reporter should of course be guilty of neither, but the former is not nearly as egregious as the latter. The former is "mere" professional fraud -- you're cheating your employer and your original source -- while the latter is consumer fraud. The number one thing a newspaper reader needs is accuracy. Originality is a distant second.


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