A new report examining problems at the New York Times rips the newspaper for a lack of communication but downplays the push for racial diversity as a leading factor in its Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.
The 94-page report says it’s “simplistic” to believe promotion of minority reporters like Blair was the essential cause of the calamity.
“The fraud Jayson Blair committed on us and our readers was not a consequence of our diversity program, which has been designed to apply the same rigorous standards of performance we demand of all our staff,” Bill Keller wrote in a summary memo on his first official day as executive editor.
“The problem is, in the Blair case, we failed to measure up to those standards at numerous steps along the way.”
As WorldNetDaily previously reported, former Editor Howell Raines praised Blair and the Times’ minority-recruitment program in a 2001 speech to the National Association of Black Journalists, two years before Blair was exposed for plagiarism, falsified quotations, faked interviews and fraudulent expense reports.
“This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse,” Raines said at the time.
After the scandal became public this year, Raines told a meeting of Times staff:
“I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities. Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. 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 [D.C.] sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”
Among the problems cited, recruiters for the paper did not even check to see if Blair had graduated from the University of Maryland. Blair had not, but as WND reported, the Times has no formal policy requiring its reporters to even have a college degree.
The new probe acknowledges “punches were pulled” in dealing with Blair for two reasons.
One was that holding him back while other interns 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 the perception that some reporters had come to be favored in a ‘star system’ by the executive editor, Howell Raines,” the report stated.
“A failure to communicate – to tell other editors what some people in the newsroom knew [about Blair] – emerges as the single most consistent cause, after Jayson Blair’s own behavior, of this catastrophe.”
New York Times remains committed to racial diversity in workforce
Keller’s memo says rather than diversity, the Blair fiasco “was made possible in part by a climate of isolationism, intimidation, favoritism and unrelenting pressure, and we are determined to correct that. …
“But there is a hunger now at this paper for management: for more careful vetting of the people we hire and promote, for paying more systematic attention to how people perform and how they develop as professionals, for making evaluation routine and training relevant, for more scrupulous policing of accuracy and fairness, for greater clarity about our commitment to diversity.”
And despite the attention on racial promotions, the paper is adamant in continuing its policy favoring minorities.
“For strong reasons both of journalism and justice, [the Times is] committed to deploying a diverse news-gathering staff. We believe the paper must not turn from that commitment,” according to the report.
The probe was also highly critical of editors for not firing bad reporters, as well as speaking harshly to staff.
“Rudeness, demeaning language or humiliation should be deemed unacceptable,” it said, urging the need for civil discourse in preventing future mistakes.
In response to the examination, the Times has decided to hire an ombudsman or “public editor,” the first in its 152-year history.
The ombudsman will be responsible for reviewing reader complaints, and have license to write uncensored commentaries about issues regarding the New York Times.
Among other changes the paper looks to undertake:
The report was compiled by a 28-member committee consisting mainly of employees of the New York Times, plus three outsiders – Louis D. Boccardi, former president and CEO of the Associated Press; Joann Byrd, a former editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and Roger Wilkins, a former Times columnist who is now professor of history and American culture at George Mason University.