Jayson Blair

From Academic Kids

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Jayson Blair (born 1976 in Columbia, Maryland) is a former New York Times reporter considered to have been a "star reporter", until he admitted to journalistic fraud when the San Antonio Express-News caught him plagiarizing one of its stories. Blair submitted his resignation letter to the Times on May 1, 2003, and later it was discovered that he had faked quotes and even entire interviews, plagiarized from other newspapers, and submitted false expense records to deceive the paper about his whereabouts.

Blair is an African-American, and while he was not hired or promoted according to any formal affirmative action policy, some, including Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin, believe that Blair was fast-tracked because of the Times's desire for a more diverse leadership. Though he attended the University of Maryland, College Park, he never graduated, yet was given a job at the Times straight out of college — a rarity in journalism.

Before his resignation, Blair covered a number of high-profile stories, including the Washington, DC sniper of October 2002; however, some doubt that he ever went to Washington at all. Blair also claimed an interview with the parents of former Iraqi prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, which was later found to have been entirely falsified. Lynch's parents said that they never spoke to Blair and that he made references in his article to "nonexistent tobacco fields and cattle". [1] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40536-2003May10.html) Some of Blair's more minor lapses were known to the Times even before his resignation, but the Times overlooked them.

Contents

Chronology of the scandal

Saturday, April 26, 2003: The Times runs a Blair story about Juanita Anguiano and her son, Edward. Edward Anguiano is the only US soldier in Iraq at this moment listed missing in action by the military.

Several people noticed similarities between this story and a piece by another reporter, Macarena Hernandez, that appeared recently in the San Antonio Express-News. Ms. Hernandez herself notices (and she knew Blair -- they had been in the same internship program at the Times). So does her editor, Robert Rivard, and so does a Washington Post reporter, Manual Roig-Franzia while working on his own piece on the Anguianos.

Monday, April 28: After talking with Rivard, Hernandez contacts Sheila Rule, the N.Y. Times recruiter who supervised the internship program where she and Blair met. Rule then talks to Gerald Boyd, the managing editor. Boyd talks to Jim Roberts, editor of the national desk, and Roberts asks Blair for an explanation.

Blair calls Hernandez, tells her he hadn't read her piece before writing his. He says that Mrs. Anguianos' daughter, who had 'translated' for interviewers, must have given them both the same quotes. This was the moment when Hernandez became persuaded that this was more than sloppiness or plagiarism -- it was a matter of fraud. Mrs. Anguiano didn't use her daughter as a translator. She spoke fluent English herself. Blair (not having been to their home in fact) wouldn't have known that, and had tripped himself up.

Howard Kurtz, the media critic for the Washington Post, hears about the similarities of the two stories from Roig-Franzia. He calls the Times for a reaction.

Later this day, Jim Roberts calls Blair and officially takes him off an unrelated but very high visibility story he was then covering, the Beltway sniper investigation, while an internal inquiry into the plagiarism charge gets underway.

Tuesday, April 29: Rivard, of the Express-News, calls Howard Kurtz. Kurtz then talks to Blair, decides his explanations don't add up, and posts his story on the apparent plagiarism on line.

Wednesday, April 30: Blair meets with his union rep, Lena Williams, and with associate managing editor Bill Schmidt. Schmidt wants confirming details about Blair's alleged trip to Texas. Blair tells Schmidt that the Avis and Hertz desks were both closed when he got to the San Antonio airport, so he rented a car from a third outfit. Schmidt checks immediately -- both the Avis and Hertz counters are open 24 hours a day. The third outfit would have been closed when Blair supposedly got there, though. Schmidt decides that Blair must be fired.

Thursday, May 1: Morning, Blair resigns. Boyd and Howell Raines, executive editor, agree to create a team of reporters to retrace Blair's recent stories, find out what else has been faked.

Friday, May 2: The Times runs its first story on Blair's departure, by its own media critic, Jacques Steinberg.

Also this morning, Boyd's secretary calls Adam Liptak, the paper's legal correspondent, to the managing editor's office. Liptak joins the team looking into the JB mess.

Saturday May 3: The seven team members (five reporters, two research assistants) meet in their assigned quarters on 11th floor. At this point, they expect to have a 2,500 word piece ready for Tuesday or Wednesday. The material they were to discover would soon expand both the word count and the time required.

Friday May 9: The team finally has a draft ready for the Sunday paper -- it's more than 7,000 words long.

Consequences

The Times called the Blair scandal "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper" and has admitted to 36 instances of journalism fraud committed by Blair. Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, considered partially culpable for Blair's indiscretions, resigned about a month after Blair over the scandal. In response to the scandal, the Times created the position of Public Editor, whose critiques of the paper's own reporters, techniques and culture are published twice every month.

Blair authored the book Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times (ISBN 193240726X), released on March 6, 2004. In the book, he accused the Times of racism, and described his ethical lapses as resultant from previous drug problems and a manic-depressive illness.

"When I look into the future, I cannot honestly tell you what my dreams are beyond continuing in my recovery, which has become the bright candle in the darkness, allowing me to smile when I think about the future," Blair wrote in the Spring 2005 issue of BP, a magazine for those coping with bipolar illness.

After resigning from the newspaper, Blair returned to college and took a job in human resources at a Fortune 500 company, saying, "I want to help protect employees who find themselves in situations like the one I was in." He has since been critical of his former employer for eliminating its Employee Assistance Program.

"An in-house counselor knows the departments and managers who are most likely to resist help," he wrote in a letter to Jim Romensko's online blog, MediaNews. "The outside counselors available by phone ... might have a difficult time understanding the demands of the production department and advertising sales, or why a front-page story means so much, and creates so much anxiety in a reporter."

In the letter, Blair wrote that the newspaper's employee assistance program "provided counseling that saved my life."

See also

References

  • "N.Y. Times Uncovers Dozens Of Faked Stories by Reporter." Washington Post. May 11, 2003.
  • "New York Times executives Howell Raines, Gerald Boyd resign." Associated Press. June 5, 2003.
  • "Making a Turnaround." "BP". Spring 2005.
  • " Jayson Blair searches for new life, reflects on legacy." Times Community Newspapers. June 9, 2005.
  • "Blair: Why NYT should keep employee in-house." Romensko Media News. June 15, 2005.

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