I just picked up a bouquet of flowers and a “congratulations” balloon sent by my Uncle John and Aunt Patty. Aww. :)
Meanwhile, my parents are 36,000 feet over southwestern Colorado, roughly an hour and half out of L.A.
This is about right:
“These descipable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate.” –George W. Bush
CORRECTION: Oops. Sean rightly points out that I actually butchered Bush’s English by misspelling “despicable.” Heh.
There’s nothing like seeing this headline on the New York Times front page two days before commencement:
Graduates Lowering Their Sights
In Today’s Stagnant Job Market
I guess that’s why I’m going to law school. :)
Gabriel Syme has a message to anti-war protesters: “The mass murders in Iraq have been stopped… but not in your name.”
Should Maureen Dowd’s head roll, too? Well, maybe not, but she and the Times certainly owe readers a correction of her blatant distortion of President Bush’s words, which she twists to make it seem like the president didn’t anticipate further Al Qaeda attacks like Monday’s Saudi bombing.
What Bush said last week:
Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they’re not a problem anymore.
What Dowd wrote in today’s paper:
Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. “Al Qaeda is on the run,” President Bush said last week. “That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated… They’re not a problem anymore.”
“It’s perfectly clear,” Andrew Sullivan correctly notes, “that the president is referring…only to those members of al Qaeda who are ‘either jailed or dead,’ not to the group as a whole” when he says “they’re not a problem anymore.” Sullivan calls Dowd’s quote-adjustment a “wilful fabrication.” He’s right.
My parents’ flight from Connecticut to Chicago landed early, and now their flight from Chicago to L.A. (for graduation, duh) is in the air over northwestern Illinois. It’s due to arrive at LAX in about 3 1/2 hours.
I’ve been busy packing and such, so that’s why I haven’t posted much to my blog… and why I still haven’t responded to my dad’s comments about Jayson Blair. But I couldn’t let this New York Post article pass without a mention:
One [reporter for the Times], who asked not to be identified, called Sunday’s article a “whitewash” of how management — particularly Raines and Boyd — allowed Blair to work over several years despite dozens of published corrections of his work.
“People felt that management had not been held accountable enough, and the story downplayed their culpability,” said the reporter, who singled out Raines’ high-handed management style as a key to why Blair survived at the paper for so long. “Howell didn’t listen… to anyone about anything.”
Another staffer said “heads should roll… it happened on their watch and because of their watch.”
Heads should roll, eh? Hmm… where have I heard that before? Heh.
Andrew Sullivan seems to think that executive editor Howell Raines may be in real trouble:
Arthur Sulzberger… has a record of deferring to Raines when under pressure. But from what I’m hearing about the mood among Times reporters and editors, Raines is on the brink of being unable to effectively continue. Yesterday afternoon, as the backlash grew, the ruling triumvirate of Boyd, Raines and Sulzberger, abruptly canceled small meetings and announced a big “town hall meeting” to address the crisis for today at 2.30 pm. There are whispers of a work slowdown to force Raines out.
Meanwhile, on Monday night, David Letterman gave us the Top Ten Signs Something Is Wrong at The New York Times. (Number 4: Motto “All The News That’s Fit To Print” replaced by more trendy “Don’t Go There, Girlfriend.”)
UPDATE: The New York Daily News reports this morning:
The New York Times executive editor Howell Raines plans to enter the lion’s den today by holding a town hallmeeting where reporters and editors are expected to vent their anger about how he has handled the Jayson Blair scandal.
With an immediate need to stem mounting outrage, Raines scrapped plans yesterday to hold a series of small-group meetings and announced that he, along with managing editor Gerald Boyd and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., would appear before one large gathering.
Several staffers described the newsroom situation as chaotic and suggested that some senior editors needed to be penalized for a catastrophic failure in management that has made all reporters’ work suspect.
I’d like to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.
Becky and I just got back from seeing X-Men 2 — for the second time in three days. Yeah, it’s a really good movie. :)
I think my favorite part is the opening scene, set to background music by… Mozart! Mutant terrorists and “Dies Irae.” Gotta love it!
The scene where Gandalf… er, Magneto… destroys his prison cell with three little metal balls extracted from some guy’s blood is also… well… really cool.
Besides, how could anyone resist a movie with both Gandalf and Picard in it?
“Under Jefferson’s criteria, our only options at this point are massive reform or outright revolt.”
Those are the last words of my last essay on the last exam of my undergraduate career. I turned the thing in at 8:11 PM. All done, all done.
The question, by the way, was about whether the American government, as it presently functions, lives up to the ideals of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. I don’t really believe what I wrote (yeah, we’ve got problems, but I’m not about to go grab my pitchfork), but it’s what my crazy radical professor wanted to hear, and I argued it well, with lots of supporting evidence and such. So, there you have it, the last intellectual sellout of my college career. :)
And now, I go to Fatburger to celebrate.
Roughly two hours before my last undergraduate final exam begins, I finally heard from the tenth law school out of ten than I applied to. I’ve been wait-listed at American University.
Earlier in the day, I found out from my dad (who got the letter in Connecticut) that Fordham had wait-listed me, too. A week or so ago, I got the same news about UConn. That completes the roll call.
So, here are the results:
Admitted for Fall 2003:
Admitted for Fall 2004:
Wait-listed for Fall 2003:
U. of Michigan
Now, the fun part: I actually have to decide where I want to go. :)
Of course, I’ll be waiting to hear, or not, from those wait-list schools. But I’m thinking it’s probably Cardozo (which is offering me a full scholarship) or Notre Dame (which is offering me $15,000, plus a year to earn money in the mean time).
Boston U., which might yet give me some financial aid, is also a possibility — it better be, because I made a $200 deposit there to keep my options open. :) GW is probably out, because their financial aid policy is not too great.
Anyway, that’s where I stand. Gotta go study now.
I don’t have time to post much about the Blair scandal right now, let alone respond in full to my dad’s comments, because I have a final exam (my last ever in college!) in roughly five hours. So, I’ll write more later. But, I agree with pretty much everything Andrew Sullivan is saying, so check his site out if you want to know what I think. :)
When you read the full account, it’s clear that many people not only connected the dots but put their concerns in writing - at almost every step of the way in Blair’s swift and short career. When the Metro editor can write an email that says it’s time to “stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right Now,” over a year ago, it’s inconceivable that the reporter in question should subsequently be assigned to a major role in a “flood the zone” story like the Washington sniper case. Yet that is precisely what happened. In fact, after dozens of warnings, counseling leaves and alarm bells, Howell Raines even sends Blair an email congratulating him for “great shoe-leather reporting” - for work that turns out to have been riddled with errors and fabrications! How could that happen? How does a rookie reporter, with Blair’s record, get assigned a major role in such a story, produce a front-page scoop instantly, and never have an editor ask him who his sources are? When the scoop is immediately denied, trashed and rebutted, why does it take months for this to be investigated? How does a reporter whose former editor had written a memo demanding that he be removed from writing for the Times altogether get reassigned without his subsequent editor being informed of his record? Forget the affirmative action dimension. This is just recklessly bad management. It reminds me of the Catholic Church reassigning priests to new parishes without telling the parishioners of the priest’s past. It smacks of a newsroom in which everyone is running scared of the big guy’s favorite new hire, and so no one is able to stop a disaster from happening until it’s too late. Ultimately, this scandal cannot be fobbed off on a twentysomething kid, however outrageous his sins. The New York Times’ reputation is not the responsibility of new hires in their twenties. It’s the responsibility of the editors, just as the responsibility for bad priests lies ultimately with the cardinals and bishops who hire them. In this instance, Raines is the Times’ Cardinal Law. His imperial meddling, diversity obsessions, and mercurial management style all made Blair possible.
Yeah, that’s about right.
Just to respond briefly to one thing my dad said: this isn’t that personal for me. Yes, I still like and admire the New York Times, but I don’t worship it (perhaps I did at one time, but not for a while now) and I certainly was under no illusion that it was infallible. The Times is, like all human institutions, flawed; in fact, I could name some very specific flaws. Indeed, I have become more and more disillusioned with it recently. (And, by the way, the WTC wasn’t my favorite NYC skyscraper, either. The Empire State Building was, and is. :)
My mom had a potentially more on-the-mark criticism of my viewpoint when she asked whether I would feel the same way if Howell Raines, who I don’t much like and haven’t for a while, was instead someone whom I had previously greatly admired. I don’t know if I can confidently assert that I would feel the same. I can confidently assert that I should, but not necessarily that I would.
I can, however, confidently assert that I’m not being blinded by some deeply personal anger over the Times’s betrayal of my trust; I don’t trust the Times enough for that, and I’m not really that personally angry. It’s more like the focused outrage of someone who knows, in a general sense at least, how a job is supposed to be done, and sees that the people who are supposed to be doing it best have instead done a terrible job, yet don’t want to take responsibility for their failures. This offends me primarily not as a Times reader, but as someone who has worked at a daily newspaper and who is about to get a Bachelor’s degree in print journalism. I strongly believe “due diligence” was not excerised in this case — not even close.
I honestly believe the Daily Trojan would have caught a Jayson Blair within 3 or 4 articles. That the New York Times didn’t catch him and stop him for months and years is, to quote Dana Carvey’s H. Ross Perot, “just sad.”
Okay, I gotta stop now, or else I’ll be writing until 2:00 PM. :) I have more to say, but, later.
I forgot to update the whereabouts of Becky’s parents last night. They decided to avoid Oklahoma altogether, in light of all the reports of damage in Oklahoma City and forecasts of possible further severe weather. Instead, they dipped south into Texas and drove through Dallas, then crossed the border into New Mexico and stayed at the first town west of the state line, Hobbs. Presumably they’ll make it back to Phoenix today — another three-day cross-country trip for the intrepid Zaks. Here’s their route so far.
It occurs to me that, in my analysis last night, I failed to mention one critical reason for the extreme harshness of my response to the editors’ failures in the Jayson Blair scandal: the fact that it happened at the New York Times. It would be entirely different if this had happened at some two-bit, midsize regional newspaper with a staff of 20 reporters and 7 editors. The journalistic ethics violations by the reporter would be just as grave, of course, but the editors’ failure to catch it would be much less shocking and much less damnable. But, again, this is the New York Times. If editors can let this stuff happen and not lose their the New York Times jobs, then journalism has no standards anymore.
I’m not the only one who was surprised at his own level of shock and dismay after reading the Times’s whole accounting of this debacle. Check out the evolution of Andrew Sullivan’s views:
2:52 PM: To their great credit, the New York Times has responded today at length to the frauds perpetrated in their newspaper by one Jayson Blair. … I think Howell Raines has behaved impeccably in response to this. … The truth is: if someone truly is committed to perpetrating fraud, it’s hard to prevent it. You can’t have minders for every reporter in the field. All you can do is correct, apologize, and then figure out some ways to tighten the net.
9:41 PM (after reading the whole accounting of Blair’s frauds): The most striking thing to me was how obvious the plagiarism was, and how many times Blair’s datelines were completely fabricated. Did no one use a quick Nexis search to check for plagiarism? Did any of the plagiarized complain? And how do you lose track of where your reporter actually is - not just once, but many, many times? This is surely far worse than anyone has hitherto realized: a web of deception that takes the Times almost 7,000 words to parse and correct. And the reckoning still may not be complete. I’d say it’s the biggest blow to the credibility of newspaper journalism since the Janet Cooke affair. But will anyone apart from Blair be held responsible?
Note the distinct change in tone, from “Howell Raines has behaved impeccably in response to this” to “will anyone apart from Blair be held responsible?” Yeah, reading the details will do that. That’s what it did to me, too.
Glenn Reynolds, meanwhile, has removed the quote from the top lefthand corner of at Instapundit’s homepage that used to call his site “The New York Times of the bloggers.” He says “it just didn’t feel right, anymore.” Yeah.
I’m thinking about adding a couple of promotional quotes to my site, but they won’t have anything to do with the Times. The two I have in mind are:
“I look at your site every day, because it’s more interesting than the Drudge Report.” –Adrienne Graves, fellow USC ‘03 graduate
“Where’s the section on humility?” –Jay Harris, journalism professor
Glenn did link to a post by Mickey Kaus that says the Times’s reaction to these revelations is “worthy of Nixon.” I thought of that too, last night, and it occurred to me that Jayson Blair is the G. Gordon Liddy of this particular scandal, the one who higher-ups want to take the fall. Of course, the analogy is imperfect: Blair really is the only one who acted with malicious intent, where Liddy obviously was not. But still, there is a concerted attempt here, as with Liddy then, to make one person take the entire fall rather than acknowledging the wider swath of blame to go around (in that case, blame for active crimes of malice; in this case, blame for passive crimes of negligence; but still, blame).
The Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times is absolutely incredible. I can’t even begin to describe it properly in this space; really, you’ve got to read the whole article about it, even if that does take 45 minutes. They will be 45 minutes well spent, as this is without question the journalistic scandal of the (admittedly young) century. Check out Andrew Sullivan’s excellent observations, too. But here is the gist, very briefly:
A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.
The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.
Heads must roll for this. I don’t mean Blair’s; he’s already gone, having resigned earlier this month after being caught for committing plagiarism in an article late last month (just the tip of an enormous iceberg, as it turns out). No, I mean Blair’s editors. Some of their heads must roll, too.
You see, some editors saw this coming. Some of those editors told their superiors. Some of those superiors didn’t listen. Others listened selectively. Bad decisions were made, inexcusably bad and stupid decisions. Lots of them. It’s a long story, and like I keep saying, you’ve got to read the whole thing to even begin to grasp it. But the point is, the whole communication system within the New York Times newsroom suffered a complete and utter breakdown.
This is a systematic, newspaper-wide failure. Jayson Blair is the perpetrator, yes, but it is utterly unacceptable that he was not stopped earlier. As 9/11 was to the intelligence community, as the Catholic priest sex scandal was to the church hierarchy, so is the Jayson Blair debacle to the New York Times editorial staff. And because, despite my recent rightward leanings, I still have a good deal of respect and admiration for the Times, it bothers me. A lot.
I am not one to say “heads must roll” at the drop of a hat. Indeed, I am generally averse to that phrase, and the sentiment that usually lies behind it. Part of this aversion stems from my dad’s frequent, and quite correct, criticism that Americans too often believe we can create perfection on earth, as evidenced by the empty promises such as “let us make sure this never happens again” that tend to follow any sort of disaster. Perfection on earth is impossible; human beings are imperfect, and we should not lash out at them for forgivable imperfections, even if those imperfections cause us great anguish.
Moreover, I am particularly averse to the phrase “heads must roll” as applied to newspaper editors, for personal reasons. My head rolled once — over a “mistake” at the Daily Trojan that I believe really wasn’t a mistake at all, but regardless of that — I was asked to resign an editorial position because my superiors believed heads had to roll, and mine was the one on the chopping block. So I know “heads must roll” is a sentiment that can be, and often is, abused. But I still think, in this case, that heads must roll.
Sometimes, the very fact of a preventable, catastrophic disaster is enough that the people who could have prevented it, who should have prevented it, whose very job description includes preventing it, can no longer be trusted to do their jobs properly. In cases like this, even if you feel bad for those people, even if they have halfway valid excuses (and I’m not sure some Times editors have even that), you still have to get rid of them. Not end their careers, not tarnish them forever, but fire them. Let them find a new job. Or, at the very least, give them the option of either resignation or demotion. If only as a cautionary tale, these people cannot be allowed to go unpunished.
That would include Howell Raines, the executive editor of the Times. He is ultimately responsible for the whole paper, and the paper has suffered a catastrophic failure here. If a corporation’s earnings plummet, its CEO is fired; if a government agency suffers a major scandal, its secretary is sacked; and so should Howell Raines be replaced. (Indeed, if an equivalent scandal happened at any government agency — something going straight to the core of the agency’s mission, as this goes straight to the Times’s core mission of reporting the truth — I suspect the Times editorial board would be clamoring for the removal of the agency’s head. The same should apply here.)
Arthur Sulzberger, the ball is in your court. Demote Raines, or let him find work elsewhere. But he has no place as the leader of the New York Times. Not now, not after this.
Unfortunately, I fear that heads as big as Raines’s will not roll. The Times article includes this passage:
But Mr. Sulzberger emphasized that as The New York Times continues to examine how its employees and readers were betrayed, there will be no newsroom search for scapegoats. “The person who did this is Jayson Blair,” he said. “Let’s not begin to demonize our executives â€” either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher.”
Yes, the person who did this is Jayson Blair. But the people who allowed it to happen are Howell Raines and a host of others. Unfortunately, if Sulzberger’s attitude doesn’t change, they will not suffer for their crimes of negligence. Instead, it will be the Jenny Medinas of the world who will suffer. Young reporters, former interns, etc. — like Medina, the former Daily Trojan editor who interned last summer for the Times and, last I heard, was still writing for them — will now be under incredible scrutiny, and I fear it will be increasingly difficult to get promoted from the bottom up.
That’s unfortunate, but ultimately, understandable and even fair. What isn’t fair is if the higher-ups get off scot free, and only the lower-level staffers suffer. It’s not a matter of finding “scapegoats.” It’s a matter of holding the responsible people responsible.
I hope I get lots of comments on this, because I know I’m being very harsh, and I’d love to hear outside opinions about whether that harshness translates into unfairness. I don’t think it does, but I’m not unwilling to be swayed by a good argument.
I should say that the Times should be greatly credited for reporting on this so openly and in such great detail, and putting it in the Sunday paper, no less. I also appreciate the apology:
For all of the falsifications and plagiarism, The Times apologizes to its readers in the first instance, and to those who have figured in improper coverage. It apologizes, too, to those whose work was purloined and to all conscientious journalists whose professional trust has been betrayed by this episode.
Thanks. But I still might cancel my subscription. I have been thinking about doing so anyway, for financial reasons. Now it may become a matter of principle. I can see the letter now: “Dear Mr. Sulzberger, I am cancelling my subscription due to your shameless refusal to hold upper management accountable for their inexcusable negligence in the Jayson Blair debacle.”
I’m all done with school except for a final exam on Monday, and naturally I’m not studying for that yet, so needless to say, I’ve been making lots of progress on the website. :)
For example: Check this out! It’s a work-in-progress, but it’s already really cool. Click on any red dot on the map to view road-trip photos!
Also, I’ve put a bunch of new Toby photo galleries online. A few sample pics:
This one was taken just today, showing Toby in one of her favorite hang-out spots: inside the window.
Toby sleeps on the laundry. Awwwww.
And there’s lots more where those came from, on the new-and-improved Toby page!