Accuracy in Media

After the resignations of executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said the New York Times would continue the affirmative action program that helped produce the Jayson Blair scandal. The Washington Post reported that Sulzberger “emphasized that the Times would not back away from aggressive reporting or its commitment to diversity in hiring.” Sulzberger was quoted as saying, “A newsroom that has a diversity of ethnicity and race and gender helps us to report the world not as [critics] would like to see it, but the world as it is. Diversity is not just something that’s nice to have, it’s something that we need.”

This attitude, plus a bad policy on correcting errors in the paper, is what brought Blair to the paper and enabled him to get away with plagiarism and fakery. Perhaps something will be done about that correction policy, but the diversity program will continue on schedule. Lynne Duke and Darryl Fears of the Washington Post said that more than a dozen Times minority staffers met with Sulzberger and some sought “reassurance on the paper’s commitment to diversity, according to two staff members who attended the session?His message to these staffers was that pursuing diversity was a responsibility and ‘we are not going to shrink from that responsibility,’ said Lena Williams, who attended the meeting.”

The Post said that Williams, a black who has worked at the Times for 29 years, “said it has become common to hear white staff members openly question the value of diversity.” Mireya Navarro, a Hispanic who has worked at the Times since 1989, said Sulzberger will be under pressure to achieve “true diversity in the newsroom.” The Post also quoted Jerry Gray, a black recently promoted to weekend national editor, as saying “?there has got to be some message that is absolutely clear that diversity is here to stay, that we are a stronger newspaper for having had Gerald [Boyd] here.”

Raines and Boyd were implementing Sulzberger’s policy. Former editor Joseph Lelyveld, who has been brought back to replace Raines on an interim basis, is also a booster of diversity. William McGowan’s book, Coloring the News, says that when Lelyveld was managing the Times newsroom, diversity was one of his “top newsroom priorities.”

It was Lelyveld in 1997 who promoted Stephen Engelberg to the position of investigations editor. Engelberg edited the blockbuster story about Chinese espionage in the U.S. nuclear lab at Los Alamos that included Wen Ho Lee as a possible suspect. But when Lee and his lawyers played the race card, suggesting that he was being unfairly pursued because he was ethnic Chinese, the Times backed away from the story in a letter “from the editors” published in September 2000.

Notra Trulock, then the chief of intelligence at the Energy Department and now associate editor of the AIM Report, says backing away from the story was the paper’s biggest mistake. “They had it right the first time,” he said, “but caved to political correctness.” It looks like PC will continue at the Times regardless of the Blair scandal.

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