When it was revealed that USA Today foreign correspondent JackKelley had fabricated some of his most celebrated dispatches fromthe Middle East, media critics had a field day. Kelley was the onlyUSA Today staffer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for his revealingstories, and he was given a lot of leeway in his writing, oftenputting himself in the stories he wrote. Then his card was pulled,and all of a sudden USA Today was front page news in every majornewspaper, even its own.
But what is on the minds of some peoplewatching the Kelley case, is how the coverage compares to that ofJayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter, who, not even ayear prior to Kelley’s mistakes, had fabricated orplagiarized an estimated 52 stories. His mistakes would not onlycost him his job and the jobs of the two top editors – GeraldBoyd and Howell Raines – but they would also bring the issueof affirmative action in the newsroom to the forefront of mediadiscussions. Blair was not only a reporter who committed theultimate no-no in journalism, but he was a Black man to boot.
Kelley, on the other hand, is white.
And with that let the media race warbegin.
I am a young, talented, aspiring journalist. Iam also Black, but no Blair am I. And I have done everything I canto act like he has never existed. But every once in a while one ofmy peers will ask for my two cents on the Blair-Kelley scandals,and usually the person asking is Black, and looking for me to blastthe media for the lack of coverage Kelley is given compared toBlair. So imagine their surprise when I tell them thefollowing:
The issue of race and Jayson Blair is valid,but it is not as valid as Jayson Blair and The New York Times,America’s paper of record. It is not as valid as Jayson Blairand a cocaine addiction, nor is it as valid as Jayson Blair and abook he has recently published about his time at the Times calledBurning Down my Masters House. These are the factors thatmake Blair’s crimes more atrocious than Kelley’s.
When Blair was the only scandal of its kind,and Kelley was still getting away with lies fromcafé’s in Kuwait, everyone, Black and White chastisedhim. But when Kelley came into the picture, it was time to show theworld how the job of lying is an equal opportunity employer. AndI’m glad that it has given those who wanted to attribute allof Blair’s faults to his Blackness, something to think about.Yet, if we must have a boxing match between the sins of Blair andthe sins of Kelley, then I’m sorry, Kelley’s sins arenot even in the same weight class. If the reasons I have alreadymentioned aren’t enough to prove me right, then let me remindreaders that at least Kelley was physically at the locations he wasreporting from. Meanwhile, Blair was somehow able to report theD.C. Sniper killings from the comfort of his Brooklyn home.
Boxing matches aside, the case for more Blackpeople in the newsroom has digressed slightly because ofBlair’s incompetence, but the important thing to remember isthe voice of the media, a voice that should have no color in thefirst place, might become mute because of the lies.