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Thursday, June 05, 2003


Current Events Watch, Wherein I Tap the News Lightly on the Shoulder and Run Away

It looks as if the storied New York Times has been shaken to its very foundation, as Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, two white men holding two of the highest positions of authority at the paper, resigned over the ongoing controversies touched off by the Jayson Blair incident.

OK, Boyd is black, but we didn't see color at the Times. My confusion is understandable.

When I was a summer intern there some years ago, the Times' colorblindness had so mucked up their liberal affirmative-action policy that I was hired to fulfill the "tan guy from the New York suburbs" quota, and allowed to fabricate obituaries to keep the death notice rates up. I quickly became untouchable; I was never reprimanded for factual inaccuracies. I often claimed datelines of "Funkytown" and "Jupiter," providing only "prove I wasn't there" as a justification, which was always accepted so that we could get back to the very important business of swigging from bottles of Jameson's at our desks.

As Raines (white) and Boyd (black) often stated, neither myself (white) nor Blair (black) were ever afforded special treatment because of our respective skin colors. Indeed, often we were made to engage in rounds of Indian (there were no Indians in the newsroom at the time) leg-wrestling in the bullpen. Raines (white) always bet on Blair (black), and Boyd (black) always bet on me (white). It was as equitable as a California divorce settlement.

Blair (black) and I (white) bonded over our golden-boy status. He regularly cut his coke on the vanity mirror I'd kept on my desk. I'd stop by his desk and talk about the Knicks, or about which secretaries in the typing pool (they still had a typing pool reserved exclusively for golden-boy use) we were zapping.

Raines often tried to badger us into joining him on his human-quarry hunting excursions to Bali, always offering Blair (black) the compound bow and me (white) the blowgun. I declined, but Blair (black) threw himself into the occasion with gusto. Raines (white) even mounted a young Polynesian (brownish) man's head above his desk, next to a picture of Blair (black), veins in his (black) forearm straining against the tension of the bow string.

Gerald Boyd (black), meanwhile, once threatened my job if I didn't sub as baritone in his barbershop quartet, The Sulzberger Surprises. Knowing that I'm at my best in the alto range, I declined, and never saw another byline in the Times. But it certainly had nothing to do with my (white) skin color, just my lack of bass pipes. I knew that my stint at the Times was over when Raines (white) left a Post-It on my desk, requesting that my "cracker, honkified ass" see him in his office, where he was waiting with a cardboard box full of my belongings, including the World's Greatest Boss plastic Oscar that I'd given to Boyd (black).

Blair (black), however, continued to rack up stories and human kills outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. And we know where that got the paper.

Word on the down-low from the journalism grapevine has my friend Howell (white) snagging a supervisory editor gig at The Source and buddy Gerald (black) landing on his feet at Sparkly Caucasian Teen, the title of which he is changing to Sparkly Teen in his first act as editor.

And as for me (white), well, you get to read me here on an almost daily basis.

God bless The New York Times, on your behalf.

About this site

This is the internet home of Mark Lisanti, a Los Angeles writer sometimes known as Bunsen. He is the founding editor of Defamer, a weblog about Hollywood, where he now serves in the nebulous capacity of "editor-at-large."
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