Politics & Policy

The Gray Lady & The Black Reporter

The scandal behind the scandal.

What will be most interesting about the scandal involving New York Times journalist Jayson Blair — the African-American reporter who recently resigned from the Times after he was caught having falsified his stories, a lot of his stories — is not whether we have here a cautionary tale regarding the excesses of standard-lowering in the fanatical pursuit of “diversity.” We obviously do. Rather, what will be fascinating to watch is whether the liberal media will be willing to admit as much. Don’t hold your breath.

Blair was hired as part of an affirmative-action program (the Times itself has admitted that it “offered him a slot in an internship program that was being used to help the paper diversify its newsroom”) and clearly kept on long after it was obvious that he could not write stories without making things up (he’d already been bounced from the metropolitan desk for “mistakes and unprofessional behavior,” according to the Associated Press). Indeed, one of Blair’s editors sent an e-mail to newsroom editors over a year ago that said, “We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.”

#ad#But the Times has, predictably, denied that the Blair matter has anything, anything at all, to do with race. Both executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd have bristled when such a thing was suggested to them. Raines called the affair simply “a tragedy for Jayson Blair,” and Boyd asserted, “It’s not an issue about diversity, but about a reporter who had issues that allowed him to deceive.” (Diversityspeak aside, I love the nobody-is-responsible-for-anything psychobabble of “had issues that allowed him to deceive.”)

The Times is not alone in its racial denial. The president of the National Association of Black Journalists, Condace Pressley, declared that “NABJ stands staunchly opposed to those who ‘play the race card’ in this unfortunate incident.” Keith Alexander, president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists, called it “offensive, damaging and frightening” when media reporter Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post suggested that perhaps a white reporter might not “have gotten away with 50 mistakes and still be at that job.”

Blair was likely benefiting from double, lowered standards before he came to the Times. In the late 1990s, when Blair was attending the University of Maryland, the median SAT verbal score of black enrollees was 60 points lower there than the median white score, and the SAT math score gap was 110 points. The four-year graduation rate for blacks was only 45 percent, versus 66 percent for whites (Blair came to the Times without graduating from Maryland). Black enrollees received some sort of remediation at almost triple the rate of whites: 43 percent of black students had to take at least one remedial course, versus 16 percent for whites. (These figures come from a report by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which obtained the underlying data from the Maryland university system itself.)

Now, to be fair, liberal publications generally, and the Times in particular, are perfectly capable of hiring white reporters who can’t seem to get their facts straight. The Weekly Standard noted, for instance, that Adam Clymer of the Times had to have 36 corrections run on his 400 bylines during the same period when Blair was having 50 corrections run on his 725 bylines (so that Blair’s error rate was only 6.9 percent, compared to Clymer’s 9.0 percent). And Blair is, it seems fair to say, less of a disgrace than The New Republic’s Stephen Glass was.

But of course there is little doubt that Blair would never have been hired in the first place but for his race, and he certainly would have been fired long ago. Clymer is no fraud, and Glass got no second and third chances once his fraud was uncovered. And besides, as the Times’s internal investigation into Blair continues, his correction rate may even surpass Clymer’s.

If race is a factor in deciding who gets hired, promoted, and fired (or not fired), then merit will matter less. That would seem to be an unremarkable truism except for the fact that the proponents of racial preferences so adamantly deny it, even when the evidence stares them straight in the face.

As is typically the case with scandals, it’s not the original misdeed itself that is so damning, but the cover-up. Bad enough to have hired and then kept on a corrupt reporter. But to deny that the reporter was there because of a corrupt system — that is the real scandal.

Roger Clegg is general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Virginia.

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