America's leading black journalists seem to be in denial about what affirmative action means.
ABC's Michel Martin says the fixation with Jayson Blair is little more than "race baiting" for the sake of selling newspapers and magazines. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert declares, "Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting."
Two days after The New York Times issued its massive mea culpa on l'affaire Blair, Terry Neal, an online columnist for The Washington Post, declared that "diversity has nothing to do" with Blair's mistakes. The next day, Courtland Milloy, another Post columnist asserted that those who seek to use the Blair case as an excuse to discuss affirmative action and race-based hiring have "shortcomings far more pathological than those displayed by Blair."
Forgive me, but doesn't all this sounds a bit desperate? With the noteworthy exceptions of Ellis Cose of Newsweek and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, it seems that a disturbingly high percentage of prominent liberal black journalists have been unwilling to entertain the idea that race is a major issue here (Cose and Page downplay the race angle, but they give it a fair hearing).
After all, Howell Raines, the executive editor of the Times, has admitted that he gave Blair "one chance too many" because of his race. I don't think affirmative action alone explains the Blair fiasco, but it's hard to deny it was a major factor when even Raines says it was.
But enough about Blair, what I find interesting, and in a sense healthy, is the defensiveness of America's best black journalists. Almost all of them -and many white liberal journalists, too -make the argument that it's unfair to single out black journalists. Herbert quotes one black reporter who says, "After hundreds of years in America, we are still on probation."
Many of them complain that there are "affirmative action" programs for women in "short skirts" -according to Michel Martin -or for members of the old boy network or for relatives. They ask: Isn't it unfair to allow these preferences but not allow them for blacks?
It's a fine debating point, but it skips over a major problem. We don't think those preferences are great, either. Kids who get into Harvard because their father bought a library are generally sneered at. They're on probation, too. The same thing is true in the workplace. We tend to look down on nepotism.