The Jayson Blair scandal has most of the elements of the modern American classic. There's a celebrity angle, a race dimension, a drug and alcohol excuse, and hypocrisy in high places. The only missing element so far is sex. No doubt when the TV movie of the story is done, it will add a curvaceous girlfriend to round out the plot.
Let's start at the end. Here's a little quiz: After plunging himself and his newspaper into a major credibility crisis, 27-year-old Jayson Blair met with a) his pastor, b) his parents, c) a defense attorney or d) a literary agent.
The correct answer is, of course, "d." According to Canada's National Post, Blair, a cocaine and alcohol abuser, has signed on with David Vigliano, who also represents Britney Spears, to negotiate book and movie deals. Ah America, where there is no shame and being a nasty, lying creep gets you a lucrative afterlife in books and movies.
So that's the celebrity bit. Now for race. Here is where a tiny morsel of poetic justice is to be found. It is not altogether unpleasant to see the pompous, bombastic and self-righteous New York Times accused of racism by a clearly disreputable young man. This is, after all, the paper that denounced, among many others, Texaco Oil Co. for supposed racism in its personnel policies. The Times ran a front-page story in 1996 that relied on a plaintiff attorney's tapes purporting to show that Texaco executives used the word "nigger" in private conversations and referred to black employees disparagingly as "black jelly beans."
The national response to that story was fast and ferocious. The NAACP called it "the functional equivalent of the Rodney King video," and The Washington Post editorialized that "bias in corporate America was alive and well." Except that the tape turned out to be quite innocent. The word "nigger" was never uttered, the speaker was actually talking of "St. Nicholas," and the reference to "black jelly beans" came right out of the special "diversity management" training sessions all employees were urged to attend. (For a comprehensive examination of the effects of political correctness in the press, read William McGowan's Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism.)
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