READING BETWEEN THE LINES
By Lance Selfa | June 6, 2003 | Page 9
WRITTEN AT a length that it usually reserves for reprinting presidential speeches, the New York Times took the extraordinary step May 11 of exposing a pattern of fraud by Jayson Blair, one of its youngest star reporters. In announcing its decision to fire Blair, the Times recounted his record of concocting quotes, making up sources and writing about events that never took place in major stories, including the Washington, D.C.-area sniper case.
Because Blair is African American, right-wingers and even many mainstream media analysts blamed the scandal on affirmative action. "Would a middle-aged white reporter" have been able to get away with deceiving his bosses, Washington Post media analyst Howard Kurtz asked on his CNN show Reliable Sources. Of course, no one in the media lynch mob accused the Times of coddling incompetents when one if its prominent white stars, Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg, resigned last month after admitting to plagiarizing the work of an assistant at the Times.
You can be sure that Blair won't find work as a journalist again. Yet many prominent white journalists who did exactly what Blair did have seen their careers "resurrected" after temporary setbacks.
In 1995, the Boston Globe (a New York Times property) fired columnist Mike Barnicle when he admitted to making up a 1995 column. It was the last straw in a 20-year career of well-documented concoctions, including plagiarizing comedian George Carlin. But Barnicle didn't suffer. He's now a columnist for the New York Daily News and guest host on MSNBC's Hardball.
Likewise with John Stossel, who uses his position on ABC's 20/20 to push the latest propaganda from right-wing think tanks under the guise of consumer reporting. In 2000, media watchdogs and food scientists showed that Stossel distorted--and possibly fabricated--data in a report on organic foods. ABC's punishment? Forcing Stossel to make an on-air apology. His position as the network's main ideologue of the free market remains untouched.
The notion that media "political correctness" is filling U.S. newsrooms with incompetent minorities turns reality on its head. In truth, almost four decades after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, U.S. newsrooms remain one of the whitest (and most male-dominated) among major institutions.
In a country where whites represent about 75 percent of the population, U.S. newsrooms are 87.5 percent white, according to the latest American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) survey. About 40 percent of the 935 papers responding to the ASNE survey reported all-white staffs.
The Times' disclosures have whipped up a frenzy of criticism and media self-examination. But it's a case of focusing on the speck of sawdust in your neighbor's eye while ignoring the plank sticking out of your own eye, to paraphrase George W. Bush's favorite philosopher.
For what are the fabrications of a psychologically troubled reporter when compared to an entire media establishment that willingly peddled every Pentagon lie to sell the Bush administration's war in Iraq? The mainstream media--New York Times included--willfully collaborated with the administration to publicize every bogus piece of "intelligence" citing the existence of what now seem to be nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.
During the war, reporters feeding from the Pentagon trough reported a fictional uprising in Basra, the fall of several towns long before Americans subdued them and chemical weapons caches that weren't chemical weapons. Even the heroic rescue of Private Jessica Lynch--a crucial "success" that muted chattering about U.S. failures in the early part of the war--is slowly being discredited as a Pentagon stunt.
Another example of all this appeared on the Times' front page only three weeks before the paper made its Blair confession. In an April 21 article that anyone with a shred of critical sense could have spotted as a Pentagon plant, Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller introduced us to a (possibly fictional) Iraqi chemical weapons scientist who not only confirmed the existence of Iraqi chemical weapons, but described Iraq's links to al-Qaeda!
There was Bush's case for war wrapped up in a bow--courtesy of the great American "paper of record." With media watchdogs like this, who needs lapdogs?