Jayson Blair, a promising 27-year-old reporter, has ruined his career. And The New York Times has suffered a "huge black eye," in the words of its publisher.
The Times ran four full pages last Sunday documenting how Blair had fabricated parts of at least 36 stories over the last six months. The article also recounted how Times executives had repeatedly ignored evidence of Blair's sloppiness and inaccuracy.
But this sorry episode can have a positive effect. The Times says it is appointing a task force "to identify lessons for the newspaper," and we'd like to offer some suggestions from our own experience. Steve spent 25 years at the Times and now teaches journalistic ethics at George Washington University. Cokie has worked for all three networks plus public radio and television.
Diversity. Diverse newsrooms are essential to quality journalism, and the Times is right to emphasize the recruitment and promotion of talented minorities. Blair, an African American, went through an internship program designed to nurture reporters of color.
Moreover, any attempt to equate race with ethical laxity is deeply unfair. Plenty of white writers have fallen short, too. But it's hard to swallow the line from top Times executives that the Blair case had nothing to do with race. Of course it did. Out of good motives these executives pushed this young man too far, too fast. He was black