I feel like I'm on "Supermarket Sweep." That's the game show where contestants race through a supermarket trying to grab as many goodies as possible as quickly as they can. That's how I feel writing about the ongoing revelations that The New York Times aided and abetted what it describes as a "journalistic fraud" on its readers. There are so many choice items and such little time to address them all.
Jayson Blair, a charming young black man, was an affirmative action hire who never graduated from college. (The Times claims it didn't know that, but it must have according to the administrators who placed him there.)
His work was never great and it got worse over his career. As he was promoted, his error rate soared, according to an epic-length mea culpa published by The New York Times last Sunday. Blair wasn't just filing bad copy, he was misbehaving at company expense, particularly at the watering hole around the corner.
"His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional," admits the newspaper of record, "that by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, dashed off a two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom administrators that read: 'We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.'"
Senior management of the newspaper had another idea. They promoted him, giving him a coveted spot on the national desk. He covered the Maryland sniper story and the reactions of families of American troops in Iraq, including rescued POW Jessica Lynch.
Now, I could easily get bogged down - like a "Supermarket Sweep" contestant in the frozen food section - just marveling at Blair's behavior and his management's blindness to it. With a cell phone and a laptop, he claimed to be zig-zagging the country although he never left New York City. Blair fabricated quotes, copied details from other news organizations and pretended to interview grief-stricken people he'd never met.
But I don't want to get bogged down in that because everyone agrees that what Blair did was outrageous. The more exciting topic is the self-serving, arrogant, nigh-upon propagandistic apology offered by the Grey Lady.
The Times says that this episode marks a "a low-point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." For Times worshippers, this was an admirable admission of wrongdoing. But we skeptics want to know if this blow to the Times' reputation outranked, say, the newspaper's deliberate downplaying of the Holocaust?
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