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May 12, 2003

PROBLEMS AT THE TIMES....Jim Miller, the latest in a distinguished group to wonder why Microsoft can't afford permalinks for Mickey Kaus, excerpts this paragraph from Kausfiles today:

The NYT story itself makes out a prima facie case of editorial negligence against Raines. a) He allowed a reporter with a highly shaky record be assigned to a major national story (the sniper case); b) He didn't tell the relevant editor (in this case national editor Jim Roberts) about the reporter's shaky record-- because, Raines says, he didn't want to "stigmatize" the reporter for having sought "help"! c) He didn't ask questions when this shaky reporter suddenly came up with a big scoop that none of the dozens of other reporters on the case had come up with.

I don't really have a problem with this. The Blair incident is far more an indictment of Raines' management of the Times than it is of the fact that Raines got suckered by a black reporter.

What's more, it seems like this is the perfect approach for people like Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, who hate Howell Raines to begin with. Just think: (a) it's probably the right angle — always a plus, (b) it promises to deliver loads of snarky comments from pissed-off Times staffers over the next few weeks, and (c) it's a perfect club to bash Raines with. What more could they ask for?

UPDATE: By the way, it strikes me that there's another affirmative action angle to this story: in 1992 the Times promoted a young, untried deputy publisher into its demanding top position as part of its affirmative action program for people named Sulzberger. It's funny, though, that kind of affirmative action never seems to get much attention....

Posted by Kevin Drum at May 12, 2003 10:33 AM | TrackBack


Comments

Another faux analogy! When the Times starts announcing their commitment to nepotism in the newsroom as a way of improving their paper, let me know.

Here we have Mickey Kaus of the missing permalinks quoting NPR quoting Raines:

Howell Raines boasting about the New York Times' affirmative action program to the National Association of Black Journalists two years ago, after specifically mentioning Jayson Blair as an example of the Times' successful recruiting efforts. According to Block, Raines said:

'This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.'

I don't suppose they say that about nepotism. My impression is that most folks accept nepotism as a necessary evil, in a world where we allow inheritance and allow families to maintain both ownership and management of ther companies.

And, as an aside, would a firm like the WaPo really hire a young Sulzberger and groom him for a top spot? Isn't he likely to defect to the Times eventually, anyway? And what secrets, contacts, and reporters might he take with him? Life is limited when you are born to privilege. KIDDING!

OK, here in NY the mighty NY Mets have brought in the son of the owner, Fred Wilpon, as the new general manager. Since the Mets stink, both are being criticized fiercely, including for the nepotism angle. You privileged Lakers fans are sheltered. Until Duncan gets you.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at May 12, 2003 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Nepotism is a horrible idea, although rather common in family-owned businesses, I'm afraid.

William Safire also buys into the affirmative action argument, while still defending his paper. I think it's a fair question and, really, an obvious one if race is going to be a major factor in hiring.

I dislike NYT's editorial page but still think it's a great paper. I will also say that most conservative commentators have given Raines and Co. praise for the way they've handled this crisis.

Posted by: James Joyner at May 12, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Tom, if I may reply here to a comment buried further down the page:

I don't think Mickey is suggesting that Affirmative Action be abolished. The leap to that conclusion seems to be entirely Swopa's own, although if he (she?) has a cite to the contrary, I would be intrigued to see it.

I'm in sympathy with Instahack on this -- I don't read Kaus in the original; my tolerance for gimmicky, repetitive, and endlessly self-congratulatory writing is low (unless, of course, it's my own writing). So I was tossing his name out based on secondhand references. On checking kausfiles & doing a Google search this morning, though, I certainly can't find anything positive he's said about affirmative action. Do you have any basis for thinking that he wouldn't like it abolished?

For that matter, what do you think the implications of the Blair fiasco are for affirmative action? What other reason do you, Kaus, or anyone else have for harping on the affirmative-action angle unless you're trying to say that the Times shouldn't have considered racial diversity as a positive value?

Posted by: Swopa at May 12, 2003 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Nepotism is a horrible idea..

My subtle point is that you see nepotism practiced,, and you see it defended, but I don't believe even the defenders present it as an unambiguously good thing.

As to it being a horrible idea, well, in small family owned businesses I disagree. If Ma or Pa really want the kid to take over the business someday, and the kid wants to, why is putting the kid on the payroll "horrible"?

Yes, it is a bit rough on someone who may have fantasized about rising to the top spot at the local hardware store on pure merit, but that may not have been realistic anyway, and if the family finds it impossible to hire and recruit folks given the limited career path, well, it comes out of their pocket.

When you get to large publicly traded companies, I find the practice very difficult to defend. The Sulzbergers do control the Times, and maybe the concept of editorial independence works better as a family owned operation (they might fire Raines, but will they fire the young Sulzberger). But as I said, I don't think you see passionate, "see no evil" defenders of nepotism.

Unlike Affirmative Action, where we are still trying to cajole Mr. Drum into admitting that, even if Affirmative Action is a great idea on balance, it does have a downside. He of course is worried about the slippery slope - if he makes that concession, AA opponents will seize it as evidence that AA must go.

Folks like me, "the mend it, don't end it crowd", represent unreliable soft support. Would I get off the bus if it was headed for the elimination of Affirmative Action? Who knows! Yield no quarter!

Posted by: Tom Maguire at May 12, 2003 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

This is one case where Raines really should listen to Sullivan and Kaus. When it comes to publishing journalistic frauds, these two New Republic alums really know their stuff. Too bad Michael Kelly isn't around to join the pile on.

Posted by: Instahack at May 12, 2003 01:01 PM | PERMALINK

Tom, can you explain what "mend it, don't end it" means in this context? OK, so affirmative action played a role in this mess -- what should be done about it?

Kevin's attitude in this post is that there are bigger problems at the NYT, and I agree with that view. The Times' top editors have lost their bearings in a number of ways, and one of them is that they don't know how to promote diversity properly.

Posted by: Swopa at May 12, 2003 01:17 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, I've mentioned before that I acknowledge the problems with affirmative action. (It was back in December, when the Lott affair and the UMich case were in the news.)

The problem is that I rarely see conservatives offering any genuine alternatives. They just want to get rid of it and declare the government out of the business of trying to make up for its previous history of legal bigotry.

I'm happy to discuss real alternatives, but I don't have much patience with simply passing off stuff that conservatives want to do anyway as being programs designed to help minorities.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at May 12, 2003 02:21 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Swopa, our initial comments sort of passed in the night, although by odd coincidence I seem to be responding to yours.

I actually don't know where Kaus et al would like to take Affirmative Action. And, no surprise, I don't have a fully thought through "mend it" plan either.

I would want to balance a mix of values. Workforce diversity is good (critics have noted exceptions, but let's stay with the general point, which ceretainly applies at the Times).

Aggressive recruiting of minorities is good - the days of recruiting only at Columbia, Harvard,and Princeton are, I hope, over.

Quotas are bad. "Soft" quotas, such as internal management targets, can be problematic, because Standards Must Be Maintained! I think that with Blair, the Times had a soft target and a problematic employee, and just couldn't do the right thing and sack him. Kevin mentioned the LA Times photog and the Salt Lake Trib guys - they all seemed to be sacked at the first offense.

After that, I stall. If qualified candiadtes are not coming out of the broader group of colleges (which I don't want to believe), then employers are in a bind.

But I can't help but wonder, is the NY Times newroom really, really too racist for a black person to compete on an equal footing with whites? Manhattan, 2003, the Times? C'mon, that is like ground zero for PC (oops, that is some fine metaphor. Well, we'll leave it in for flavoring).

The one specific thing I suspect many of us evil righties are hoping for is that, on this particular issue, the Times will pipe down a bit and admit that there may be trouble in paradise. If they are having trouble managing AA, maybe the critics have a point. Now, we need a critic with a plan...

Posted by: Tom Maguire at May 12, 2003 03:26 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I thought that Kaus quote was about Judith Miller.

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