Policy made plain.
April 20 1997 3:30 AM

Do As We Say


"The Supreme Court," the New York Times scolded in an editorial Wednesday, is "often too quick to dilute the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches in the name of fighting drugs." On this particular occasion, however, the Times congratulated the court for sending "a welcome message ... that there are some searches the war on drugs cannot justify." The message was an 8-to-1 decision this week throwing out a Georgia law that required political candidates to take a urine test. The Times noted that "there is no reason to suspect a drug problem among Georgia's politicians."

Those of us who rely on the New York Times for moral guidance on all important issues were deeply alarmed by this sermonette. Not that we disagree, of course. Disagreement with the New York Times editorial page verges on logical fallacy. One might as well disagree with Niagara Falls about the effect of gravity on large amounts of water. But Wednesday's editorial therefore raises the troubling issue: Is there "reason to suspect a drug problem" among staff members of the New York Times? We ask because we happen to know that the New York Times requires its own new employees to take a urine test for drugs. At least one recent hire was told that flunking the test once would eliminate any chance of being hired by the Times--now or at any time in the future. When this person attempted to wash up after providing the required sample, it turned out the tester had removed the handles from the faucets (apparently to prevent the applicant from diluting the product).

There must be some explanation! It's true that the New York Times is not the government, so its drug-testing policy isn't unconstitutional. But that alone doesn't make the policy any less "unreasonable." It's also true, of course, that a junior copy editor for the New York Times is obviously more vital to the nation than an elected official of the state of Georgia. But it would be useful to have the Times editorial page spell out the exact difference here for employers who must decide between doing what the Times says and doing what it does.

Yellow Journalism


Slate readers will naturally wonder what our own drug-testing policy is. It is very simple: All Slate employees, regular columnists, free-lance contributors, artists, and paying subscribers must produce a urine sample under the direct observation of a Microsoft official. Colleagues, family, and friends often join in, turning what could be (and, at the New York Times, apparently is) a grim ritual into a festive and sentimental occasion. Photographs are taken and posted on the corporate Intranet. For those who will be writing about software-related subjects, the ceremony is conducted once a month by Bill Gates himself in the ballroom of the Redmond Holiday Inn. ("I used to do these individually in my office," Gates says with a sigh, "but the company's gotten so darn large!") We don't know about the New York Times, but at Slate, we don't actually send any of these samples out for drug testing. We just sorta like having them around.

Slate's 267,090,705 Most American Americans

As our "In Other Magazines" column notes, both Time and Newsweek chose this week to celebrate large numbers of allegedly remarkable Americans. Time's cover story anoints America's 25 "most influential people." Newsweek, perhaps foreseeing that Time would repeat this device from last year, upped the ante with a list of "100 Americans for the Next Century." We here at Slate wish to make it clear that three can play this game. We have, of course, the long-established tradition (well, dating back almost five months now) of the Slate 60--our list of America's biggest givers to charity. Our first-quarterly report for 1997 is published in this issue.

But is that enough? The Slate 60, we confess, is discriminatory. Many people who might like to make the list by giving $10 million to charity are unfairly handicapped by the lack of $10 million. Furthermore, something must be done to stop this insane competition between Time and Newsweek--and many other magazines--to come up with ever larger and less coherent lists of people. The only solution is a pre-emptive strike. We at Slate have pondered the situation and concluded that every American is influential in his or her own way. Some, for example, are bad influences--but influential nevertheless. And, although we have not asked each one, a random survey of Americans indicates that none of them is opposed to the next century.

Therefore, we proudly announce that the entire population of the United States--267,090,705 wonderful Americans as of Thursday evening, according to the Census Bureau's population clock--is on the first annual list of Slate's Most Influential Americans With the Hottest Bods and Biggest CEO Salaries Not to Mention Intriguing Personalities and Best Restaurants Under $25 for the Next Century. Our heartiest congratulations to each of you. And we are confident that Slate's list contains more people who will make history in the next century than Newsweek's list does. To find your name, try the Internet White Pages, WhoWhere?, or PC411, the North American Phone Book. (The last of these, however, includes Canadians among its 110 million listings--tragically, they do not qualify. After all, somebody has to be excluded, or it isn't much of an honor, is it?)

--Michael Kinsley