Skip to comments.Newspaper Daze, Part 6
Posted on 04/27/2004 7:06:43 AM PDT by Davis
Howell Raines, Executive Editor of the New York Times for 20 months until he was drowned in the wake of the Jayson Blair affair last June, has just published a long (21,000 words) account of his tenure there. It appears in the May issue of the print edition of Atlantic magazine. My Times is its name. It is Raines's torch song to his employer of twenty-five years: he loves her even though she done him wrong and tossed him out on his keister.
It is Raines's thesis that it was his determination to shake up the Times, make it fit to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, that did him in. Jayson Blair's "betrayal" was merely an accident seized upon by inertial forces. But, he "accepts responsibility" for Blair's misdeeds, says Raines. This is confusing and contradictory in light of the warning memos that he avers never reached him.
From the beginning, we have been aware that Jon Landman, the Metro section editor, a year earlier had sent off an e-mail of extreme urgency which, had it been heeded, would have ended Blair's career of fabrication and plagiarizing. "We must stop Jayson from writing for The Times. Right now." We learn from Raines's Atlantic article that the contents of that memo had been communicated to Gerald Boyd, the managing editor, and now we also learn that another similar Landman warning memo had been cc'ed to Boyd in February 2002.
We never learn from Raines what Jon Landman saw. We don't even learn why Raines, upon discovering that Boyd knew about Landman's warnings, didn't consult with Arthur (Prince) Sulzberger, Jr., the Publisher, and fire Boyd. We are forced to speculate that the fact that Jayson and Boyd were both black might have had some bearing on Raines's decision to function as flak-catcher.
Even now, it is clear that Raines cannot see that his PC commitment was pernicious. Had Raines responded honestly and decently, and yes, compassionately instead of patronizingly, exercising the noble obligations of a white Alabama-born fly fisherman to his dusky brethren and cistern, he would have fired Boyd, published a summary correction of Jayson's fabrications, piped quotes, and faked datelines-nothing that the WaPo hadn't suffered in the case of Janet Cooke, the Boston Globe on account of Mike Barnicle, TNR in the case of Stephen Glass, USA Today for Jack Kelley--and gone on to edit the newspaper he purports to revere. The result of his primary sacrifice of judgment on the PC altar led to further management misjudgments that I have detailed in the first five parts of Newspaper Daze including the immensely stupid turd-hurling session in the Astor Plaza theater called, it turns out, by Raines himself. Note that Boyd had to resign anyway, along with Raines.
Master Howell's apologia is far too long for its contents. It isn't coma inducing, but it has no sparkle and no passion. Raines is classically "too open minded to take his own side in a quarrel." His PC blinders prevent him from seeing that the Times will gain no subscribers by paying more attention to the obit of Aaliyah, a performer beloved by hordes of Latino and black citizens. Raines's political principles are at war with his good sense. He dares not acknowledge that blacks and Hispanics in New York and environs don't buy and read newspapers, even the tabloid Daily News and the Post, with anything like the frequency of white New Yorkers. Of course he knows the race and ethnicity of NYTimes readers but he isn't one to let facts get in the way of his cast iron PC notions.
It never crosses his mind that Left bias in reporting the news is a hindrance to greater readership. He simply can't imagine non-progressives as having an ink-worthy point of view. His only political reference in his article is to a "neo-conservative enclave in the newsroom" intent on inflicting injury on minorities and women.
Curiously, in spite of his numerous avowals of admiration for Prince Sulzberger, the portrait of Prince that emerges from Raines's flaccid prose is of an invertebrate bumbler. It is noteworthy that Howell doesn't mention that Prince brought with him to their Astor theater humiliation a small stuffed moose.
Raines's article proves him remote and out of touch with his newsroom (and with America). The newsroom revolt was an expression of their lack of confidence in top editorial management. People don't enjoy working for a guy who doesn't know what's going on, who is leading them in the wrong direction, who makes massive errors of managerial judgment. They are stuck for the moment with Prince. But they decided that Boyd and Raines had to go. Do you have any doubt they were right?