As newspaper editors convened emergency denial-control meetings and minority journalists circled their wagons, New York Times executive editor Howell Raines went ahead and admitted what was obvious to anyone without a blankie over his head: Of course it's about race.
Howell was talking about the Times' failure to properly handle the now-infamous Jayson Blair affair, regarding the 27-year-old reporter who fabricated many of the front-page stories he penned during his nearly four-year Times career.
A Times in-house investigation revealed that Blair had faked datelines and interviews, invented quotes and plagiarized. Even though the newspaper ran dozens of corrections to stories under Blair's byline -and despite protests by some editors -Blair continued to be promoted.
Why? Plainly, because he is African-American and The Times under Raines' leadership apparently was more committed to diversity than to truth. Which should not be construed as a condemnation of diversity by the "I told you so" crowd, but rather of the way diversity has been pursued by America's most-vaunted newspaper.
Raines' admission Wednesday during a staff meeting that amounted to a Times family "intervention," held appropriately at a movie theater, provided affirmation that truth ultimately prevails. To his credit, Raines was candid as he read from a list of criticisms provided by angry staffers, who described him as inaccessible and arrogant, a bully who ignores others' ideas and who singles out favorites.
Toughest of all the questions Raines faced was whether he had favored Blair because he was black. Again to his credit, he answered honestly.
"I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities," Raines said.
"Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the (Beltway) sniper (reporting) team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes."
Magic, that word "yes," especially against the dull chorus of "no" echoing throughout the industry.
Editor &Publisher, the news industry's trade magazine, reported in its online edition that editors interviewed across the country "decline to blame race for any of the controversy, shooting down speculation that Blair might have been given extra chances because he is black or that his downfall might hurt ongoing diversity efforts."