Trouble at the Times
It seems as though the Times was inordinately tolerant of Blair. His bosses say they leaned on him repeatedly about his inaccuracies. Fair enough. Blair said his work was hampered by "recurring personal issues." Earlier he told his bosses he suffered from the shock of losing a relative in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. But sources at the Times say Blair's problems go back well before 9/11. One source said the charge that Blair was making up quotes goes back to his earliest days at the paper. Two reporters said protective staff members would do Blair's reporting for him when he didn't show up for work. Another reporter, who refused to work with Blair any longer, told the metro desk about his erratic behavior. My assistant here at U.S. News, Margaret Menge, turned up a Boston Globe article by Blair (April 18, 1999) that contains quotes nearly identical to those published in the Washington Post a week before.
Alarm bells should have gone off at the Times years ago. Or perhaps we should say that the bells were going off--all those quotes being denied by Blair's sources. But the Times seemed unwilling to hear or to take any action. Last week, Howard Kurtz of the Post interviewed a Times editor, who said the paper had come to realize that Blair was compiling a substandard record. The Blair scandal is not just evidence that reporters can go off track. It's a reminder that diversity programs can undermine the standards that made great institutions great.