Mnookin responds via e-mail to my churlish comments (below) on his Newsweek piece:
I'm surprised by your lack of nuance! My point in my piece was not that there weren't valid criticisms to be made about the pitfalls of the Times' efforts to diversify or the perils of an activist newshole; as you note, I've made both those points in the past myself. It's the me-me-me, all or nothingism of interest groups of all stripes I found lacking in sophistication and, more importantly, accuracy. (No sooner had Blair resigned than Bill McGowan was sending out press releases and handing our flyers.) Jayson Blair didn't prove that affirmative action was a bad thing -- he proved that Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd didn't have control of their newspaper. Is affirmative action part of this story? Of course! Is the whole last five weeks a parable about diversity? Of course not!
Hmm. Was there rampant all-or-nothingism in the Raines debate? Did Bill McGowan, for example, deny that Raines' practice of "favoritism" was a factor? Did the "liberal bias" crowd deny that affirmative action (as well as Raines' mismanagement) were involved? Mnookin's description doesn't resonate with the debate I heard, in which multicausalism was rampant, and Raines came to personify a variety of congruent sins to a broad swath of people. ... It's very Newsweekish to come up with some meta-commentary on the process ("everyone assumed the debate should focus on their concerns"), relieving the magazine (and Mnookin) of the need to decide whose concerns were accurate--a meta-commentary that also manages to squeeze in a sneer at "right wing ideologues" without having to admit that the right-wing ideologues were, in this case, largely right. I worked at Newsweek and know the imperative to come up with these seemingly "smart" Neutral Story Lines (e.g., "Is This Any Way to Elect a President.") I've written a few of them myself. They're almost always a cop-out of some sort, and in this case Mnookin's "all or nothingism" NSL doesn't even really fit the event. ...
P.S.: Mnookin thinks "Jayson Blair didn't prove that affirmative action was a bad thing." So that's what his Newsweek piece was saying! I'd say Blair did about as much as one example can do to "prove" that affirmative action is a bad thing--and not only by illustrating the potential consequences of lowered standards. The very debate Mnookin decries--with black journalists worrying whether other black journalists like Gerald Boyd are being unfairly tarred, etc.--shows in part the damage affirmative action does on an ongoing basis. Again, without affirmative action, Blair would have just been an individual screw-up. He wouldn't have cast a cloud over other minority journalists who now have to worry if they too are seen as preference hires. End race preferences and that problem largely disappears.... 2:52 P.M.
Coloring the Mnoos: There's been so much attention given to Howell Raines' personal failings (the reason why he had to resign) that it's distracted from the real underlying, and probably ongoing, NYT failure--the Times' "core problem," you might call it. John Podhoretz reminds us what it is:
THE problem with The New York Times isn't that tyro reporter Jayson Blair made stuff up. Or that Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg didn't properly credit other reporters for their work under his byline. Or even that Howell Raines, the executive editor who quit yesterday, wasn't nice to people and played favorites and lost the confidence of his newsroom. ...
The chief disgrace of the tenure of Howell Raines and of his boss, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is that they have tried to lay claim to objectivity even as they have consciously attempted to manipulate public opinion.
Meanwhile, Newsweek's Seth Mnookin writes a disappointingly hack, eager-not-to-offend conclusion to the Raines story.
Reporters who didn't end up on the front page complained the cause was favoritism; minority journalists wondered why Boyd, the highest-ranking African-American in the history of the paper, was forced to resign; right-wing ideologues tried to make the Times's implosion a cautionary tale about affirmative action or perceived liberal bias. [Emphasis added]
Does Mnookin really believe it's only right wing ideologues who think affirmative action and liberal bias are implicated--or that the liberal bias is only "perceived"? Of course not. His paragraph is carefully-constructed newsmag BS, designed to avoid alienating any readers (or editors)... I mean, is Podhoretz a "right-wing ideologue?" Well, OK, yes. But is Richard Cohen? Jack Shafer? Or, for that matter, Seth Mnookin, who last December wrote about the "revolution" at the Times under Raines and Pinch Sulzberger:
If Raines is working in any tradition, it's that of the crusading Southern populist. He began his career in Alabama, and cut his teeth at a time when the Southern papers were still charging the barricades of segregation. On the foreign-policy front, the Vietnam era helped cement his skepticism about government authority when lives are on the line. He once said the Reagan years "oppressed me because the callousness and the greed and the hardhearted attitude toward people who have very little in this society." ...
Whatever their track record, it seems clear that the Times's leaders have sometimes gone out on a limb. In August, the paper printed two consecutive front-page stories incorrectly including Henry Kissinger among the "prominent Republicans" opposing war with Iraq (Kissinger had expressed realpolitik reservations but stopped far short of arguing against an attack). [Emph. added.]