Letters

Readers respond to "The Forbidden Truth About Jayson Blair," by Eric Boehlert.


Salon Staff
May 16, 2003 12:03AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

These are good times for the racial vultures among us, descending on the carcass of Jayson Blair's career and gleefully licking their chops.

Let this feeding frenzy be a warning, especially to the "conservative" blacks out there who seem to think that the color bar has been lowered to a point where a black person can rise or fall on his or her merits as a human being. The harping on this misguided and obviously troubled young man's race as the reason for the debacle at the venerable New York Times is proof that the white sheets are now mostly worn internally.

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It pains me to the core to search and search to find a case where any white journalist's misdeeds of plagiarism or fabrication were blamed on his race or religion, and to find no such instance. We've got a long way to go, baby!

-- Pauline Graham Binder

As a professional writer, I think a lot of the blame has to be placed squarely on the editors Blair worked with, and the managers they worked for. Did they read his stuff before it went out? Did they check anything? Obviously he screwed up, but editors and managers are supposed to at least catch unintentional things. Not catching the things that were intentional is inexcusable.

-- Sylvia French

We've all read the New York Times' own piece by now and heard on NPR the dozens of post-Blair analyses. Why won't anyone call this man what he is -- a sociopath? Hundreds of young reporters of all races step into deep waters every year, and make errors, and fall on their faces. I sure did.

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Blair, however, went where no normal person goes. He falsified expense reports. He lied about his whereabouts. He made up quotes. He made up stories out of whole cloth. He even went into photo databases to steal the physical details he needed for his deceptions. He plagiarized, then looked into his editor's eyes and lied.

This is not a struggling young "talent" who needs mentoring. He is one sick puppy. Howell Raines and others shouldn't keep beating themselves up over Blair. They should burn his desk and move on.

-- Gita M. Smith

The role of race in the Jayson Blair scandal is very confusing. Or rather, the fact there are those who deny that race played a role is what's confusing. No one is suggesting that Blair's fraud was a result of his race. Therefore, comparing it to other similar scandals is not the issue. The question is, if Blair weren't black, would the various hints that there were problems with his work have been acted upon sooner?

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-- Daniel Greenbaum

The adage still holds true: Never believe everything that you read.

I find these explanations about race infuriating. Readers don't know the race of their articles. The news should be colorblind. The net result is that the New York Times cannot be trusted as the "paper of record." Then again, so much news is fabricated and created by spin doctors (witness Rumsfeld's news conferences), that I wonder if anyone can be trusted.

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Still, the gold standard for journalism has been tarnished. And why? Style over substance has won out again.

-- Howard Salmon

The New York Times will keep talking about this mess until someone finds a way to whitewash Blair's crimes. Of course, journalism, like every facet of society, has been brought to low and lower standards by trying to hire blacks for jobs for which they are not qualified in order to show diversity, as if this is some magic word that will correct all evils of nasty racism. Boyd is up to his eyeballs in the diversion of critical oversight, and so are his supervisors.

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It is all about race, but by the time the New York Times puts a spin on it, it will be blamed on a low-watt light bulb in the editing room.

-- Jim Hathorn

Jayson Blair got over for so long the same way a lot of white screw-ups get over -- he was a championship schmoozer and ass kisser, and that made him tight with the boys in power. If anything, this episode illustrates that all the professional or academic credentials in the world don't equal being in favor with the people who have the power and influence. Was he in their favor because he was black? That may be why he initially got on their radar, but it's not what kept him there.

Those plagiarized and fabricated stories had sizzle, and stories that sizzle sell papers (or at least that's the hope). One black person screws up (yes, in a colossal way) and suddenly that one event is a referendum on affirmative action and diversity programs. Forget about all the "evils" of the aforementioned that so many people are crowing about now, and think of the collateral damage to black journalists. How long do you think it will take for a genuinely talented and honest black journalist to get that close to Raines or Boyd again, and legitimately benefit from their mentorship? I wouldn't hold my breath.

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-- Stacey E. Singleton

My thanks to Eric Boehlert for reminding us of all the white journalists who in recent years have caused scandals with their nefarious "reporting" techniques. I'd forgotten about Mike Barnicle's shenanigans. He's doing very well these days with his gig on "Hardball," isn't he?

And what about Doris Kearns Goodwin, grande dame of academe and ubiquitous media presence? She plagiarized repeatedly, and then tried to pooh-pooh how much theft she'd engaged in. When that didn't hold water, she blamed her assistant -- her note-taking "process" was just a little dysfunctional, that was all. Then, after a minor fracas and a slight slap on the wrist by means of public embarrassment, Goodwin was back in the spotlight. Her career and status at Harvard were never in serious doubt, were they?

So please, enough with the affirmative action angle. All these incidents prove is that in the media and academic life it's who you know, not what you know; all that matters is if the story is likable, not whether it's true.

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-- Mark Haag

I think the race debate in this case obscures bigger issues about the New York Times in particular and the journalism profession in general (and I speak as someone who's been a reporter for 22 years, half his life). I think the bigger story is the complete, absolute, utter cluelessness of the New York Times newsroom management.

Just one example: Why didn't it occur to them that nobody else was chasing the "scoops" Blair fabricated? One of the real pleasures of my work is getting a beat on a story and then watching everyone else play catch-up; I would think it a dead giveaway when nobody did that with some of Blair's stories. It's like the principle of being able to reproduce scientific experiments. If it can't be done, there's something wrong.

What I find interesting, as somebody who works for a much smaller newspaper, is that this could never have gone on this long where I work. My editors can't afford to be as clueless as Howell Raines, et al. It just comes back to bite them too quickly and too hard.

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In the end, it isn't a matter of race. It's a matter of incompetence at the top and dishonesty at the bottom. Neither of those are peculiar to newspapers. It's just easier for everybody to see the results.

-- Tom Pantera


Salon Staff

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