Jayson Blair has opened the proverbial can o' worms. The now-infamous black fabulist, who resigned from The New York Times after being exposed as a near-sociopathic liar and plagiarist, effectively has eviscerated the Times' pro-diversity policy and invited gawkers to poke at the innards of affirmative action.
It was bound to happen.
Blair is the product of a perfect storm of good intentions on a collision course with reality and She Who Will Not Be Denied -Lady Justice. For at their root, policies that hire an unqualified person over a qualified person because of race, creed, gender or religion are fundamentally unfair.
Eventually, truth will win out, and Jayson Blair -the master of untruths -inadvertently provided the key.
For better or worse, we are all exposed. What we do with that exposure -with the brightly lit truth that affirmative action thwarts fairness and thus hurts more than helps -is what remains to be seen.
That said, I still hold that diversity is a worthy goal. In a diverse nation, how could we think otherwise? I don't mean that only black reporters can cover "black issues," or that an Asian reporter is necessary to penetrate Chinatown's political underpinnings. But common sense suggests that a diverse reporting staff is going to have greater access to and broader knowledge of certain issues and communities.
Put another way, imagine if only whites held all the reporting and editing positions at all the newspapers and other media outlets.
Surely we can all extrapolate from there. But diversity can and should be achieved without compromising standards, which is precisely what blacks and other minorities should demand at this juncture.
Jayson Blair's insult isn't only to journalism, but to all the highly accomplished and respected black journalists who now feel that they must defend themselves because of their race. Or who once again feel extra scrutiny unfairly directed their way -because of race and for no other reason. It isn't fair, but that's the way it goes.
Given that the concept of diversity serves a practical purpose, the question is whether the goal of diversity necessarily requires a policy of quotas? One would hope not, yet the American Society of Newspaper Editors has set a diversity goal to more than double the number of minorities in newsrooms by 2025.
Currently, minorities comprise 12.53 percent of newsroom staffs at U.S. dailies, while census figures place the U.S. minority population at 31.1 percent. By 2025, minorities are projected to constitute about 38 percent of the total population, according to the ASNE Web site (http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=4446)
Are we willing to further risk institutional credibility by compromising standards in order to meet those goals? Or can we come close to meeting them while maintaining high standards?
I can't imagine minorities settling for anything less than standards equal to those applied to everyone else. Why? Because if you are believed to have reached your position because you are, for example, black -and not because you are as bright, motivated and qualified as anyone else -you will always be second tier by perception if not reality.
Here's a confession as well as a cautionary tale. Several years ago my dentist sent me to "Dr. Jones" for a root canal. When I reached his office, I found myself frozen in the parking lot, terrified not only of the procedure but also by the sudden realization that Dr. Jones was black. I was embarrassed by my "racist" reaction.
But I wasn't really racist. Rather I was honestly fearful that the good doctor might be a lesser product of affirmative action than the best, brightest and least pain-inflicting graduate of his root-canal class. Dr. Jones, as it turns out, was a product of the merit-based U.S. military and is the only doctor I would trust for my root canals, now numbering three.
Nevertheless, the thought did enter my mind that Dr. Jones could be less than qualified, and so it will always be as long as quotas rather than standards are the rule. If I were black or Asian or Native American or whatever, I'd hunt down the legacy of Jayson Blair and destroy it.