Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Times' for a Change

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Times' for a Change

Article excerpt

Wayward Jayson Blair's journalistic felonies were aided and abetted by his paper's tolerance for anonymous sources

Of all the lessons The New York Times, and newspapers in general, should draw from the saga of Jayson Blair, the least significant is the one that is generating the most heated discussion. Though he is young and African American, his race and the Times' avid desire to diversify its newsroom explain little about Blair's ability not just to survive but to flourish at the newspaper during four years of repeated unprofessional behavior that culminated in a long binge of fabrication and plagiarism while assigned to the highest-profile national stories of the moment.

While the usual anti- diversity crowd was charging the Times with a double standard on race last week, the paper's attorneys were at a federal libel trial in Cleveland, vigorously -- and expensively -- defending a reporting mistake in a 2000 article by Fox Butterfield. That's the same Fox Butterfield, national correspondent and white male, who embarrassed the Times in 1991 when it emerged that he had lifted material from a story in The Boston Globe while reporting, ironically, on plagiarism by a Boston University dean. On journalistic merit, Butterfield does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the fabulist Blair -- and we do so only to emphasize that race does not necessarily determine who gets second chances at the Times.

The real lesson from the Blair affair is that the Times' system for dealing with accuracy in its newspaper and discipline in its newsroom is badly broken -- if, indeed, any system exists. …

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