Jewish World Review May 28, 2003 / 26 Iyar, 5763

Michael Graham

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A few small reparations | "[The story of] a young black man…who rose from the fields and got a place in the master's house and then burned it down the only way he knew how."— From disgraced NY Times reporter Jayson Blair's book proposal, "Burning Down My Master's House."

Ah, yes —them old cotton fields of suburban Washington, DC. Now the real Jayson Blair story can be told.

Back when the story was "New York Times Reporting Is Less Than Accurate," I had no interest in it. A liberal news source isn't telling me the truth? Next you'll have me doubting the artistic integrity of American Idol.

Then, when the story became "Racial Preference Policies of NY Times Under Fire," I yawned again. Of course, they believe in treating employees differently based on race. A "racial diversity" policy that didn't would be rather pointless, wouldn't it?

But then I read the coverage of Jayson Blair's book proposal blaming racism and bigotry for his downfall, and now, I'm interested. I'm interested because I can't think of anyone whose story better reflects the true state of race relations in America.

Growing up in Fairfax County, VA —one of the 10 wealthiest counties per capita in America-- Blair had everything going against him: His father toiling for The Man as a well-paid inspector general at the prestigious Smithsonian in Washington, DC; his mother slaving away as a school teacher in one of the nation's most successful and diverse public school systems; young Jayson growing up on the tough streets of a community with a crime rate at or below that of Mayberry, NC. Is it any wonder Blair was dragged into this downward social spiral of suburban affluence and opportunity?

The brother never had a chance.

Then he fell into the clutches of the Old Gray Lady who he considers, according to the Washington Post, "my tormentor, my other drug, my slavemaster." And what torment —snatching a University of Maryland drop-out with a reputation for lying and incompetence from his career as an intern and forcing him into a good-paying, expenses-accounted, high-profile reporter's job at the most important newspaper in the English-speaking world.

Alex Haley, where are you when we need you?

Is it any wonder, then, that Jayson Blair hopes to wrest his small share of reparations from his "slave masters" by snagging a six-figure book deal? And Blair is right. He — an incompetent, chain-smoking, pathological, 27-year-old drunk working the exclusive National Desk of the New York Times — would never have achieved what he did if not for the scourge of American racism.

No, I'm not saying a secret cabal of ink-stained Klansmen are running the Times, using their nefarious powers to destroy the next generation of talented minority reporters. I mean good-old-fashioned, thick-necked, name-calling, white-supremacist racism gave Blair every opportunity he enjoyed.

That racism is real. And the reality of it tugs at the conscience of the typical New York Times liberal. He wants to do something to help the thousands of black Americans whose lives have been harmed by this racism, but most of the black people he knows are like Jayson Blair. So he helps them instead.

As a result, Jayson Blair represents America's "lotto minority, " a handful of black citizens whose lives are inadvertently made better by the suffering of others. For Blair, the legitimate prejudice and injustice borne by millions of black Americans far, far away resulted in a big payoff for one spoiled suburbanite on the outskirts of DC.

Is that fair? Is that right? Apparently, Jayson Blair doesn't think so. He thirsts for revenge. What —does Howell Raines think he's going to give a big-time job to a narcissistic incompetent like Blair…and get away with it? Hah!

So Blair's plan, apparently, is to bring himself down, to destroy himself by revealing just how big a loser the Times really hired. When he's done, Blair will be lucky to get a job at the Montgomery County, MD. Gazette —which is probably the job he should have gotten to begin with.

And somewhere, some qualified —perhaps even overqualified —J-school student is working long hours at the campus paper, dreaming of earning a spot in the newsroom of the Times. If that dedicated journalist makes it, and nobody ever even asks about skin color, Jayson Blair will have succeeded in destroying his corner of the New York Times.

Whether he ever knows it or not.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.


05/22/03: Springtime for Hitler?

© 2003, Michael Graham