“Maybe it’ll make him a little mature,” Jayson Blair-the 27-year-old reporter who managed to successfully suffuse The New York Times with falsehoods, lies and rife fictions-tells The New York Observer ‘s Sridhar Pappu in the extraordinary interview in this newspaper today. “I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism.” “Him” is Howell Raines, the embattled executive editor of The New York Times , who gave Mr. Blair his so-called career.
Rarely in the history of journalism has there been as vivid an evidence of one of social nature’s terrible laws: No good deed goes unpunished.
But it’s worth asking at this point, as the scandal threatens to consume Mr. Raines’ tenure at The Times , what lesson would Mr. Blair, and the inflamed staff asking for the editor’s head, have him learn? That the truth is only to be trusted in the hands of true professionals? That racial sensitivity and the encouragement of the young, the smooth and the gifted is a dangerous game?
Mr. Raines-a supremely talented editor with a reportedly unfortunate management style of embracing power tightly, coddling favorites and confusing the locker room with the newsroom-gave Jayson Blair his big chance as part of his campaign to bring youth, diversity and good writing to the pages of The Times . He wanted to shake up the place, much as his predecessor, A.M. Rosenthal, had in the mid-1960′s-by fomenting a small revolution of good writing and youthful reporting within the arteriosclerotic Grey Lady. Much of The Times ‘ staff-with the intractability of civil servants everywhere-resented it.
Mr. Raines also apparently acted the tyrant. Few in journalism are as susceptible to the axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely as the executive editor of The New York Times . And his arrogance made him easy fodder to be broken by Mr. Blair’s malfeasances. But when the scandal broke, Mr. Raines immediately showed what he was made of: He did not dive for cover or serve up scapegoats. The Times ‘ May 11, 2003, 14,000-word internal investigation exposed Mr. Blair and the management of the newspaper in a brutal accounting. Mr. Raines then submitted himself to a lynching-like encounter group at the Loew’s Astor Plaza movie theater, a kind of Clintonian purge session that served nobody but the pent-up anger of a truly neurotic institution. Through it all, Mr. Raines may have lost some of his arrogance, but he never lost his authority.
That may go with the territory. It almost goes without saying that Mr. Raines’ leadership during The Times ‘ coverage of the Sept. 11 aftermath and the war in Iraq reaffirmed the reputation of what he has called “this irreplaceable newspaper.”
Nobody ever said it was the task of the executive editor of The New York Times to be well liked. Authority, incisiveness and distinctive intelligence are his tasks; so is commanding the largest reporting army in American journalism. He edits the only truly worldwide newspaper in the United States. There is, quite simply, nothing else like it. Protecting its vitality, responsibility and brilliance are his business. None of Mr. Raines’ immediate predecessors-not Joseph Lelyveld, nor Max Frankel, nor the abrasive Mr. Rosenthal-could be said to be beloved. They served the readers of The New York Times and the history-conscious Sulzberger family, in whose hands Mr. Raines’ fate now resides. Perhaps the only executive editor of The New York Times to be truly revered in the last 40 years was arguably its worst: James Reston, the legendary Washington columnist who had a two-year tenure and whose only institutional accomplishment, he said, was to change the type size of the page numbers.
But Mr. Reston had great wisdom as a human being. “Most of the time,” he said once, “it is the heart that governs understanding.” The greatness of The New York Times may be that within this massive, often obtuse kingdom beats a human heart. Howell Raines made a terrible, even historic mistake. But he understands his “irreplaceable” newspaper and has made decisive, even historic reparations. He deserves to complete his tenure as executive editor of The New York Times .
60 Minutes : 35 Years of Excellence
Since its debut in 1968, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes has been the framework for integrity in television news. Remarkably, after three decades, the show is as good as it ever was, weekly earning its stripes as the most trusted hour on television. Creator and executive producer Don Hewitt and the show’s brilliant on-air talent changed television by making the simple assumption that their viewers were intelligent people who didn’t need to be pandered to, and who would tune in to programming that engaged the mind and looked at the world with a sharp, knowing wit.
60 Minutes ‘ profound influence can be found all over the dial, in a host of imitators such as ABC’s 20/20 , NBC’s Dateline and CBS’s own 60 Minutes II , which have earned their own audiences and accolades. But from the opening ticks of the stopwatch, 60 Minutes arrives in 12 million American living rooms with the feel of an “event,” with its well-known and admired correspondents Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Leslie Stahl, Steve Kroft and Andy Rooney. From Jackie Gleason shooting pool with Mr. Safer to the Ayatollah Khomeini sitting down with Mr. Wallace, 60 Minutes has both informed and entertained, rarely having an off night and always delivering on its promises. The show has won 73 Emmy awards, more than any other news program, but its uplifting impact on the American psyche goes beyond numbers. Mr. Hewitt and his team are to be congratulated for maintaining what is arguably the finest 60 minutes on television.