Goldberg gets the pillory for something he didn't say.

Media criticism.
Sept. 27 2005 7:38 PM

"Doomed by Diversity"

New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg gets the pillory for something he didn't say.

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The Goldberg comment is appalling, offensive, idiotic. His own search for a diversity-free workplace may have succeeded. That's not where we live, or want to live, or intend to live. Diversity is a cardinal value of The Post and the communities we cover. Period.

Bennett says his internal post was a response to the staffer who characterized what Goldberg said. "The idea that white males' careers at the Washington Post would be 'doomed by diversity' is absurd," he says.

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But the "doomed by diversity" line that Nakamura picked up on and Downie and Bennett alluded to was Jaffe's invention, not Goldberg's. Jaffe calls it a "lame attempt at alliteration" to describe what he thought happened to Goldberg at the paper.

"Goldberg never used that line," Jaffe says. "He never implied it."

Bennett says if that doomed diversity wasn't Goldberg's notion, then he doesn't have a beef with The New Yorker writer.

In an e-mail and phone interview, Downie acknowledges that Goldberg didn't "attack" the paper's diversity efforts, and that "blamed" is what he thought he wrote on the paper's internal site. But he still dismisses Goldberg's account of how the paper passed him over. Downie writes via e-mail:

We do not designate slots for minorities, although we seek diversity in candidates for all of our openings. In Goldberg's case, I was part of the decision-making. We decided that we did not want to hire him, period. We had enough openings on the Metro staff (as we often do because of its size) that his candidacy was not affected by the hiring of anyone else, minority or otherwise.

Goldberg recalls that the paper's city editor *, Mary Jo Meisner, told him explicitly that she wanted to hire him but had to give the slot to a Hispanic. Meisner, now at the Boston Foundation, remembers Goldberg as a "great, scrappy, young reporter," but of the Hispanic comment she adds, "I do not remember this."

In 1989, Downie was managing editor to Ben Bradlee's executive editor. According to Goldberg, Downie told him, "We'd love to have you back" after he was passed over. Goldberg took this to mean he should reapply for a job in the future after acquiring more experience.

The he-said, she-said quality to this rumble makes determining what happened at the Washington Post 16 years ago impossible. But the story is worth musing over because it reveals the inner tensions at work in businesses, schools, and branches of government that take pride in increasing diversity, as the Post does. In 1991, when Downie became executive editor, 17.1 percent of the paper's newsroom staff was nonwhite. According to a summer 2005 study, the percentage of nonwhites in the newsroom at the Post had risen to 21.4, better than the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today.

At the risk of falling victim to my own Al Campanis Moment, let me think out loud about diversity. Without a doubt, diversity can improve the newspaper quality by putting ears, eyes, and brains inside the newsroom that understand the world outside. So, how do you increase diversity? You recruit for it and you train for it. But that effort isn't always painless. It's predictable that when a minority is hired or promoted that someone on staff will suspect that a diversity calculator in the backroom made the personnel decision, not a human being who considered only merit.