Racial preferences at the New York Times

Larry Elder
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Posted: May 22, 2003 12:00 AM

Jayson Blair, the black now-disgraced, former up-and-coming reporter of The New York Times, personifies everything wrong with racial preferences. Under a program designed to increase minority (read: black) representation, Jayson Blair snared a job with the most prestigious paper in the country.

Few quarrel with "outreach," or ensuring a wide net cast over all available, qualified candidates. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his autobiography, My American Journey, distinguished between outreach and racial preferences: "Equal rights and equal opportunity, mean just that. They do not mean preferential treatment. Preferences, no matter how well intended, ultimately breed resentment among the nonpreferred. And preferential treatment demeans the achievements that minority Americans win by their own efforts. The present debate over affirmative action has a lot to do with definitions. If affirmative action means programs that provide equal opportunity, then I am all for it. If it leads to preferential treatment or helps those who no longer need help, I am opposed. I benefited from equal opportunity and affirmative action in the Army, but I was not shown preference. The Army, as a matter of fairness, made sure that performance would be the only measure of advancement. . . . Affirmative action in the best sense promotes equal consideration, not reverse discrimination. Discrimination 'for' one group means, inevitably, discrimination 'against' another; and all discrimination is offensive."

In Blair's case, management overlooked errors, omissions, and outright fabrications, yet promoted him rapidly through the ranks. Blair himself admits benefiting from racial preferences (although he blames racism, in part, for his implosion).

New York Times executive director Howell Raines, in a post-Jayson Blair townhall meeting with the paper's reporters, addressed whether race provided Blair some degree of cover and less scrutiny. "Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts he appeared to be a promising young minority reporter," said Raines. "I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities.

"Does that mean I personally favored Jayson?" he added. "Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions (emphasis added), gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes." What?!

Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., a few years ago, praised black Dr. Patrick Chavis, an "affirmative action" admittee at UC Davis medical school, who "gave back" by starting a practice in the inner city. Kennedy called Chavis "a perfect example" of how this product of race-based preferences serves his community. Yet Chavis later lost his medical license after numerous allegations of medical malpractice, including a case of gross negligence resulting in the death of a patient.

Blair and Chavis represent, of course, aberrant cases of extreme incompetence and dishonesty. But what of doctors, mechanics, engineers, and other critical life-and-death jobs filled by those "boosted" via lessened standards? How many supervisors either cover up, look the other way, or must pay additional scrutiny to "preferred hires"? When you board a 747 and notice a female pilot, do you applaud "gender diversity" or do you expect that she, like her male counterparts, aced flight school? When you call 911, do you request a Hispanic, a woman, an Asian, or someone well-equipped and qualified, who mastered the standards applicable to all?

Race-based preferences imply -- as someone once said -- a choice between Yale or jail. Nonsense. The graduation rates of those admitted under "special criteria" fall well below the rates of regular admittees. Affirmative action prematurely pushes a AAA-ballplayer into the major leagues, increasing the likelihood of failure when the student would otherwise succeed at a less-competitive school. The Detroit News studied seven Michigan colleges, and found that by lowering standards, " . . . Universities knowingly admit (minority) students who have a high chance of failing."

Arturo Moreno, a "self-made" Mexican-American, near-billionaire advertiser, and the new owner of the champion Anaheim Angels baseball team, personifies success achieved through hard work, perseverance and ability. Do you, reporters asked Moreno, feel special pressure or an obligation to hire Latinos? "I've always tried to open doors for anyone -- male, female, black, green, brown, whatever," said Moreno. "Everybody should be equal on the playing field. People have been sued for reverse discrimination. . . . You have to hire the person that's most qualified, because they've worked hard to be in that position. I'm not going to say I'm in here now and we've got to segregate ourselves, when what we've tried to do in America is open the door for everyone."

So, as the Supreme Court ponders the University of Michigan's race-based admissions policy -- with a system that awards 20 points to Hispanics, Native-Americans, and blacks, while awarding 12 points for perfect SAT scores -- the court might well ask this question:

Who better personifies King's vision of a color-blind society? Jayson Blair or Arturo Moreno?