need more stuff?

May 16, 2003

You can read more than

Daniel Radosh

You can read more than anyone would want to about the Jayson Blair Affair over at Romenesko, so I won't say much. But it's odd that the debate over the race angle comes down to either "it wasn't about race" or "this proves how bad affirmative action is." It seems clear to me that this is a problem of lousy management filtered through a affirmative action. That is, the diversity program itself need not have been a problem -- there are reasons to give preference to minority journalists in hiring, and to work with them longer than you might otherwise at the beginning. The media already suffers from being overwhelmingly white. Having a few young reporters who take longer to learn the ropes won't hurt it much more, and when they eventually become good reporters, they'll improve it more than those white reporters would have. The problem is that Howell Raines didn't follow a "diversity program," he followed his own whims. He made a personal decision -- whether because Blair was black or a charming suck-up or (probably) both -- to cover-up his flaws, promote him too rapidly, and so on. There's nothing inherent in the idea of promoting diversity that says you have to do that. Maybe the Times never wrote down its policy, just expected that an enlightened white person could make calls on the fly (Farai Chideya explains why this never works in the one piece that Romenesko hasn't linked to. Poorly written, but interesting once you figure out what she's trying to say at the end). The solution is not to scrap affirmative action programs, but rather to make sure they're just that, programs. Hold Howell Raines responsible for inept management -- if he's not fired, or severely punished, the Times can't recover -- but don't blame the worthwhile ideal of diversity just because that's what Raines thought he was acting on.

All this calls to mind (I mean my mind, of course) my 1995 New York Press column about the Times correction page. Now with extra hindsight!

Update: I'm not alone. The Antic Muse has a very similar (if more elegantly expressed) take on the situation. Also worth a look: Neal Pollack on why "black people must not be allowed to practice journalism in America anymore."

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2