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Black Journalists Embrace Editor Who Resigned

Former N.Y. Times manager discusses how race did -- and did not -- play a role in scandal.

August 08, 2003|Gayle Pollard-Terry | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — Veteran newsman Gerald Boyd received a hero's welcome Thursday at a national convention of black journalists, where he spoke publicly for the first time since the Jayson Blair scandal ended his career as managing editor of the New York Times.

Boyd resigned nine weeks ago along with Editor Howell Raines. They were forced out by a firestorm ignited by revelations that Blair, a young African American reporter, had plagiarized or fabricated portions of 36 stories, including reports on the Washington-area sniper and the family of Jessica Lynch, the POW rescued during the Iraq war.

Both Boyd and Blair are black, prompting speculation that Blair was an unqualified "diversity" hire and that Boyd protected the younger African American journalist despite his failures.

"I was not the black managing editor; I was the managing editor," said Boyd, who spent 20 years at the paper in various management and reporting capacities, including White House correspondent. He became managing editor five days before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of the National Assn. of Black Journalists chanted: "Boyd, Boyd." They gave him two standing ovations and interrupted his speech with applause five times.

"Some have suggested that I looked the other way because Jayson is black. That is absolutely not true," Boyd said. Several times during his speech, he also pointedly said, "I was not Jayson Blair's mentor."

Boyd said that Blair was given a chance to work at the paper because he initially showed great promise.

"If we had known how deeply troubled Jayson Blair was at the time," Boyd said, "he would not have been writing for the New York Times."

In interviews, Blair's former colleagues have subsequently recounted how he returned from one of his unexplained absences and told them he had a cocaine problem.

Boyd was hurt, he said, by widely quoted but unattributed remarks from colleagues that suggested he played favorites in the newsroom -- a contention he denied -- and that he was the flunky of the paper's editor.

"I was neither Howell Raines' henchman nor his patsy.... I hit back," Boyd said, describing their relationship as like a marriage. "We fought ... but we fought in private, which I thought was appropriate."

While Boyd, 52, said he shared some of the responsibility for the Blair scandal because he was in charge of daily news gathering, he added that there were many editors closer to Blair's work.

But some editors didn't bring their concerns to Boyd.

"At least one editor found it quite difficult to talk to me because I'm black," he said. "What does that say about the state of race relations when senior management colleagues felt that they could not come to me?"

Boyd never shrank from the subject of race. He led the Times' team that wrote the series on "How Race Is Lived in America," which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001. That year, he was named Journalist of the Year by NABJ.

Although he has not decided his next career step, Boyd said he has discussed opportunities to edit or teach, and "I will listen to any other offers."

Whatever he chooses to do, Boyd said, "I will spend the rest of my career -- and yes, I do have a few great years left -- to make sure that we all learn and grow from this."

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