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Truth, Diversity & the Times
by Richard Davis
22 September 2003Jayson Blair

Journalism ethics once required a certain distancing from ideology and personal biases. If post-modernism shattered that "illusion," then diversity scatters the pieces.


No one was surprised when top executives at the New York Times publicly exonerated diversity from any role in the scandal involving African-American reporter Jayson Blair. That was a foregone conclusion from day one. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said early and often that race had nothing to do with the scandal. He told a gathering of Hispanic journalists, "I don't think the problem with Jayson Blair was that he was African-American." 

But then, no one said it was. The problem wasn't his race. The problem was the system that compelled managers to look the other way because of his race. Diversity advocates like to muddle the two.

In the weeks following Blair's dismissal for plagiarism, lying and other transgressions -- or, perhaps more accurately, for being exposed too publicly to be retained -- the scandal actually galvanized diversity's supporters, buoyed partly by Sulzberger's public absolutions but mostly by supporters' feelings of resentment and indignation that diversity had been mentioned at all. By the time the paper released its official report July 30, what should have been a cautionary tale about diversity gone awry, which is clearly what Blair represents, had evolved into a battle cry for the removal of still more whites from the Times' newsroom.

The report itself could have been written by Sulzberger (except, of course, for those parts in which diversity actually is implicated). At one point the authors encourage staff members to "recommit ourselves fervently to diversity of all backgrounds and varieties in our newsroom." Obviously, the fervor for political correctness needs no recommitment. The statement sounds so wonderfully inclusive one almost overlooks its absurdity. (Just what is a "variety" anyway?)

The report goes on to recommend that any department head who considers hiring a white man should first "assure" a newly created Career Development Editor that a "good-faith effort" had been made to recruit a better-colored candidate, or at least a woman. Raises should be based on just how good the manager's faith had proven.

One section, "A Note on Affirmative Action," written by one of the report's authors, race activist Roy Wilkins, harkens back 400 years to when people without color first landed in the Americas, stole the land and set up "lily-white" newsrooms, crimes for which colorless people today owe hued people lots of jobs -- and now.

Frankly, for a report on a scandal that had nothing to do with diversity, there's a lot in it about diversity. Even the report committee explained that there was no need for a separate chapter on the subject because the "committee believes that issues of diversity pervade all our separate discussions..."  They certainly pervade a lot of their pages, including one with this enigma: "The commitment of the Times' leadership to diversity must be embraced from top to bottom and institutionalized as part of all journalistic conversations."

With so much diversity pervading the place it's remarkable that Jayson Blair managed to skate through without being affected by any of it. But that he did, according to Executive Editor Bill Keller, who replaced scandal casualty Harold Raines. In the introduction to the Times' report, and later in a story in the paper, Keller states that "outside" journalists had examined the case -- one of the three outsiders being former Times' columnist Wilkins -- and answered the charge of "some of our more partisan critics" that the scandal had been a consequence of misguided diversity. Proclaims Keller: "That charge, they make clear, is wrong."

They make clear no such thing, quite the contrary, and Keller knows it. They didn't say critics' charges were wrong; they said they were "simplistic." Diversity, they write, was "one of a collection of factors" precipitating Blair. Actually, in light of the report's findings, it is those judgments, issuing from this pro-diversity trio, that come across as partisan and simplistic. Only by deliberately circumscribing diversity's influence can the other factors be asserted as independent.

Wouldn't it have been smarter and more principled for Sulzberger, Keller, et.al., to simply have acknowledged what they know to be true, that race and diversity did play a role in the affair? The unwillingness to deal truthfully with the scandal is symptomatic of the institutionalized pathology that beget the problem, that pathology issuing from the diversity ideology itself. Blair lied for personal reason: they lie for political ones. (Raines himself would later question the truthfulness of Sulzberger and the Times concerning reports of his own departure.)

This obstinate refusal to connect the dots is driven by an almost preternatural fear that openly admitting even the slightest problem with diversity would collapse the entire diversity project, ravage minorities' fragile sensibilities and revert the entire industry to pre-Civil Rights, if not pre-Civil War, days. The least hint of criticism is deemed betrayal and pounced upon with denunciations and accusals of racism. Truth itself is intimidated into accommodation.

The Wilkins statement encapsulates much of what is unsavory about this ideology. First, you employ specious reasoning, selective history and a high moral tone to evoke emotions of guilt, resentment, victimhood and entitlement (consult Thomas Sowell's The Quest for Cosmic Justice for a good critique of this thinking). Then you demand that compensatory hiring be pursued "aggressively" and that supervisors be equally aggressive in managing minorities "in ways that assure their retention." Finally, Wilkins could have added, you protect diversity at all costs. If ever embarrassed by an aggressive hire, muster as much righteous fury as possible and disavow  that diversity had anything to do with it. And do so quickly.

Blair was hardly out of the Times' front door when diversity advocates there and elsewhere began scrambling to edit race out of the story line. How did they all know so quickly and with such certitude that race had nothing to do with the scandal? An internal investigation was weeks away, and the principal himself had fingered race as an accomplice. Simple. Diversity has no negative potentialities or repercussions; it could not have been involved. Furthermore, diversity has no nonracist critics. Anyone attempting to inject diversity into the scandal could be doing so for only one reason.

In substantiation of the racist charge they proffered the now-obligatory equivalency argument, this one heard repeatedly during the scandal: Race wasn't mentioned in plagiarism incidents involving white reporters; therefore, race shouldn't be mentioned in ones involving black reporters. (The popularity of equivalency arguments today is itself a by-product of the diversity mind-set that pits one group against another.) Of course, race had nothing to do with the rise and fall of the white reporters (except to  racialists who see racism behind everything but their own motivations). Take race out of the Times' scandal, and there would have been no scandal. Diversity bore Jayson Blair to the paper and then protected him in ways that assured his retention despite "periods of extraordinary inaccuracies" and other wrongdoing. Even Wilkins' committee reports that the pivotal moment in the whole affair, the appointment of Blair to the paper's regular staff, had "all the earmarks of a social promotion." Metro Editor Jonathan Landman, the one person at the paper who seems to have been paying attention during Blair's tenure, told the Wilkins' group, "I think race was the decisive factor in his promotion." Landman states that he "backed off" of objections to Blair because of the "racial dimension of this issue." (The Wilkins' committee then inserts two dubious quotes to conclude Landman's interview. Discussing the Blair promotion, Landman states, "I thought then and think now that it was the wrong decision, despite my belief in diversity and my respect for our institutional commitment to it." The next quote is accorded its own paragraph: "I emphatically do not believe that it is necessary to promote weak or troubled people in the name of diversity." There's something unseemly about these quotes, coming as they do immediately after testimony that contradicts the official not-diversity party line. Is it just PC damage control by the committee, or simple toadying by an anxious man who knows too well the danger of telling the truth at the Times?) Keller's use of the pejorative "partisan" to slander persons who (rightly) identified diversity with the scandal reveals the Weltanschauung of Times' managers. They are detached, unbiased, nonideological purveyors of truth and goodness; their critics must willy-nilly be partisan bigots. But then what do you call bosses who command subordinates not only to commit themselves fervently to a favored social/ideological platform -- or else -- but also to incorporate official dogma into every journalistic conversation?

In fact, all of the varieties the Times wants to cram into its newsroom via diversity are unabashedly partisan. They all share liberal or radical personal and political agendas. That largely explains the Times' conspicuous shift to the left in recent years from its traditional Democratic liberalism. (The paper isn't alone certainly. Speaking at the same Hispanic conference as Sulzberger, Miami Herald Chairman Alberto Ibarguen remarked that even though his editorial board was rid of white males altogether the "real problem" now is that  "it's all left of center." The amazing fact here is not that the board is leftist but that Ibarguen publicly admitted it.)

Journalism ethics once required a certain distancing from ideology and personal biases. If post-modernism shattered that "illusion," then diversity scatters the pieces. When you institutionalize ideology and biases directly into the hiring and management processes, require their expression in all staff interactions, and thus encourage staff members to see themselves and others as varietal proxies each with its own agenda, then objectivity and impartiality become not only illusory but ethnically traitorous. Tribalism is the ethic of diversity journalism.

Proof of that ethic's prevalence was provided by Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, a key figure in the scandal and, with Raines, one of its casualties. Boyd, who is black, is cited by many as Blair's mentor, the one person most responsible for protecting and advancing the troubled reporter. Boyd dismisses the charge, stating that he has "never bought into the concept of mentoring ... I didn't feel I should take people under my wing and move them up the ladder." That isn't how his ethnic colleagues felt about it, however. Because of his policy, he says, "I incurred some criticism from journalists of color who felt I was not looking out for them." They expected favoritism because that is what diversity teaches them to expect.

Diversity always ushers in a stultifying political correctness, and there's no doubt PC considerations heavily influenced the Times' response to the scandal. No one wanted to link diversity to Blair because, as Keller states, that would be "an insult to our many talented minority colleagues." Why? Blair was an "aberration," according to Keller. Why would other minorities be insulted? Is patronizing them any less insulting? Diversity creates this type of insecurity and hypersensitivity -- feelings are paramount -- and then uses it to silence discussion. If staffers are so easily offended by racial matters can the paper be trusted to report race topics fairly, or at all?

Keller continues: "The fraud Jayson Blair committed on us and our readers was not a consequence of our diversity program, which has been designed to apply the same rigorous standards of performance we demand of our staff. The problem is, in the Blair case, we failed to measure up to those standards at numerous steps along the way." He admits in the second sentence what he denies in the first. It wasn't our diversity program, and we failed to measure up to it. Only when perfectly measured up to is a program a program. With diversity, this kind of failure may be endemic no matter how you measure it. Racism is just that way, straight ahead or reverse.

The staff report is unadulterated PC throughout. At one point, it summons employees to "dissociate" diversity from Blair in order to prevent "legitimizing a backlash in our newsroom against minority journalists in general." Apparently, Blair and diversity were being illegitimately associated by many staffers -- and keep in mind these include some of the most talented and respected journalists in the country who were on the scene -- and the culture at this pro-diversity flagship is such a racial tinderbox that whites will jump at any inducement to turn against their minority colleagues. How about management dissociating itself from this kind of racial slander?

As the report reveals, diversity seems to be having its usual effects in the Times newsroom. The committee found a "widespread sense of favoritism and cronyism" and observed that "some perceive subtle racial bias and gender bias." Diversity programmatically sensitizes people to that perception. The committee continued: "Attempts at diversifying the staff have generated discomfort among employees of both genders and all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Current policies are variously views as tinged with favortism, preferentialism, and discrimination."

Blair could have been a wake-up call for journalists, an opportunity for the industry to assess the impact this ideology is having on its newsrooms, newspapers and communities. Unfortunately, nobody is going to be waking up, as the Times' report makes clear. In fact, prospects for an honest appraisal of diversity have grown ever more remote, and whatever partisans may be at the Times have moved deeper into the closet. More than anything else, Blair has illuminated the extent to which the diversity ethos has gained ascendancy over the industry (though listening to diversity zealots one would think the entire business was run by the KKK).

At the beginning of the report, the committee recommends that the newsroom be instilled with a "respect for civility" and an "openness to dissent," or, as they put it, "speaking truth to power." Of course they mean no such thing. Respect for civility is a euphemism for political correctness, and the report itself makes clear just how much truth they'll permit spoken. The odds of hearing a critical remark about diversity are about the same as the odds that Jayson Blair will win a Pulitzer Prize this year for Best Piracy.

No one in those journalistic conversations at the Times is going to speak about the insidious affects the diversity agenda is having on quality, circulation, staff attrition and the public discourse on race and other issues. There won't be any mention of the blatant quota mongering being forced upon the industry in regard to both staff and ethnic content (in this industry, racial profiling is not only accepted, it's demanded and monitored religiously). No one is going to refute the racist sophistry that  rationalizes diversity, specifically, assertions of "justice" and ethnic "accuracy." And not one word will be heard about the socialization  (colonization) of private newsrooms by an ideology inimical to the very foundations of a free press in America.

Richard Davis is a former journalist living in Florida.

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