MEDIA WATCH: The New York Times gets its share of the blame for Blair fiasco

The scandal at The New York Times regarding reporter Jayson Blair has been a nightmare for the US' newspaper of record. Blair's May 1 resignation prompted an investigation into his four years of reporting for the Times. It unearthed dozens of instances of plagiarism and outright fabrication of events, as well as countless cases of general deception to his editors, coworkers, and the public.

The scandal at The New York Times regarding reporter Jayson Blair has been a nightmare for the US' newspaper of record. Blair's May 1 resignation prompted an investigation into his four years of reporting for the Times. It unearthed dozens of instances of plagiarism and outright fabrication of events, as well as countless cases of general deception to his editors, coworkers, and the public.

Revelations of Blair's reporting have rocked the reputation of the newspaper whose motto is "All the news that's fit to print." The Times' publisher described the scandal as "the lowest point in the 152-year history of the newspaper" (The New York Times, May 11). The Times itself confronted the scandal by putting a team of its best reporters on the story and publishing a 7,165-word front-page piece, with accompanying editorial, in its Sunday, May 11 edition. In it, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. acknowledged the extent of the damage: "It's a huge black eye. It's an abrogation of trust between the newspaper and its readers." The Times suggested that it is extraordinarily difficult to prevent fraud by one so determined and ingenious. It concluded its opus with another quote from Sulzberger on lessons learned: "The person who did this is Jayson Blair. Let's not begin to demonize our executives - either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher." But that's exactly what other media outlets have already started to do. Coverage has been replete with criticism that the editors at the Times did not supervise Blair closely enough. In a panel discussion on the Fox News Channel (May 11), The Washington Post's Ceci Connelly stated, "I don't think we should demonize [the Times' editors], either. But there is an institutional problem, there's a management problem, when you let this go on for so many years." On the same program, Paul Gigot, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page editor, marveled at how Blair still had a job at The New York Times after requiring more than 50 corrections in four years of reporting. Still others wondered what other overlooked errors might have been published elsewhere in the Times since so many of Blair's went unnoticed. Within the reporting on the scandal at the Times, the one person within the newspaper who emerges as being perceptive is metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman. Coverage often noted Landman's e-mail urging, "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now," as a red flag that went unheeded. The often-reported charges that the Times promoted the 27-year-old Blair (who is African-American) too quickly in order to advance a policy of workforce diversity further cast the newspaper's management in a poor light. This led George Washington University professor Steve Roberts to speculate, "He had mentors who so wanted him to succeed that they looked the other way time and time again, even in the face of these warning signals" (CNN, May 11). The New York Times has earned praise for confronting the scandal head-on and airing its dirty laundry for the public to see. There are preliminary indications that management is taking the right steps to restore the paper's credibility, but many say that more needs to be done in scrutinizing the policies and oversights of its editors and managers.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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