Will Siegal Soothe Times Egos? - July 31, 2003

Times Watch for July 31, 2003

Will Siegal Soothe Times Egos?

Big news from inside the Times: The appointment effective Wednesday of Bill Keller as executive editor and the concurrent release of a report on the papers recent woes. The so-called Siegal Report, named after assistant managing editor Al Siegal, who led the task force, aims to determine when, where, how and why our newsrooms culture, organization processes and actions led to a failure of our journalism in the wake of the Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg controversies.

The big news is that Bill Keller plans to name a public editor (an ombudsman) by early fall, to deal with reader complaints and comment on the papers journalistic practices. There are other interesting tidbits. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz notes: Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told the committee that while he knew there were anxieties in the newsroom over the harsh management style of former top editors Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, the depth of the anger and frustration 'stunned' him. According to the report, Sulzberger said that he should have been listening harder to the newsroom and that I blame myself for that.

The report also examines the culture of the newsroom. Among its recommendations: Reward courtesy and collegiality and penalize rudeness and No job should require unreasonable working hours under normal news circumstances, perhaps a slap at the Howell Raines efforts to raise the metabolism of what he considered a culture of complacency. The paper also asserts the Blair imbroglio was an aberration and cautioned the paper must prevent the journalistic failings of one young African-American from legitimizing a backlash in our newsroom against minority journalists in general.

The Jayson Blair section is written by three outside journalists: former Associated Press Chief Executive Louis Boccardi, former Washington Post ombudsman Joann Byrd and former Times columnist Roger Wilkins. They cant resist puffing the Times up even as they lament a series of management and operational breakdowns made it possible for a junior reporter in his mid-20s to get past one of the most able and sophisticated newspaper editing networks in the world. But they insist the papers quest for diversity wasnt the problem: Though diversity considerations are obviously embedded in the Blair story, they are far from the real culprits of deeply flawed structures, attitudes and processes. (Jayson Blair himself declined to be interviewed, citing health reasons.)

The section is hard on management failures and miscommunication, but downplays the role the diversity quest played in Blairs continuing to remain in the papers employ, even after his track record of error and unreliability became widely known to Times staffers.

The most interesting part is A Note on Affirmative Action - a statement from Roger Wilkins, the former Times columnist. Wilkins, a professor at George Mason University, was a senior fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). He told the Boston Globe in 1991: Reagan was just an ignorant, old guy with old-time bigotry, and he didn't even know how racist he was.

With that background, one would expect some red meat, and Wilkins doesnt disappoint, Even in the context of a sober committee report, his radicalism shows through. After strongly asserting the need for the Times to pursue diversity aggressively, he notes the history of America makes it difficult: The Timess recruitment occurs mainly within the context of the American culture, with all of the extraordinary freight that it had accumulated in the 400 years since Europeans first set foot on this continent and encountered the people who already lived here. Essentially that culture taught that white men were the only people qualified to carry out the serious business of the world. Even down to the seventh decade of the last century, that culture was producing many newsrooms across the nation that were lily-white and all-male.the Times newsroom is an American place and is thus touched-as are virtually all American places-by our culture, including some remnants of hostility to minorities and women.

Reading Wilkins, one would think America is the only place in the world one finds hostility to minorities-ridiculous, considering what we know about Iraq, Al Qaida and various anti-Semitic and anti-white enclaves in the Middle East and Africa. Anyone who finds America hostile toward womens advancement should read Thursdays front-page story from Iraq (In Najaf, Justice Can Be Blind but Not Female).

For reporter Jacques Steinbergs rundown of the Siegal Report, click here.

Affirmative Action, Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg, Diversity, Bill Keller, Race Issues, Howell Raines, Siegal Report, Roger Wilkins

The Times Names Two Managing Editors

The Times is staffing up, naming not one but two managing editors. In a surprise move, the Times says both Jill Abramson and John M. Geddes were named managing editors of The New York Times today, effective September 2. Ms. Abramson has been the newspaper's Washington bureau chief since 2000 and Mr. Geddes has been the newspaper's deputy managing editor since 1997. The appointments were announced by Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times.

Abramson is co-author of the 1994 book "Strange Justice," a biography of Justice Clarence Thomas that criticized Democrats for not looking hard enough into the sexual proclivities of Thomas before his confirmation. Among the books errors and gaffes, it quoted a man named Frederick Cooke as seeing Thomas with a triple-X movie, though later in the book they note Cooke refused to confirm or deny the allegation.

Jill Abramson, John Geddes, Bill Keller, Managing Editor, Clarence Thomas

Conservatives vs. Tolerance, Naturally

Covering President Bushs Rose Garden news conference, Neil Lewis Thursdays front-page story, Bush Backs Bid To Block Gays From Marrying, pits conservatives vs. tolerance on the gay marriage debate.

Lewis writes: At a Rose Garden news conference today, Mr. Bush used a general question from a reporter about his views on homosexuality to plunge into the hotly debated issue of gay marriage and offer reassuring words to many supporters. His response contained his trademark political mix of an expression of tolerance accompanied by a firm conservative position on the actual policy.

Lewis also claims: Pollsters say that public opinion has been gradually shifting, albeit slowly, toward a more tolerant view of homosexuality. A Gallup Poll in May, asking whether gay couples should be able to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples, found the public evenly split, with 49 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. In February 2002, the equivalent figures were 53 percent against to 41 percent in favor. A New York Times/CBS News Poll of 3,092 people, conducted nationwide by telephone from July 13 to 27, found that 55 percent of those interviewed opposed a law that would allow homosexual couples to marry, giving them the same legal rights as other married couples, while 40 percent favored it.

But Laurence McQuillan on Thursday in USA Today notes another recent poll contradicting Lewis contention: In a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll this week, 57% opposed same-sex civil unions, the most since the question was first asked in 2000.

For the rest of Neil Lewis story on Bush and gay marriage, click here.

George Bush, Gay Rights, Neil Lewis, Polls

Our Incoherent President

In Thursdays lead editorial, The Presidents News Conference, the Times argues Bush should have been able to come up with better responses to two big and obvious questions: why he ordered the invasion of Iraq and why he pushed for tax cuts that have left the nation sinking into a hopeless quagmire of debt.

That sentence reinforces the silly idea that Bushs tax cuts (most of which havent kicked in yet) caused the current deficit, and not profligate spending, as argued by Veronique de Rugy and Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute.

It also enables the Times, perhaps unconsciously, to put invasion of Iraq and hopeless quagmire in the same sentence. Didnt they learn anything from correspondent R.W. Apples humiliation over trying to turn Iraq into another Vietnam?

Thats all before the editorial takes a cheap shot at Mr. Bushs vague and sometimes nearly incoherent answers. (In contrast, Times reporter Richard Stevenson found Bush unruffled and well prepared for the occasionally sharp questions.)

For the rest of the Times editorial on the nearly incoherent Bush, click here.

Deficits, Editorials, Press Conference, Spending, Tax Cuts