The Blair Subtext
5 October 2004

Jayson Blair is black. He was a reporter for the New York Times until it was discovered that he made up many things he had reported as the truth. It was a big scandal.

On May 19, 2003, the Times published an op-ed piece by columnist Bob Herbert (who is black) titled "Truth, Lies and Subtext." Here are some quotes from that column and my responses:

The race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting.
I wish the race issue were bogus in this case. It is not.
. . . 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' effort to diversify its newsroom, and beyond that, with the very idea of a commitment to diversity or affirmative action anywhere.
Perhaps we do not "delight in attacking anything black." Perhaps we sadly note that "effort[s] to diversify" often take bizarre forms with predictably negative consequences. Which is what happened in the Blair case.
And while these agitators won't admit it, the nasty subtext to their attack is that there is something inherently wrong with blacks.
My subtext is this: There is something totally screwball with the whole "diversity" issue. Nasty, for sure, but not the same as presuming there is something "inherently wrong with blacks." Herbert's subtext is that if I criticize any form of "diversity" program, no matter how absurd, I must be motivated by racial animosity.
Jayson Blair should have been yanked away from his computer long ago. There had been plenty of warnings. The failure to act on those warnings was a breakdown in management for which the paper is paying a heavy price. I don't want to hear that the devil -- in this case a devil named diversity -- was to blame.
Sorry, Bob. "The devil . . . named diversity . . . was to blame." Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa!! OK, the real devil is not "diversity" in and of itself, the real devil is the all the weird things done in the name of diversity. Feel better now?
The idea that blacks can get away with the journalistic equivalent of murder at The Times because they are black is preposterous.
Hmmm... Ever hear of Jayson Blair?? OK, I guess not.
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.
No, no, Bob, let me explain. *I* don't like to have *you* viewing *me* through *your* stereotypes. I *know* there are fine black reporters. I worked with one once on a special project. But here is the problem. If managers go through vast contortions to pump up the number of blacks in one position or another, then Jayson Blairs are an inevitable result.
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.
Oh, baloney! These days, white males face significant amounts of discriminaton for many entry level positions in media and academia.
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."
It is well within your power to change that situation. All you need to do is to stop demanding positions that you have not rightfully earned.
. . . 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.
To use what I hope was intended as a figure of speech, I will continue to stricke back at stupidities uttered by the likes of Bob Herbert.

Copyright © 2004

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