Racism and Power Politics at The New York Times


In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Russell Baker takes a long look at My Times in Black and White, the new posthumous autobiography from former New York Times Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, who was fired in 2003 and later died of cancer in 2006. As Baker notes, Boyd was "the first black ever to reach such a dazzling position in the Times hierarchy," and it sounds like his liberal colleagues weren't exactly happy about it. Here's some of the dirt:

It is mildly surprising, to be sure, to find that the Times, so famous as a bulwark of liberalism, was still bogged down with backwater racial passions. These made Boyd a central figure in the uprising since one cause of the newsroom's epic discontent was the muted displeasure some white employees felt toward the paper's "diversity" program. As a black giving orders in the newsroom, Boyd was the human manifestation of "diversity," hence a vulnerable figure once rebellion required a few executions.

The Times had been grappling with its race problem since the 1980s when Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., not yet the publisher but preparing to be, started talking about his desire for "diversity," a euphemism for affirmative action in hiring and promotions. Whether the Times newsroom was a more exclusive white male enclave than that of most other metropolitan dailies is doubtful, but its prominence made it a natural target for blacks, gays, and women hungry for a crack at high-end journalism, and Sulzberger's support for "diversity" was an attempt to bring the paper into the modern social order.

Boyd was recruited for a management position in the 1980s by Max Frankel, then executive editor. By that time, Boyd had already established himself as a top-of-the-line reporter during an exemplary career with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Times's Washington bureau. Frankel told him that the Times "severely lacked minorities to promote to management," that it was hard to find "suitable candidates," that increased "diversity" was not just one of his own priorities but one of Sulzberger's too, and that Boyd's "help toward the effort would mean a lot."

Read the rest here.