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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Will 'NY Times' Boss Be Held Accountable?

Aired May 14, 2003 - 19:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is pretty common for TV and newspapers to call for the boss's head when some underling does bad. It's called accountability.
The question before "The New York Times" in a closed door meeting today was how will the "Times" bosses be held accountable. The answer: an internal panel will review how reporter Jayson Blair could write story after story including plagiarism and frankly just invented and made up facts.

Blair has been fired, of course, but it appears his boss, executive editor Howell Raines, isn't going anywhere.

Joining us is Howard Kurtz of the "Washington Post" and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Howard, what are you hearing about what's going to happen?

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES" HOST: It was an extraordinary meeting at "The New York Times" today, Anderson. All the emotion and the anger and the humiliation over what Jayson Blair has done to that newspaper came out. And one reporter stood up and he's talking to his boss, Howell Rains, and asked him whether he would resign.

Raines said absolutely not, he would stay on the job as long as the man on the stage with him, publisher Arthur Salsberger, would let him keep his job and Salsberger gave Raines a vote of confidence.

But this turned into an amazing session, given the hierarchy at the New York Times, where people were very critical about Raines and his team's handling of this Jayson Blair fiasco.

COOPER: Did anyone ask about favoritism or race, which has certainly been a topic over the last couple of days, a lot of people have been bringing it up?

KURTZ: Yes, absolutely. And in fact, Gerald Boyd, who's the managing editor and the highest ranking black editor at the newspaper, said this shouldn't be about race. Denied that he, Gerald Boyd, had been a mentor to this 27-year-old reporter.

So there were efforts by the "Times" to say that while, yes, having a diverse staff is important to us, that's not why we gave Jayson Blair so many chances after he made all these mistakes.

COOPER: Well, how did they -- I mean, how did they explain? He had something like 50 corrections over the course of four years, which is just extraordinary.

KURTZ: Well, they didn't explain it very well. They explained it by saying they had made mistakes. The metro editor had written a memo saying Jayson shouldn't be allowed to write for "The New York Times" anymore, but nothing happened. It wasn't given to the national editor.

There was enormous criticism over two of Jayson Blair's stories in the Washington sniper case. People wanted to know, did you ask him for his sources? The answer came back, no. People wanted to know, what are you doing assigning a young, untested reporter with such a checkered record to the most sensitive story, the sniper case? Again, Raines and his team admitted they had made mistakes.

And so it got very testy at certain points. The editors got defensive and I think it served to remind us how much damage has been done here to "The New York Times'" reputation. It's a great newspaper, but 36 stories with made up interviews, with a reporter who didn't go to the cities where he said he was. That is an extraordinary failure of management.

COOPER: And we've probably not heard the last of this story. Howard Kurtz, appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

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