Times executive editor Howell Raines has basically admitted that affirmative action played a major role in giving disgraced former reporter Jayson Blair the opportunity to prosper at the paper. Blair came to the paper on a minority internship and was promoted to national reporter, covering the beltway sniper shootings, over the objections of a Times editor. The editor was told Blair had to be promoted to diversify the newsroom.
The Times is not alone in pushing diversity. The American Society of Newspaper editors (ASNE), which represents the editors of 850 daily newspapers in the U.S., says its primary mission since 1978 has been “increasing diversity in U.S. newspaper newsrooms?” It sponsors “job fairs directed at young journalists of color and seminars for editors on the changing demographics of the U.S.” That means increasing pressure to hire more minorities.
Raines was quoted in the Times as saying, “Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts he [Jayson Blair] appeared to be a promising young minority reporter. I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities.” Raines asked, “Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”
The “white man from Alabama” remark suggests guilt over how blacks were treated in the old south, and how Raines made up for that by bending the rules to favor black reporter Jayson Blair. The Washington Post, which has published some highly revealing articles about the Jayson Blair scandal, has the same commitment to diversity as the New York Times. In fact, the Post has a “better” record on diversity than the Times. ASNE figures show that 21 percent of its newsroom employees are members of minority groups. The Times percentage is 17 percent.
These figures are included in charts produced by ASNE that track the hiring of minorities, with the ultimate goal of achieving “parity” in the newsroom. ASNE says “parity” means that “the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms nationwide [should be] equal to the percentage of minorities in the nation’s population by 2025.” Since minorities make up 31 percent of the U.S. population, papers like the Times and Post still have a long way to go. ASNE establishes “diversity benchmarks” for minority hiring for the nation’s newspapers at three-year intervals. This looks and sounds not only like affirmative action but quotas.
Bobbie Bowman, the diversity director for ASNE, told us that 100 major newspapers have internship programs for minorities. She said, “The number of minority interns declined in 2002 along with the percentage of minority interns which now stands at 30.6 per cent, down from 31.1 percent?” That means there will be even more pressure to hire minority journalists ? the same kind of pressure that produced the Jayson Blair fiasco.