Skip to comments.Congressman Billybob Sez: News Unfit to Print
Posted on 05/13/2003 9:51:27 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Jayson Blair, a young reporter for the New York Times, has just been forced to resign because he has written over three dozen articles for that newspaper over the last few years which were flatly false. He lied about facts, he lied about alleged quotes in his articles, he lied about even being in the cities from which he claimed to file his stories. But this is not about Blair, it is about the Times permitting, or even encouraging, his journalistic dishonesty.
The facts have come out only in part in the Times. It assigned three editors and five reporters to go over Blair's work, and in a two-page article this week they exposed chapter and verse of what Blair did wrong. But the Times stopped there. It concluded that this problem, which was the "greatest journalistic failure in its 152 years," nonetheless stopped with Mr. Blair. It was not the fault of the "editors" or of the Times generally.
The article contained this quote from Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the Times: "Let's not begin to demonize our executives--either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher."
Merely a day later, all Times staffers received an internal memo from "Arthur, Howell & Gerald," which meant the publisher, plus Executive Editor Howell Raines, plus Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. They wrote, "In the case of Jayson Blair, our organizational safeguards and our individual responses were insufficient. Howell, Gerald and I accept responsibility for that." (They also made an error that even high school reporters, like me long ago, know to avoid. They said, "It bares repeating that the most valuable asset we have is ... trust." They meant to write "bears.")
Here are a few of the details of this story which I got by reading more than twenty pieces on the subject, beginning with the Times article, but not ending there. Blair was an affirmative action hire whom Raines praised as promoting "diversity." Boyd promoted his hiring over objections of others, despite the fact that Blair was a drop-out from the University of Maryland. The Dean there confirmed that the Times never inquired whether Blair had gotten his degree. Blair did, however, write for the campus newspaper, the Diamondback.
Blair later nominated Boyd for an award from the National Association of Black Journalists. These two men were close friends and drinking buddies. When the errors in prior Blair stories mounted, Raines backed up Boyd and moved this young reporter to greater and greater assignments, not bothering to mention to his final editor, on the D.C. snipers story, that the city editor of the Times had written a year before that "Blair should stop writing for the Times. Right now."
That Blair was unusually well-wired into the top management of the Times is suggested by an item I have seen in only one source, and I'm looking to see whether it is confirmed by others. Supposedly, Blair got his hands on the Pulitzer Book in advance, a copy of the official presentation that the Times makes every year to the Pulitzer Committee to garner its fair share of the annual awards for excellence. Not even all the editors of the Times get to see this book in advance. How and why did Blair, then a cub reporter, get his hands on it and show it to others in the newsroom in New York?
The Blair side of the story is now mostly clear. What is not clear, the aspect that the Times has assiduously avoided, is the management side of the story. Does the journalistic rot at the Times reach all the way to the top?
We approach that question by offering the first line of three novels:
It was a dark and stormy night when a group of anti-Castro Cubans committed a burglary at the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee....
It was a dark and stormy night when Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown began selling seats on US international trade missions for $50,000 contributions to the Democrats....
It was a dark and stormy night when Jayson Blair wrote falsified stories on the D.C. snipers and the family of a missing American soldier for the New York Times....
I could have used Arthur Andersen, Enron, World-Com, or other corporate disasters as examples rather than Watergate and Commercegate. The patterns fit. But the political analogies are better because the Times considers itself a sort of government in exile when Republicans are in the White House.
What is the subsequent history of the first two stories that might offer clues about the history that will play out at the Times? Watergate is a closed book and is known to its end. President Nixon assigned the "investigation" of the DNC burglary to his Counsel, John Dean. According to Nixon, Dean's report concluded that the problems did not reach into the White House.
But once Dean told the truth to congressional investigators, reality emerged. As Dean said in that environment, "There is a cancer growing on the Presidency." Eventually, most of the truth came out. Many members of the Nixon Administration went to prison, including Attorney General John Mitchell. Nixon was forced to resign, a step ahead of conviction by the Senate and removal from office. He did not face criminal charges himself because President Ford decided to "end the national nightmare" by granting Nixon a full pardon in advance of indictment or trial.
The subsequent history of Commercegate was that Ron Brown conveniently died and that investigation ended. Chinagate, the promise and payment of $1 million to the DNC, was investigated only by Janet Reno, Attorney General under Bill Clinton, ending days before Clinton left office with a slap on the wrist for the Indonesian businessman who funneled that Chinese money into the US. Casinogate, the bribery for Indian casino rights, ended with a conclusion that no one could be charged. Fostergate, the death and the office cleansing, was swept under the rug. Reno handled ALL the investigations of ALL the potential crimes within the Clinton Administration, except for the most salacious but least important of the crimes, Monicagate, plus Whitewater.
Unlike John Mitchell, Janet Reno was never charged or convicted of crimes of obstruction of justice. Unlike him, she did not go to jail. The only measure of just desserts she ever received was being unceremoniously dumped by the Democrat voters of her home state in her attempt to become Governor of Florida. That is something, but far from enough.
There was a "cancer on the Presidency" under Clinton as well as Nixon. But in Clinton's case, the heart of the cancer was never cut out. It continues to grow, though it has now metastasized from the White House to journalism, state houses, and the House and Senate. Because it was never definitively dealt with, it lives on.
What is the critical difference between the Nixon and Clinton Administrations? There never was a John Dean with respect to Clinton. No one close enough to the top of the Clinton Administration to know the whole story ever "flipped," ever turned state's evidence, ever told the whole truth to any investigators outside of the Administration itself.
What does this comparison tell us about the history to come concerning the Times and Jaysongate?
The first lesson is absolutely clear when the cancer may go all the way to the top, no investigation directed by the management of the organization can ever put the whole truth on the table. The self-investigation by the Times, just like the self-investigations under Nixon and Clinton, has only nailed the small fish. It has not touched, it can never reach, the big fish.
Now the Times, as the "newspaper of record," has no institutional counterweight. There is no outside agency, like Congress is to the White House, which can conduct its own investigation and get to the bottom of Jaysongate if it reaches into the office of the Times Editor in Chief, Howell Raines. Nor is Jaysongate a matter that can be resolved in the courts, since the violations here are ethical, not criminal.
Paradoxically, the only institution that can get to the bottom of Jaysongate is the Times itself. But if the publisher, "Punch" Sulzberger, wants to restore the reputation of the newspaper for printing the truth, he must begin by firing (or getting the resignations of) both Raines and Boyd. Then he must appoint a new Editor in Chief, someone of great experience and towering reputation, whose first assignment will be to get and print on the front pages of the Times, the WHOLE matter of Jaysongate, warts and all.
Absent that step, the cancer on the Times will continue to thrive. It should be noted that the reputation of the Times has generally declined under Howell Raines. Dealing with Jaysongate will not be the only task of the new Editor in Chief of the Times. I will use one example to stand for the lesser errors of the reporters of assorted "quagmires" at that newspaper.
Paul Krugman is a regular columnist for the Times. He is also a Professor of Economics at Princeton University. In a recent column he wrote that the jobs "created" by the Bush tax cut plan "will cost $500,000 each." How did Mr. Krugman arrive at that figure? He divided the ten-year cost of the Bush plan by the first-year estimate of jobs created.
That is called an "order of magnitude" error. A high school algebra student who made errors like that would fail the class. Yet, Mr. Krugman has not acknowledged his obvious mistake in his column in the Times. The newspaper has not printed any of its famous corrections about his allegation. And, because the Times is the "newspaper of record," various commentators on television and elsewhere have cited the Krugman falsity as if it were true, simply because it was published in the Times.
In short, if the reputation of the Times is to be restored, the new Editor in Chief will have his, or her, work cut out. But that cannot begin until the publisher realizes that the Times is not only seriously injured, it is fatally injured, if Raines stays on the job. That statement is news that is, so far, unfit to print, and therein lies the problem.
It was a dark and stormy night, when Howell Raines resigned from the New York Times....
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Comments can be added on the "Letters to Billybob" page And please also click the link for "to Restore Trust in America." If you like these Reports, you will like that. It strikes the same theme that President Bush did, repeatedly, in his press conference after the 2002 election. Again and again he said the victories were due not to him, but to the candidates themselves who earned the "respect" and the "trust" of the American people.
(C) 2003 Congressman Billybob. All rights reserved.
Well, hell....how is he supposed to get those numbers up to acceptable levels if they fire him?
That's right, Congressman Billybob. You've written a masterpiece explaining why it isn't about Blair. Thank you very much.
The cancer will continue to thrive - just as in the Clinton Administration - as long as the Liberal Establishment lets it and the public sleeps. In other words, The Times will thrive for a long time to come. This will all be flushed down the Memory Hole before June as they overwhelm the threat with new exposed "scandals" (manufactured or otherwise) concerning the War on Terror, The Economy and anything else they can aim at the Bush Administration.
It's called "misdirection", and they are masters at the game!
MORE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR JAYSON!