Accuracy in Media

The need for vigorous criticism of the inaccuracy of the news media is being demonstrated by the admissions of the New York Times that it is profoundly embarrassed by the plagiarized and false stories by its young black reporter, Jayson Blair. The publisher of the Times, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., should be kicking himself for not having paid more attention to Accuracy in Media’s criticism of his refusal to take actions that would prevent and correct the errors that appear all too frequently in his paper.

Jayson Blair has resigned, but he should never have been hired by the Times. Several years ago, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Sr., who was then the chairman and publisher of the Times, told me that they would not consider hiring a journalist that I had recommended because it was their policy to hire only reporters who had proven their ability by working for a daily newspaper. His son has apparently jettisoned that policy. Jayson Blair was hired by the Times despite the fact that his journalistic experience was limited to editing the University of Maryland’s paper, The Diamondback, and two internships at the Boston Globe. Blair did not complete his work in journalism at the U. of Maryland and did not graduate.

Blair has given the Times what Publisher Sulzberger described as a “big black eye.” At the Times annual shareholder meeting three years ago, he responded to Accuracy in Media’s criticism of stories that it had reported inaccurately or overlooked with this statement: “The editors and reporters of the Times are responsible for the quality of their journalism. I think the quality of that journalism is extremely high.” This was five months after Jayson Blair had been given the position of “intermediate reporter,” a step towards becoming a full-time member of the staff. The editors did not know that Blair had not graduated from college or that the editor for whom he had worked during his first internship at the Boston Globe has written a devastating critique of his performance.

On the heels of the publication by the Times of its lengthy analysis of what Jayson Blair had done, Arthur Sulzberger Junior joined with the executive editor, Howell Raines, and the managing editor, Gerald Boyd, in sending a memo to the staff acknowledging that it was their responsibility to prevent the kind of reporting done by Blair, or at least uncovering it speedily.

All three obviously fell down in their performance of those duties, but unlike Blair, not one of them has submitted his resignation. Mr. Sulzberger obviously won’t resign because his family owns the company, but he could ask for the resignations of Raines and Boyd, who let their boss and the readers of the New York Times down.

The Times has a corrections box on page two, but it is limited mainly to small errors?misspelled names, incorrect dates, or a wrong age. The reporter is not named. After the big mea culpa, the correction box changed. It had corrections of significant errors that would be of interest to a lot more readers. If Blair’s many errors had been publicized when made with his name attached, the big black eye could have been avoided.

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