A “troubled guy” at a troubled paper

Trunk, I also enjoyed the links about the New York Times scandal. Here is an utterly lame Washington Post op-ed on the subject by Terry Neal called “Don’t Blame Diversity.” The title itself reveals the confusion of what comes next. People aren’t blaming “diversity” for what happened at the Times. Instead, people are wondering whether part of the explanation lies in race-based preferences. Racial preferences are not necessary to bring about a diverse newsroom; they are only necessary to bring about a pre-determined amount of African-American and Hispanic representation.
People are wondering whether racial preferences are partly to blame in the Blair affair because there is evidence that (a) Blair would not have been hired, and certainly would not have gotten so far so fast, if the standards used to evaluate white applicants and reporters had been applied to him and (b) the Times leadership would not have missed all of the signs of Blair’s unfitness had he not been African-American. Unfortunately Neal’s piece in the Post does not respond to this evidence. Instead, it argues that “when white reporters commit similar acts of outrageous fraud, no one launches breathy social commentaries about the continued existence of white privilege and entitlement in the newsroom.” The reason, I suggest, is that in these cases there is no evidence that the white reporters received their job as a result of less rigorous than normal selection standards. Any selection system, no matter how rigorous, will permit the occasional hiring of a morally corrupt reporter. The problem with lowering standards to increase minority representation (or for any other reason) is that if the standards are job-related then lowering them guarantees that the amount of poor or mediocre reporting will increase. And, consequently, at papers that purport not to tolerate poor or mediocre reporting, lowering the selection standards increases the likeihood that there will be reporters who feel the need to cheat in order to conceal their inadequacy.
That is why the Blair story may not be “just about one severely troubled guy who did outrageous things.”


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