Most of my life has been lived in indifference to the New York Times. It was only after the Jayson Blair affair that I came to despise the Times as a "news organization." Not merely for its paternalistic liberalism which allowed the aforementioned underachieving black man to run coked up and wild within her ivory halls while hardworking and deserving blacks were shut out of jobs. I reviled the so-called Paper of Record primarily for its role in destroying the career of one of the most prominent men in journalism; Gerald Boyd, who died from lung cancer this past Thursday at the age of 56.
Boyd was the former deputy managing editor of the Times, and served as their managing editor from 2001 until 2003. Previously, among other positions, he wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was the youngest journalist to be granted the Nieman fellowship at Harvard when he received the award at the age of 28.
Tangential to his success, but worth noting in his passing is that Gerald Boyd was a black man. Being so meant that professional victories often came with personal vicissitudes.
"Throughout my life I have enjoyed both the blessing and the burden of being the first black this and the first black that," Boyd is quoted as having said. "And, like many minorities and women who succeed, I've often felt alone."
Alone, of course, because one of the many taxes levied upon successful blacks is personal isolation both within a Caucasian-dominated power structure, and from others of our race. Others who far too often are more adroit at recounting the stats of their favorite ballplayer or at detailing the criminal records of their favorite rappers, but are at a loss in listing the accomplishments of persons such as Gerald Boyd or Dick Parsons or Robert Johnson.
But early on Boyd was determined to achieve despite racial barriers. More importantly, he was determined ascend in the same manner as most with exceptional character: through self-reliance rather than depending on the largess of others. Boyd's mother died when he was five. He was raised by his grandmother. Her pension was her only income. Boyd helped out working full-time as a grocery bagger while in high school. That did nothing to impact his education to the negative. To the contrary, Boyd scored a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sponsored scholarship to the U of Missouri. While in school, not content to merely work on the university's paper, he started up an ethnocentric student publication called Blackout.
Following graduation, Boyd landed a spot as a political reporter at the Post-Dispatch where the need to "fit in" never supplanted his desire to be an individual. Wearing a blown out 'fro and stylin' in dashikis, Boyd would from time to time roll with the adopted name of Uganda X. What others might have thought of him, or his style, was of no significance to Boyd. Individualism was paramount.
"I learned to survive by learning to rely on no one other than myself," Boyd wrote in his unpublished memoirs. "Over time, I would travel further and rise further than I could ever have imagined as a child growing up poor in St. Louis. I would become as familiar with the powerful as I had always been with the powerless."
For years Boyd survived and thrived in an industry that is - despite it's constant bromides otherwise - positively hostile to the inclusion of minorities. If you doubt that, do yourself the favor of studying up on the Johnson Administration's 1968 Kerner report detailing the journalistic profession's "shockingly backward" nature in "seeking out, hiring, training and promoting" of qualified minorities. So backward, that ten years after the report, after ten years of lethargy and apathy in regard to improving the situation, the American Society of Newspaper Editors mandated that by the year 2000 newsrooms should reflect the racial make up of America.
At the turn of the millennium the mainstream media missed that number by nearly half.
So, now, the media's giving themselves until 2025 to hit the mark.
Of course, men like Gerald Boyd weren't waiting for others to get their racial act together. Through hard work and force of will he was in ascension.
Boyd would reach his zenith and his nadir at the worst offender of the media horde - and I base that assessment on the degree by which it publicly aggrandizes itself as a paper of the people, yet fails to reflect the make up of its community. It is the Big House of the Liberal Plantation; The New York Times.
Though the Times espouses a liberal bent, if you ever took a tour of the newsroom you'd be hard pressed to find liberalism in action. Unless, of course, you consider it to be particularly liberal to have a white male dominated staff and masthead.
Laughably, in the 1990s, former executive editor Max Frankel tried to balance the Times newsroom by mandating a one-to-one hiring quota. For every white who was hired, a minority had to be GIVEN a position. This hamfisted liberalism only managed to raise the ire of all sides with hackles of tokenism and reverse discrimination. At least for once the Times was able to gather a consensus opinion even if by accident.
So, in that polluted environment, one can only imagine all the demeaning . . . shit. There is no gentle way to describe the paternalistic excrement freely slung at the Times - the demeaning shit disguised as lefty do-goodery a man such as Mr. Boyd had to put up with. One would only have to note on how many occasions the Times openly referred to Mr. Boyd as "the highest ranking black" at the paper. A phrase which demeans as much as it touts. Was any Caucasian at the Times ever referred to as the highest or the fourth highest or the thirty-sixth highest ranking white, or were they simply listed by their title and position?
"Highest ranking black" is merely a euphemism conveying nonacceptance. It is usually phrased more bluntly from the far right, but is no less abasing when it comes from the softly bigoted left. As long as race is an attachment to achievement it is a reminder, accomplishments aside, some feel we don't really belong.
Even in the end - for Boyd, from his former peers - his memoriam came down to race. In their obit, the Times went out of its way to scapegoat Boyd with Jayson Blair's contraventions. "The revelation of Jayson Blair's string of deceptions cut the foundation out from under Mr. Boyd," the Times wrote. The linkage between the pair: the color of their skin. The implication: that one black man allowed another to slip and slide within the Times. But it should be noted that it was not the Jayson Blair scandal which cost Boyd his position. Both Boyd and then executive editor Howell Raines resigned after it was revealed - post-Blair - that long time media lout Rick Bragg had been engaging in journalistic fraud; had stringers do his reporting for him, then slapped his byline on interviews he'd never conducted in places he'd never been. But the Bragg scandal - transgressions of a white man - were conveniently omitted from Boyd's Times obit. It was the brother who got the blame.
Coming so close to the passing of Ed Bradley, the loss of Boyd is a tragedy not merely for black American, but for journalism - and by extension our information society as a whole. We as a people are only as informed as the news we receive, and the news we receive is only as balanced as the perspectives of those who do the gathering. An ironic prime exemplar: in the last line of the since-corrected AP piece on Boyd's passing, the writer confused Boyd with Jayson Blair. He wrote: "Blair is survived by his wife and 10-year-old son, Zachary." It is Boyd who is survived.
I think I can say with surety Gerald Boyd would not have confused one black man with another.
He will be deeply missed.