Beware l’affaire Blair

Variety editorial

The Jayson Blair saga is the talk of the media biz and for good reason. Seldom does a young reporter get taken to the woodshed in a 13,800-word package starting on Page One of the Sunday New York Times.

But the newspaper’s response is troubling.

In demonizing the 27-year-old Blair, the lead article largely exonerated desk editors, copy editors, managers and even the Times accounting department — all essential players in the sorry drama.

The story is all the news fit to squint, an eye-taxing overabundance of gotchas and tsk-tsks. Its pious tone reflects management’s concern for the paper’s august legacy as much as it does a genuine concern for fairness and accountability.

At one point, it suggests that the paper’s top two editors guided Blair to “the understaffed national desk.” Understaffed? Were staffing levels Blair’s fault too?

Just how blind were the top editors to Blair’s limitations in their quest to advance a minority reporter?

The whole episode suggests that the Times was, despite all the signals to the contrary, simply unable to fathom that a reporter in its own newsroom could be so calculatingly deceptive.

Enough wrong was wrought by Blair that a mea culpa was inevitable and appropriate. A simple correction would not do.

But were readers really served by this exercise as much as the Times believed they would be? It appears that responsibility for all the miscues and mistakes has not yet been appropriately assigned in this case. Tune in tomorrow.

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