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Jayson Blair scandal: NYT top editors quit
Ellen Wulfhorst in New York |
June 06, 2003 03:51 IST
The top two New York Times editors resigned on Thursday, dogged by an unrelenting scandal sparked by a former young reporter who plagiarised and fabricated dozens of stories at the nation's most influential newspaper.
Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd emerged from a mid-morning meeting and told surprised staff in the midtown Manhattan newsroom they were quitting, NYT reporters said.
The plagiarism scandal gripped the paper in recent weeks, as top editors traced the misconduct of reporter Jayson Blair and investigated the work of other reporters.
It also brought to the surface brewing dissatisfaction with Raines' management style, which many staff members complained was hierarchical, distant and based on making stars out of selected reporters and ignoring others.
As the top editors spoke to the newspaper staff, Raines looked pained, while Boyd was teary-eyed and lost his train of thought, reporters said.
The two editors had come under severe criticism after it was revealed that Blair had plagiarised and fabricated numerous stories during his NYT career of almost four years.
Blair resigned in early May. Since then, top NYT writer Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winner, resigned amid accusations of dishonest reporting.
Raines and Boyd were blamed for overlooking Blair's errors and warnings about the quality of his work by other editors. They were also accused of promoting the young black reporter in the interest of helping diversify the newsroom, despite his known shortcomings.
"Howell and Gerald have tendered their resignations, and I have accepted them with sadness based on what we believe is best for The Times," said publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of The New York Times Co. in a statement.
At a recent meeting with staff, Raines said: "You have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes."
The publisher had said he would not seek Raines' resignation despite the uproar, but expectations had been high that some senior editors would have to pay a price for the lapses in standards during their tenure.
The Blair scandal spread well beyond the paper, being the latest in a long string to erode public confidence in journalism -- now only 36 per cent compared to 54 per cent in 1989, according to a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.
As Raines and Boyd spoke on Thursday, there were a few wet eyes and a smattering of applause in the newsroom. Some senior editors gave Boyd a standing ovation.
"Everyone is kind of stunned," said one reporter. "These are two guys who put their whole life into the paper and they certainly didn't set out to do anything bad.
"My first reaction was maybe this would allow people to move on, but none of it's good, really. This outcome is just sad," the reporter said.
The NYT said Joseph Lelyveld, former executive editor of the newspaper, would return as interim executive editor.
New York magazine media critic Michael Wolff cautioned that the resignations would not quell the controversy.
"I think that the focus now becomes on Arthur Sulzberger and in fact I think that's the root of what's happened here. It's all about the survival of the publisher at this point," he said.
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