December 3rd, 2006 07:44 EST
Gerald Boyd Deserves Better
Former New York Times Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd, who died on Thanksgiving Day, was a very close friend, dating back to the early 1970s when we were reporters at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We lived across the street from each other, we played cards together, we were part of the same touch football league team and together, we pioneered a journalism workshop for Black high school students. Because of our friendship, Gerald’s wife, Robin Stone, has asked me to speak at a memorial service for him in New York later this week.
I wrote about my friendship with Gerald in a column after he lost his job amid the controversy over Jayson Blair, the serial liar who masqueraded as a reporter for the New York Times. In 2003, Gerald presented me with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) “Journalist of the Year” award. In his presentation, Gerald recounted our friendship of more than three decades.
I hope to return the favor this week in New York, but at this point, I am not sure I’ll do it. It’s not because I can’t recall the great times we shared – I can recount dozens of them – but there is something more pressing. I feel compelled to do what my friend can no longer do for himself – I must defend his honor and his integrity.
In almost every account of Gerald’s death, it was mentioned in the first paragraph that he lost his job because of the Jayson Blair fiasco. The Associated Press said he “was forced to resign three years ago amid the Jayson Blair scandal.” In fact, the AP mentioned Blair before it mentioned that Gerald had died of lung cancer at the age of 56. Blair should be mentioned in any account of Gerald’s life, but his shortcomings should not be put on par with Gerald’accomplishments.
AP was so sloppy in one reference that appeared on CNN.com that it confused Gerald with Jayson Blair, saying “Blair is survived by his wife and 10-year-old son, Zachary.”
Ouch! That cuts too deeply.
But the bleeding started long before Gerald died. Previous news accounts have stated or implied that Gerald was Jayson Blair’s mentor.
Louis Boccadi, former head of the Associated Press, was part of the team that investigated the Blair scandal for the New York Times. In an interview on “Dateline,” the NBC newsmagazine, he said: “Gerald just recoils at the notion that he was Jayson’s mentor, that the mentoring stemmed from the fact that they’re both African-Americans.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Marcia Davis, a former student in our St. Louis journalism workshop and now an editor in the Style section of the Post, put it this way in a tribute to her former mentor: “How, after Boyd had proved himself for so many years, could his integrity, and the integrity of all black journalists, be called into question simply because of race? Boyd was a black man, and a black man who cared about race in America, but he was not crippled by it.”
More than anything else, Gerald Boyd aspired to become editor of the New York Times. He mentioned that goal to me when he joined the Post-Dispatch after graduating from the University of Missouri and it would remain his goal for the rest of his newspaper career. He rose to the No. 2 position, managing editor, a spot no other African-American had ever attained. With his talent and ambition, I never doubted that Gerald would one day become editor of the paper. But that was not to be, in large part, because of the Blair scandal. When Gerald resigned along with editor Howell Raines, he lost a dream, not just a job.
That would have been severe enough. What’s even worse is that Gerald’s distinguished career is being defined within the context of Jason Blair. As one of his friends, I consider that an insult. And that’s why I must rise to his defense.
Think about his illustrious career: Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, White House correspondent for the New York Times, Neiman fellow, editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on race, managing editor of the New York Times, and mentor to dozens of young people.
Unfortunately, there have been other Jayson Blairs in journalism: Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Patricia Smith, Michael Barnicle, Bob Green and Jack Kelley, to name a few. While the names of these miscreants are still burned in our memory, perhaps except for Janet Cooke, we don’t remember the name of their editors. And when those editors die, they will probably be hailed for their journalistic accomplishments and justifiably so. Gerald Boyd deserves to be remembered in that same light, not by the failings of someone lower than a snake’s belly.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.