Here We Go Again: The Jayson Blair Hysteria

The Blair controversy has become a cautionary tale that presumably highlights the pitfalls of employment diversity policies and the suspect license of liberal journalism.
Here we go again. As the hysteria over the Jayson Blair controversy rages the recurring theme in the national uproar has been the bankruptcy of affirmative action. While nationwide postings of Blair's mug on websites and in newspapers have begun to resemble those proverbial Wild West wanted posters tacked up in frontier towns, Blair's sorry saga has become the New York Times' crucible, a cautionary tale that presumably highlights the pitfalls of employment diversity policies and the suspect license of liberal journalism.

Yet the grave depictions of Blair as swaggeringly arrogant and disdainful of basic newsroom protocol are laughable when juxtaposed with the typical attributes of white male entitlement that drive corporate media. Those who decry the Times' willful ignorance of Blair's tactics imply that they would never have been tolerated if they were perpetrated by a white journalist. Yet over the past several years we've been deluged with highly-publicized cases of egregious white male improprieties, from the corporate malfeasance of CEO Bernhard Ebbers to the plagiarism of historian Stephen Ambrose and former New Republic journalist Stephen Glass. Needless to say these incidences elicited nary a critique of the entrenched nature of white male entitlement. Ebbers, Ambrose, Glass, et al were individuals, you see, not beneficiaries of a culture of privilege and power conferred on them by virtue of race. Their arrogant ascent had virtually nothing to do with the curious fact that white men remain the dominant ethnic and gender interest group in the newsrooms, corporate boardrooms and publishing citadels of the U.S.

That the Blair story broke when the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a landmark affirmative action case brought against the University of Michigan has surely been cause for giddy celebration among reactionary media watchdogs. Conservative pundits can salivate over the comeuppance of this once-vaunted bastion of "liberal" journalistic integrity and sputter a collective "I told you so" about diversity policies.

However those who inveigh against the use of corrective affirmative action policies for white women and people of color in college admissions and employment conveniently ignore the very real empirical evidence attesting to the rewards of race privilege for white household family income, education and life opportunities. According to the California Assembly's Inclusion Index, family household income for whites in 2001 was nearly twice that of blacks and Latinos, and whites accounted for nearly 75 percent of small businesses. Despite the fact that more African Americans and Latinos are receiving undergraduate degrees, the Public Policy Institute of California found that the wage gap between whites and people of color in California actually increased over the last decade. Yet these factors are not commonly construed as examples of how whites systematically benefit from their own legacy of affirmative action.

In the final analysis, Blair's case is a caveat about the insular culture of corporate journalism and the unscrupulousness of one individual reporter, not an indictment of affirmative action as redress for our vigorous tradition of white privilege.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of "Imagining Transit: Race, Gender and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles."
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