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20 years

Two Cents Worth

By Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2003 - All Rights Reserved
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Never before has a newspaper reporter written a more contemplative piece than that which was recently penned by Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer Jason Riley on the forced resignation of New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for fabricating stories for America’s largest daily newspaper. Blair, a racial-minority reporter, was not hired because of his superior writing ability or his investigative acumen. He was hired because he was an attractive black applicant with the right academic credentials and a yuppyish politically-correct appearance that would make his editorial supervisors look good to the diversity-oriented senior management when Blair was eventually given his own private glass-walled cubicle where he would then pass out writing assignments to junior reporters and journalism interns at the New York Times.
     From the moment he was hired, Blair was on a career fast track for a junior management slot at the New York Times. The Times, which is the most politically-correct newspaper in the United States, claims to publish only the news that is fit to print--an adage, I guess, that's not quite as true as its 100+ year old pledge implies. Now they can't even claim that they print all the news that is true.
     If you recall, a few years ago, an up-and-coming black reporter with the Boston Globe named Patricia Smith was fired when it was learned she not only made up the people involved in some of her reports, but fabricated incidents as well. Smith, like Blair, was being coddled by management for a high profile low-tier management role. The Boston Globe, like the New York Times likes to tout the fact that they are "equality" opportunity employers (as opposed to equal opportunity employers).
     But more notorious than either Blair or Smith was Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke. Cooke authored a heart-wrenching story that appeared in the Post on September 29, 1980. Her tale related the sad story of a young boy she named "Jimmy." Jimmy, she reported, was introduced to heroin by his mother's boyfriend. In her article, Cooke wrote that "...Jimmy is eight years old and a third generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby smooth skin of his thin brown arms." The article evoked so much sympathy that the people in Washington wanted to help Jimmy. As it turned out, there was no Jimmy. Cooke, who received a Pulitzer Prize for the story on April 13, 1981, made it all up. Jimmy, his mother, and her heroin addict boyfriend were all fiction. Cooke blamed the management of the Washington Post for expecting reporters to be superstars like Woodward and Bernstein who, themselves, won Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of Watergate.
     On Sunday, May 11 the New York Times printed a front page mea culpa on Jayson Blair. Missing from their apology to their readers was an admission that the New York Times places affirmative action policies over actual talent or journalistic integrity. There is an assumption that if two liberal reporters have the same classroom training, they are equally qualified to slant the news to the Times' particular biased view. By eliminating talent or personal intellect or integrity from the hiring equation, affirmative action appears to be a completely unbiased equalizer. In point of fact, affirmative action assumes equality without the need for competition. If there is no reason to compete, there is no need for “sweat equity dedication” and no impetus to strive for success, since success is imputed--and the rewards that success demands will be freely given. Nor is there a need for personal work integrity since there is are no repercussions or penalties for failure.
     Advocates of affirmative action justify the use of "set asides" to assure that members of gender, ethnic or racial minorities are guaranteed success in the great American dream. Yet, no where in the Constitution is anyone guaranteed that they will be, or even should be, successful in their career endeavors.
     The only thing we, as Americans, are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights is the freedom to compete. And even then, nowhere in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights are we guaranteed that we will be allowed to compete on a level playing field. Such guarantees would eliminate the value of personal competition, and thus hinder genuine competition in the free enterprise system*.
     Pamela Johnson, like Jayson Blair, was fired. The news stories about both of them gained legs not because of their lack of integrity as reporters, or due to the fact that reporters on two large metropolitan newspapers made up portions of their news stories, They became front page news because both of them were products of affirmative action.
     On Tuesday, May 13, Washington Post reporter Terry Neal (also an African American reporter) attempted to defend affirmative action even as he personally chastised Blair, whom he called "...an affront to journalism [who] disgraced an honorable profession that already suffers a credibility problem." Neal commented that "...when the story broke, many minority reporters I know said in private conversations among themselves that it would take only a day or two before some people erupted in paroxysms of indignation and anger about the effort to diversify newsrooms." And, of course, when it happened, those reporters felt both justified and vindicated in their own minds that what was happening was simply jealous whites complaining about successful blacks.
     Terry Neal, in his Washington Post article on diversity, recalled Ruth Shalit, whom he referred to as "...the young white hotshot reporter..." who wrote what Neal called a 13,000 word New Republic opus in which she took on the Washington Post. Neal noted that Washington Post editors found nearly 40 factual errors in the story. He also noted that Shalit used materials from other publications without citing sources, etc. Accused of plagiarism, Neal said that Shalit deflected the allegation by claiming plagiarism implied intent. What she did, she said, was simply sloppy reporting (for failing to credit the work of those she cited). I agree with Neal. When you use others work without supplying author’s credit, it’s plagiarism. Neal noted that Shalit merely moved to other establishment media who "...supported her and kept giving her jobs and high profile assignments."
     Neal then commented on yet another white reporter, Stephen Glass, who had also been with the New Republic. Neal described him as "...another fancy-pants reporter who wowed readers...with the most vivid, colorful writing this town has seen in years." Glass, Neal observed, was eventually fired for fabricating news stories. Also fired for fabricating at least portions of their articles were Reed Cawthorn of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Finkel, a freelancer for the New York Times, and Mike Barnicle who had, according to Neal, been previously accused of fabricating quotes. Barnicle reportedly was caught plagiarizing jokes written by comic George Carlin. According to Neal, Barnicle’s punishment for plagiarism was a plush job at MSNBC.
     The thrust of Neal’s argument was that plagiarism is not a big thing unless it is committed by a black reporter who is, or could have been, a product of affirmative action. Or worse, that white reporters are never punished when they fabricate stories or commit plagiarism while blacks and other minorities are chastised, ridiculed and fired in a firestorm of media criticism when they commit a journalistic faux paus.
     The Wall Street Journal's Riley drew the Glass-Blair comparison with unbiased candor and objective honesty. "If the perpetuator is Stephen Glass, the white fabulist fired five years ago from the New Republic magazine," Riley opined, "he is just another ethically challenged youngster who made some very bad decisions in life. But if the perpetuator is Jayson Blair, the black fabulist who resigned two weeks ago from the New York Times, he is an example of affirmative action run amuck.
     "Somewhere between the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1978 Supreme Court Bakke decision on university admissions, blacks forfeited their right to be judged by society as individuals. The most unfortunate consequence of racial preferences is not that they produce the occasional Jayson Blair...Far more troubling is that racial preferences, however well-intentioned, strip blacks of their individuality, their pride, their humanity. Race-based policies make black achievement a white allowance, and black failure a group stigma."
     While that statement should not be true in our society in 2003, when you stop and think about it, Mr. Riley is absolutely correct. And, Mr. Neal is absolutely wrong when he suggests that the conservative media's claims that upper management at the New York Times "...coddled" Blair, and denounced such a contemplation as "...pure buffoonery." Neal raised the angry question "...What about all the young aggressive white reporters who are pushed along by overeager white mentors, and are clearly not ready for prime time?" Neal further shows his own lack of objectivity, and his stout defense of affirmative action when he first acknowledges Blair's ties to "powerful mentors" at the New York Times, admitting that in his 14 years as a journalist, he had never heard of a black reporter which such close ties to senior management on a major newspaper. Then, assuming the exception (which he claimed Blair was) negated the rule, he concluded that "...Blair was an aberration. As an aberration," Neal claimed, "[Jayson Blair] can't be made an example of any larger social problem."
     We live in a society that judges its members by its achievements--and its failings. If we climb to the pinnacle of success through our own ingenuity, we have a right to claim that our success was due entirely to our own sweat equity and our own ambition. If we fail, our defeat is likewise as singular as our success.
     If, on the other hand, our success is achieved only because of a court-mandated minority affirmative action program, then Jason Riley is correct when he surmises that black achievement is based on collective allowances that impute economic, educational, or career equality without the need for competition. And, if that statement is true then, conversely, when the stars of affirmative action fall, the collective system of racial preferences fail as well.
     The hucksters of affirmative action know this to be true. That is, as Riley noted in his Wall Street Journal article, "...why so many black journalists hung their heads at the revelation of Mr. Blair's race. Not his "crime"--but at the fact that he was a product of affirmative action. Had Jayson Blair been a white New York Times fabulist, he would have been fired and a small blurb (not worthy of page one) about his termination for journalistic fabrications would have hit the AP newswire. Admittedly, if that reporter was a conservative--on top of being a white male--CNN and the liberal earth station television networks would exploited it into a national lead story. But even then, it would not have earned editorial space on 4 pages of the New York Times that the Blair story received. In their story, Managing Editor Howard Raines, Blair's mentor at the New York Times admitted that Blair was viewed as a symbol of the paper's commitment to "diversity." Woven through the 14,000+ word article was an assurance of the Times commitment to racial diversity--and their conclusion that Blair, not affirmative action, had failed.
     Better had the Times made a commitment to hire, as reporters, writers with verifiable credentials to attest to their accurate reporting and writing skills. Unfortunately, affirmative action mandates an implied equality based on an assumption that skills which may not exist, must exist because the individual was educated in that particular career environment. And, that is the failing of affirmative action. Affirmative action imputes superior equality rather than simply providing the minority candidate with a level playing field upon which he or she can fairly compete with his or her academic peers without either candidate being construed, without competition, to be superior.
     Tragically, affirmative action has been used not only to "equalize" the number of minority reporters working on America's newspapers, but it has been used universally as a set aside in all career fields over the last four decades. Colleges and universities have been required to administer quotas to make sure that the number of minorities students paralleled the percentages of minorities within the population--even if they did not have the scholastic acumen to qualify for admission. Attorneys, educators, engineers, psychologists, and regretfully, even physicians are products of affirmative action.
     When Patrick Chavis, a black applicant, was admitted to the University of California Medical School at Davis in 1973, he was by no means a scholastic achiever even though his life, up to that point, was a success story. Chavis was a product of the welfare system. He was determined to beat the odds and escape his environment. Chavis grew up in Compton, California. He was the offspring of a single mom who worked, when she could, as a beautician. He and four siblings were supported by welfare. He became, at least in the mind of Senator Edward Kennedy [D-MA] an Alger Hiss success story. Chavis, a product of the slums of California and Michigan, did, in fact, raise himself up by his boot straps. Against all odds, he graduated from Albion College in Michigan with a degree in biology. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of California. Shortly after the Hayden article appeared, Teddy Kennedy noted that Dr. Chavis was "The perfect example of how affirmative action should work." What Kennedy should have said was that Chavis was a tragic example of how affirmative action works. But even more, Chavis is the perfect example--at least in the medical and legal professions--of why affirmative action doesn't work. Sorrowfully, the medical community knew it early on but couldn’t stop him. Dr. Chavis set up his medical practice in Lynwood, California.
     In 1993 he was accused by Long Beach Memorial Hospital of mishandling a delivery. Chavis denied the allegation. The hospital decided to monitor the way Chavis’ handled his patients in his charge as long as they were patients in the hospital. Angered by the hospital’s audacity to “check up on him,” Chavis sued Long Beach Memorial, charging the hospital with racism. Because Long Beach Memorial hadn’t been watching Chavis long enough to prove that Chavis was incompetent, Chavis won $1,100,000.00 in damages. A judge overturned the verdict. When they completed their biographical sketch of Dr. Chavis as they prepared to write his obituary after he was gunned down by three men in Hawthorne on July 12, 2002, the Associated Press discovered that Chavis had been sued for malpractice 21 times—an average of once for each of his 20 year of medical practice.
     As a physician, Chavis was less than average--no better than his MCATs suggest he was as a student. While he claimed to have delivered over 10,000 babies as a obstetrician, Chavis was also an abortionist. Had the medical community taken a closer look at Dr. Chavis after questions concerning his qualifications first surfaced in 1993, at least a thousand babies whose lives were painfully taken by Chavis’ scalpel might have been spared--and Tammaria Cotton, who went to Dr. Chavis for a liposuction in 1997--would still be alive today.
     When he was admitted to the University of California Medical School, a white applicant named Allen Bakke--who scored considerably higher than Chavis and four other black medical students on his MCATs--was denied admission. Bakke sued. The case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978. The high court ruled that affirmative action could be used to determine admissions in universities to correct past racial injustices. In 1996 Jane Fonda's former husband, Tom Hayden wrote an article in The Nation, about Chavis. He wrote that Dr. Chavis was a noteworthy OB/GYN while Dr. Bakke was merely an anesthesiologist. While Hayden admitted that Bakke's MCAT scores were higher (Bakke's MCAT quantitative score was in the 94 percentile while Chavis' was in the 24 range and Bakke's science score was in the 97 percentile. Chavis' was in the 35 percentile range), he noted that Dr. Chavis was “...providing primary care to poor women [in a mostly black community]...Bakke's scores were higher," he admitted, "but who made the most of his medical school education? From whom did California taxpayers benefit more?"
     Just days after Teddy Kennedy sang the praises of Dr. Peter Chavis, the doctor performed a liposuction on Yolanda Mukhalian. While Chavis was trained in obstetrics, his revenues increasingly came from abortions and doing liposuctions--which he was neither trained nor qualified to do. Chavis’ advanced training in liposuction, according to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby in an August 14, 1997 article, came from a four day seminar at the Liposuction Institute of Beverly Hills--a course Chavis did not even finish. He attended classes for two of the four days. I expect the two days Chavis missed were the days in which the actual procedure was taught--and the need for the physician to follow-up with the patient were stressed.
     In the case of Mukhalian, problems resulted immediately. According to court documents secured by Jacoby for his Globe article, “...Mukhalian’s surgery left her vomiting, sweating, and urinating helplessly as, in the court’s words, ‘blood gushed down her pantleg’...She lay there bleeding for 40 hours, during which Chavis provided virtually no supervision or medical care. She returned to his office on May 14, still bleeding and in pain. He prescribed heat packs and a massage. Two days later, she was worse--still bleeding, in extreme pain, and growing delirious. He didn’t return her calls. Nor did he examine her when she returned once more on May 17. By June 8 Mukhalian was in St. Francis Hospital with a severe abdominal infection. She was badly scarred and had lost 70% of her blood. By some miracle,” Jacoby concluded, “she survived.”
When the Mukhalian incident occurred, Chavis should have at least thought, “I may have missed something important in the two days of liposuction training I decided I didn’t need...” and, in thanking his lucky stars that this patient survived his botched efforts at cosmetic surgery, postponed any more liposuctions until he actually learned what he was doing, Chavis scheduled another liposuction. His patient’s name this time was Valerie Lawrence. Read the preceding paragraph and substitute Lawrence’s name for Mukhalian’s and you have a fairly accurate picture of what happened during that procedure. Chavis’ luck--and the luck of his next patient, Tammaria Cotton--ran out on June 22. “Cotton’s blood pressure plummeted and she complained of difficulty breathing,” Jacoby wrote. “‘If you can talk,’ Chavis reportedly told her, ‘you can breathe.’ As her frightened husband watched, ‘reddish fluid’ leaked from her body for hours, pooling on the floor. But instead of administering emergency treatment, Chavis vanished. By early evening, Cotton was in cardiac arrest. She died en route to the hospital.” (Affirmative Action Can Be Fatal; Boston Globe; Jeff Jacoby; August 14, 1997 © Boston Globe.)
     Mistakes happen. But, tragically, incompetence comes from more than simply error. Incompetence begins with arrogance. In the case of Dr. Peter Chavis, he was trained as an obstetrician, not a general surgeon. A four day course in liposuction in which half the course was skipped certainly does not qualify even a board certified obstetrician to perform cosmetic surgery that entails removing large amounts of fatty tissue from the bodies of his patients without being trained to anticipate or handle the potential risks from hemorrhaging--even if nothing else goes wrong. It is unclear how many liposuctions Chavis performed, but eight of his liposuction patients sued him for malpractice.
     Can Dr. Chavis’ incompetence be attributed to the fact that his training was the result of racial preferences? Due to hindsight, it is safe to assume that was the case with this particular physician. Scholastically, Peter Chavis did not qualify for medical school. There was a real likelihood that Chavis, and other scholastic under-achiever affirmative action candidates, would not be able to assimilate what they needed to know to become adequate physicians. That is why, after all, “standards of acceptance” are established by universities and colleges in weighing the eligibility of candidates for particular vocations--such as medicine--where incompetence can have fatal consequences.
     In the university level educational system there is supposed to be a failsafe mechanism that weeds out incompetency by identifying mediocre medical students, law students and, yes, even teaching students--and eliminates them by dropping them from the classroom rosters when they fail. However, those who enter America’s colleges and universities through diversity programs are imputed to have sufficient intelligence to graduate. They are not dropped when they fail because they are not allowed to fail.
     They graduate.
     Thus, the flaw in affirmative action. Diversity programs foist mediocrity on a society that demands excellence from those who rise to the pinnacle. More than anything else, this is why conservative America roils against affirmative action programs when people like Jayson Blair and Peter Chavis fail. Diversity programs do not demand a price from its recipients--it demands that price from the rest of us. Jeff Jacoby noted in the conclusion of his August 14, 1997 Boston Globe article that a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA] reported that 88% of the white medical graduates pass their medical board exams but only 49% of the black students do. The article concluded that the disparity was “...caused almost entirely by lower admission standards: minority students admitted without regard to race rarely fail[ed].” (Affirmative Action Can Be Fatal; Boston Globe; Jeff Jacoby; August 14, 1997 © Boston Globe.) That’s because minority students who do not gain entrance through diversity programs, like their white counterparts, must strive for excellence and compete with sweat equity, not imputed equality.
     In the early 1970s, Dr. Bernard Davis of the Harvard Medical School warned the medical community--and the politicians who were eagerly promoting affirmative action as a compassionate way to create more minority physicians without regard for the fact that placing scalpels in the hands of incompetent physicians, Dr. Davis argued very passionately that "...it [is] cruel to abandon standards and allow trusting patients to pay for our irresponsibility." Davis was denounced by his peers--and by the media--as a racist. The University of California placed a scalpel in Dr. Chavis' hand and Tammaria Cotton died on June 22, 1996 because of their decision because they allowed an incompetent medical student to graduate. In 1998 the Medical Board of the State of California permanently revoked Dr. Chavis’ license for gross negligence, incompetence and negligent acts. Chavis was accused of mistreating eight of his maternity patients by offering to help them lose weight after they delivered their babies.
     If the liberal do-gooders want to impute intelligence on substandard reporters, that's fine. They own their newspapers. If they don't mind the circulation dips from inferior, false or distorted reporting, it's their business--and their money--that is lost. America has awakened to the fact that the liberal media is incompetent anyway, so no one will be hurt or killed by that incompetence. However, its an entirely different scenario when we place a scalpel in the hands of an incompetent physician in our rush to create minority opportunities. Why? Because in doing so, we deny those minorities the right to compete like the rest of us.
     It is, after all, competition that makes us good at what we do and, competition combined with our own sweat equity makes us better than those with whom we compete.

*What is blatantly unfair, however, is when industrialists and billionaire business tycoons are allowed to bribe politicians with thousands upon thousands of dollars in "campaign funds" (that are actually bribes for specific legislative action) that result in Congress enacting laws that protect industrial and financial cartels by making it impossible for independent entrepreneurs to compete.




Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved