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Wednesday, May 14, 2003
The Blair Math Project
Thanks to Partha for finding data on the New York Times' internship program. I do not think it exonerates the Times on charges of racial bias, however. Quite the opposite. Assuming the self-reported data -- and for some reason I'm leery of relying on New York Times fact-checkers right now -- is accurate, it seems that minorities in the internship program receive treatment similar to that of whites in the internship program in one limited respect, getting hired for a full-time job. However, it also shows massive racial bias in the internship program itself. By my count, 19 of the 44 participants -- that's forty-three percent, for those of you scoring at home -- in the program were minorities.

Quick googling turned up this article, which cites the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual newsroom employment survey for the data showing that in 1997, fourteen percent of print journalism graduates from journalism schools were minorities. And that minority graduates were, as a group, less qualified (in terms of credentials and experience) than non-minority graduates. 14% vs. 43%. To claim that this doesn't raise at least a prima facie case of disparate treatment is... stretching it.

And that doesn't address the issue of how fast Blair was promoted through the ranks; there's a big difference between merely being given a job on the newspaper's staff, on the one hand, and being made the lead reporter on major national stories, as Blair was, on the other hand.

Finally, the claim that Blair "was a con-man and there is nothing more to this story" just doesn't hold up. Reading the Times' ridiculously long account of the Blair affair, Blair didn't "con" anybody at all. Everybody who interacted with him quickly became aware of his poor performance, his sloppiness, his erratic behavior. His supervisor begged the Times to do something: "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now." He certainly wasn't "conned."

The question isn't how Blair was able to get away with pretending to travel without actually leaving New York; that didn't take "conning" so much as simple lying. (Stephen Glass actually invented phony evidence in an effort to hide his fiction-writing at the New Republic. Blair wasn't even smart enough to stay out of the office on days when he was pretending he was out of town.) The question is why Blair was allowed to retain his job, and get promotions, when everyone knew he was a problem. Why the Times kept him on for more than a year after his editor desperately tried to get rid of him.

Certainly, the operational failures which allowed Blair to, for instance, get away with "traveling" without filing expense reports for tickets or hotels, are an issue which the Times needs to look into. But the management failures which allowed Blair to get and keep his job despite shoddy performance are the real story here. Why did he get a job without a college degree? Why was he regularly promoted? Why did it continue even after he was forced to take leaves of absence after misbehaving? Why were some of his editors not informed of his sketchy track record? If it wasn't because of the Times' commitment to "diversity," -- which had previously led the Times to give special treatment to minority candidates -- then what was it?

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