The decision last week by New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to ask for the resignation of executive editor Howell Raines in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal will likely go down as one of the larger mistakes in The Times’ history. Mr. Raines’ acquiescence in his own departure was likewise a hasty move which will bring little benefit to himself or the newspaper he ran for nearly two years. That a man so utterly devoid of ethics as Jayson Blair was allowed to operate and prosper at The Times is shocking, and cause for severe internal examination. But it does not follow that an editor of Mr. Raines’ superb talents should be cast out simply to make some starchy statement about The Times’ nobility to the wider world, or to appease Times staffers who disliked Mr. Raines’ reportedly brusque management style.
Leadership at a great newspaper is not something that should be handed to pleasant company clerks. Mr. Raines may have ruffled feathers inside The Times , particularly at its Washington, D.C., bureau. But he also won a record seven Pulitzer Prizes in his first year as executive editor and, all in all, did a magnificent job. Frankly, a newspaper’s most important clients are its readers, not its employees. The Times’ readers did suffer a monstrous deception at the hands of Mr. Blair, but they benefited far more from Mr. Raines’ intelligence and instincts. There was no need to smear the whole paper with Mr. Blair’s acts of journalistic vandalism; readers largely accepted The Times’ lengthy analysis and apology. Mr. Raines reportedly drove his reporters hard-but is that any surprise, given that on his watch the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack in history and subsequently waged two major wars? Mr. Raines simply made sure that The Times was equal to the historic moments that were so rapidly unfolding. What more could a publisher ask from an editor?
But the Sulzbergers lacked the courage of their convictions. Rather than stand behind their editor, they caved in to pressure from the staff, and in so doing they have undermined whoever comes in to take Mr. Raines’ place. The Times has employed editors far less popular than Mr. Raines-and if those editors didn’t win any popularity contests, they nevertheless became great editors because the Sulzbergers made sure everyone knew that they enjoyed the family’s full support.
This time, the Sulzbergers fed Mr. Raines to the wolves of West 43rd Street. The paper will, of course, survive. But its foundation has been shaken-and not by the likes of Jayson Blair.
Caroline Kennedy’s Gift
At a time when New York City is looking for leadership from its civic and business elites, Caroline Kennedy is setting an example that others would do well to follow.
Eight months ago, Ms. Kennedy accepted a job as a fund-raiser for the city’s troubled public-school system. What seemed to some like an honorary appointment or mere window dressing has evolved into a serious commitment, with Ms. Kennedy a frequent presence in the Department of Education’s headquarters in the old Tweed Courthouse. Working behind the scenes, she has become an impressive advocate for public-school children, many of them suffering the effects of the city’s budget crisis. Foundations and private donors who might be concerned about the school system’s reputation for wasteful spending have been won over by her dedication.
As the department’s chief executive for strategic partnerships, Ms. Kennedy is tinkering with several promising ideas, including a plan to reach out to New York’s impressive list of public-school alumni. She also hopes to increase parental involvement in the schools through stepped-up volunteerism, and would like to see improved arts programs.
Needless to say, Caroline Kennedy didn’t have to accept these responsibilities. She is busy and successful, and she and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, are rearing three children, the youngest of whom is still only 10 years old. She might have offered any one of a dozen reasons why she couldn’t accept. Instead, she took on the challenge-and a daunting challenge it is. With dignity, eloquence and other gifts of persuasion, Caroline Kennedy will fulfill that mission. And we will remember that during a time of crisis, she asked what she could do for her city. Hopefully, the same will be said for many more of us.
Puerto Rican Day Parade: Trashing the East Side
Once again, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, held on June 8, was pronounced a glorious success by media outlets like The New York Times and politicians like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Governor George Pataki. One has to wonder, which parade exactly did they attend?
Surely not the one that wound its way along Fifth Avenue, during which many of the parade-goers once again saw nothing wrong with dumping their trash on the streets and sidewalk, not caring that they were trashing a family neighborhood. Where was the pride? For the past several years, the parade has been an embarrassment to New York, transforming Fifth Avenue and Central Park into a slovenly garbage heap. It’s hard to imagine that any other world-class city would allow one of its residential areas to be desecrated on an annual basis.
The world got its first good look at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2000, when 50 women were sexually assaulted by a gang of men-an event that was captured on videotape and broadcast across the globe. Since then, the city has had to deploy an army of several thousand police officers-at taxpayer expense-to prevent mayhem. And residents of buildings along Fifth Avenue have had to erect large wooden barricades to prevent parade-goers from tearing up plantings and shrubbery. Even with the added police protection, in 2001 seven women were victims of sex attacks and several hundred parade-goers started a riot in the Bronx, throwing bottles at police and setting fire to a car. In 2002, police issued 52 summonses-representing a small fraction of the number which could have been issued, had many cops not chosen to allow disorderly conduct to go unpunished. Indeed, this year parade-goers again taunted the police, who are under orders to look the other way, aware that in such a politically correct climate, even cursory law enforcement is seized upon as an example of police misconduct. City officials, wary of causing a stir, continue to be complicit in denying the fact that the parade’s true purpose-to honor the heritage and achievements of New York’s citizens of Puerto Rican descent-has been hijacked by those who use the occasion to indulge in drunken, macho misbehavior. And the media for the most part plays along: Reading the coverage in The Times, one had to wonder if the reporter had even been at the parade, or had just watched it on television while sitting in a hotel room in California.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly owe it to New Yorkers to help create a parade that truly reflects the pride and dignity of the majority of the parade-goers, and that doesn’t turn a family neighborhood into a war zone.