We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
The New York Times should be ashamed of itself for abrogating “the trust between the newspaper and its readers,” as chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. put it. But the Jayson Blair affair is the least of the newspaper’s transgressions against truth. Racism, not affirmative action, is what ails the Times.
By rights, the Times’ embarrassment should be of no collective concern to Black people. Whites control every important aspect of the publication’s decision making. White management devised their own version of what they chose to call affirmative action, hiring those Blacks that appealed to their corporate tastes. Black people in general bear no responsibility for white people’s hiring decisions. Yet, in the wake of 27-year-old Blair’s alleged plagiarisms and fictions, media racists immediately sought to somehow blame the very concept of affirmative action for what is, at root, just another instance of white management incompetence. “Affirmative action” didn’t hire Blair, and Blair didn’t hire and assign himself–white management did.
There is a deeper current underlying this story, one that allows the Times to escape its own responsibilities by hiding behind supposed good intentions. The paper poses as a social do-gooder, when in reality it is an unreconstructed bigot. The Times needs an affirmative action program because it does a terrible job of hiring competent Black reporters, many hundreds of whom are willing and able to perform the corporate mission. The same racism that has historically prevented the Times from sufficiently staffing itself with minorities also causes it to hire the wrong candidates. White people have been screwing up affirmative action since before the term was coined, sometimes on purpose, more often through an inability to objectively assess non-whites–one of the definitions of racism.
Assault on The Gray Lady
The Blair denouement was bigger news than a thousand dead Iraqis. Basically, the story was framed as an affirmative action-induced erosion of standards at the highest levels of journalism–an assault on American media integrity as represented by The New York Times. Blacks were having their corrupt way with the Gray Lady–a symbol of white intelligence and competence as potent in some respects as Lady Liberty, a few miles south of Times Square.
The starting point of American racism is the assumption that white people and their institutions represent the proper, normative standards against which all other people and institutions are judged. Once the white normative assumption is internalized, a racist worldview flows from it as surely as water to the sea, polluting every social space in its path.
The logic of this seminal assumption dictates that people hired by the New York Times are either gifted human beings, or people who have been bestowed a gift. It is a circular kind of logic, since the Times has the power to set standards based on–itself.
The New York Times functions as a corporate arbiter of white American discourse. We gain vital clues to the workings of white corporate minds by noting the content and treatment of “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” We do not learn what is actually important, but only what the Times deems important enough to publish. And that’s critical to know, if only to understand how the mighty think, and what they think about.
Those who are shackled by racist assumptions are led to conclude that a Black person fortunate enough to measure up to the standards of The New York Times–one who is privileged to breathe that rarified white air–carries a double obligation. He must prove that the brilliant whites who hired him picked the right Black person for the job, and he must insure by his comportment in the position that other white institutions will hire more Blacks to assist them in their corporate mission.
Should the Black candidate–a person picked by whites–fail, it is the aspirations of Black people as a whole for upward mobility that are made to seem unreasonable, ridiculous, even criminal. This is white mischief at its most automatic and insidious.
Jayson Blair failed his white folks, giving the New York Times a “huge black eye,” as Sulzberger said with a straight face. The Times compiled a 7,500-word account of the Blair affair, essentially concluding that the newspaper had allowed its good intentions to be “betrayed” by a bad Black.
Lunatics control the asylum
Nowhere has the newspaper acknowledged that Blair was an affirmative action hire–this is simply assumed to be the case. In one sense, however, all Black recruitment at historically white work environments is affirmative action, in that it is reluctant hiring–white people doing what does not come naturally, and is against their distorted judgment. Persons who are reluctantly hired are often reluctantly supervised and not mentored at all. It is crystal clear that Jayson Blair was not part of any formal or informal “team” at the New York Times. Had he been connected with the life of the paper, half his stories would not have later been found to be bogus in some respect, including “frequent acts of journalistic fraud.” Blair acted utterly alone.
Yes, there is something inherently wrong with affirmative action as practiced in the United States and at The New York Times: white people still make all the decisions. The perpetrators of the historical crime, the people whose delusional worldviews created the societal distortions that plague Black America in the first place–the same people that make the New York Times an unfit interpreter of reality–remain the arbiters of societal standards, values, and hiring. They decide what is “Fit to Print,” and who is fit to engage in the process. Let them live with their choice of Jayson Blair–that’s white folks’ business.
African Americans did not craft the New York Times affirmative action program, nor are there enough Blacks in the organization to decisively influence the paper’s editorial or workplace policies. Blair’s alleged transgressions are proof only that the New York Times is a bad judge of Black people–as is normal among racists.
African Americans should not be drawn into a conversation based on the assumption that The New York Times sets a high standard for journalism, or that the paper’s white managers are capable of recognizing any aspect of reality whatsoever, in hiring decisions or news judgments. Black people bear no onus for white incompetence in selecting Black people to carry out white corporate missions.
Petty frauds and mega-lies
The New York Times violates truth, every day, with no assistance from African Americans. Jayson Blair is accused of writing stories about people he had not spoken to, and places he had not been. For this, he is crucified, and made a symbol of Black pretensions. The Great White Liar William Safire wonders, “How could this happen at the most rigorously edited newspaper in the world?” Yet Blair’s misdeeds, so innocuous that he could commit 36 of them before being caught, pale when compared to the Stalinist crime against reality perpetrated by valued Timesman Adam Nagourney, May 5, in full view of the paper’s editors.
Nagourney was entrusted to divine the larger truths that emerged from the televised Democratic primary debate, in South Carolina. Instead, as BC noted in last week’s issue, he disappeared three of the candidates:
“Nagourney then proceeded to delineate the opposing Democratic camps, comprising six of the nine candidates: Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Dean and Graham. In over 1,000 words, Nagourney not only failed to once mention the names Al Sharpton, Carole Moseley-Braun or Dennis Kucinich, he did not indicate in any manner that the three candidates existed on the planet Earth! The two Blacks and one lefty white did not rate even a throwaway line about the “others” vying for primary votes. The fact that they lived and breathed was not deemed fit to print–an amazing but honest exposition of the world as it should be in the judgment of the New York Times and corporate media, in general.”
The New York Times erased three important politicians from a nationally televised event in which they were full participants, leaving not a trace of their presence in the Newspaper of Record. Presumably, the editors were pleased. Stalin’s scissors men would have been proud.
One of the disappeared, Sharpton, is likely to come in first or second in South Carolina, next February. Will Times readers wonder how and why that happened? “It’s an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers,” said Times chairman Sulzberger. But he was talking about Jayson Blair’s little tricks and inventions, not Adam Nagourney’s racial and political mutilation of a nationally significant event. Jason Blair invented quotes of transient interest from rather unimportant people. Adam Nagourney whited out a national debate.
The Times vastly underestimated the October 26 anti-war march in Washington, reporting that turnout was only in the “thousands,” far “below expectations.” Actually, between 100,000 (police estimate) and 200,000 (Pacifica’s count) people gathered that Saturday on the Mall for a protest of global, historic impact. It took a monsoon of emailed complaints to prompt the Times to issue a corrective story on the following Wednesday, confirming that the huge turnout had served to “Invigorate the Antiwar Movement.”
Times Executive Editor Howell Raines neglected to assemble a task force to investigate “how such fraud could have been sustained within the ranks of The New York Times” by reporter Lynette Clemetson, an assassin of history, itself. Such language is reserved for petty revisionists, like Blair.
The Times prints only the news that fits its version of reality, and discards the rest. It now pillories Jayson Blair for doing the same thing, piecemeal.
We think he is a Timesman, after all.
THE BLACK COMMENTATOR is one of CounterPunch’s favorite websites. We encourage all of you to bookmark the site and become regular visitors. The editors can be reached at: email@example.com