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Jayson Blair (born March 23, 1976, Columbia, Maryland) is a former New York Times reporter who was forced to resign from the newspaper in May 2003, after he was caught plagiarizing and fabricating elements of his stories.

Contents

Background

Jayson Blair is the son of a federal executive and a school administrator. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park as a journalism major.

Blair was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Diamondback, for the 1996-97 school year. According to a letter later signed by 30 staffers,[1] Blair made four serious errors as a reporter and editor that brought his integrity into question. The letter-signers alleged that questions about those errors were ignored by the board that owned the paper. Among the mistakes, they cited an award-winning story about a student who died of a cocaine overdose, who was subsequently found to have actually died of a heart ailment.[2][3]

After a summer internship at The New York Times in 1998, Blair was offered an extended internship. He indicated that he had to complete some coursework in order to graduate, and The New York Times agreed to defer it. He returned to The New York Times in January 1999, when "everyone assumed he had graduated. He had not; college officials say he has more than a year of course work to complete.".[4] That November, he became an "intermediate reporter."[4] Blair was offered employment at The New York Times by Howell Raines--specifically because he was black as a part of Raines' diversification program.

Blair's rise at The New York Times

By 2000, his editors were castigating Blair for the high error rate in his articles and his sloppy work habits.[citation needed] In January 2001, despite making more mistakes than any other writer in the paper's Metro section, Blair, who also wrote one-third more stories than any reporter in that section, was made a full-time staff reporter.

Continued mistakes caused Blair's editor, Jonathan Landman, to send a memo to the New York Times' management asking them "to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."[5][6] Instead, in 2002, Blair was promoted to the national desk.

Despite recurring criticism[citation needed] of his performance, he was assigned to the Beltway sniper attacks, in particular because he knew the area and seemed "hungry."[citation needed] Blair wrote 52 stories during the sniper attacks. His reporting errors were so serious that one led a prosecutor to hold a press conference to denounce the claim that "all the evidence" pointed to Lee Boyd Malvo being the shooter.[citation needed] The error rate of Blair's material again became an issue internally.[citation needed] In another instance, Fairfax County, Virginia prosecutor Bob Horan claimed that 60 percent of a story written by Blair, in which he was quoted, was inaccurate.[citation needed]

Despite such accusations and many corrections the paper was forced to make in the wake of his reporting, Blair continued to cover critical stories for The New York Times, moving from the sniper attacks to national coverage of the War in Iraq. In his four years at The Times, Blair wrote more than 600 articles.

Plagiarism and fabrication scandal

On April 28, 2003, Blair received a call from Times national editor Jim Roberts, asking him about similarities between a story he had written two days earlier[7] and one written by San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez on April 18.[8] Hernandez had a summer internship at The Times years earlier, and had worked alongside Blair. She contacted The Times after details and quotes in Blair's story appeared exactly the same as in hers.

Blair's plagiarism of Hernandez’s article was so flagrant that it led to further pressing by Times editors, who asked him to prove that he had, in fact, traveled to Texas and interviewed the woman in his article. After being unable to provide proof, Blair resigned from The Times on May 2, 2003. Following the resignation, a full investigation of all of Blair’s articles began.

An internal report was commissioned by Times editors, with a committee consisting of 25 staffers and three outside journalists, led by assistant managing editor Allan Siegal. The Siegal committee discovered that 36 of the 73 national news stories Blair had written since October 2002 were suspect, ranging from fabrications to copying stories from other sources.

A small sample of the suspect articles:

  • In the April 19, 2003 piece "In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded", Blair described interviewing four injured soldiers in a naval hospital. He never went to the hospital and only spoke to one soldier on the phone, to whom he later attributed made-up quotes. Blair wrote that the soldier "will most likely limp the rest of his life and need to use a cane," which was untrue. He said another soldier had lost his right leg when it had only been amputated below the knee. He described two soldiers as being in the hospital at the same time, when in fact they were admitted five days apart.[9]
  • In the April 7, 2003 piece "For One Pastor, the War Hits Home", Blair wrote of a church service in Cleveland and an interview with the minister. Blair never went to Cleveland; he only spoke to the minister on the phone, then copied most of the article from an earlier Washington Post article. He also stole quotes from The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Daily News. He made up a detail about the minister keeping a picture of his son inside his Bible, and got the name of the church wrong.[10]
  • In the April 3, 2003 piece "Rescue in Iraq and a ‘Big Stir' in West Virginia", Blair claimed to have covered the Jessica Lynch story from her home town of Palestine, West Virginia. Blair never traveled to Palestine, and his entire contribution to the story consisted of rearranged details from Associated Press stories.[11]
  • In the March 27, 2003 piece "Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News", Blair again pretended to be in West Virginia, and stole quotes from an Associated Press article. He claimed to have spoken to one relative who had no recollection of meeting Blair; said "tobacco fields and cattle pastures" were visible from Lynch's parents' house when they were not; erroneously stated that Lynch's brother was in the National Guard; misspelled Lynch's mother's name; and made up a dream that he claimed she had had.[12]
  • In the March 3, 2003 piece "Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight", Blair claimed to be in Fairfax, Virginia. He described a videotape of Lee Malvo, the younger defendant in the case, being questioned by police and quoted officials' review of the tape. No such tape existed. Blair also claimed a detective noticed blood on a man's jeans leading to a confession, which did not occur.[13]
  • In the February 10, 2003 piece "Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks", Blair claimed to be in Washington, stole quotes from a Washington Post story and made up quotes from someone he had not interviewed. Blair ascribed a wide range of facts to a man featured in the article, almost all of which the man in question denied. Blair also published information that he had promised to the man was off the record.[14]
  • In the January 2, 2003 piece "Execution Opponent Joins Sniper Case", Blair claimed to be in Lexington, Virginia interviewing the subject of the piece, Roger Groot because Groot, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, joined the Lee Boyd Malvo defense team. However, it was later discovered that Blair interviewed Groot by phone and did not travel to Virginia to conduct the interview.[15] Groot stated that Blair accurately quoted him, but misrepresented his appearance.[16]
  • In the October 30, 2002 piece "US Sniper Case Seen as a Barrier to a Confession", Blair wrote that a dispute between police authorities had ruined the interrogation of suspect John Muhammad, and that Muhammad was about to confess, quoting unnamed officials. This was swiftly denied by everyone involved. Blair also named certain lawyers as having witnessed the interrogation who were not present.[17]

The Times reported on Blair's journalistic misdeeds in an unprecedented 7,239-word front-page story that ran on May 11, 2003, headlined "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception." The story called the Blair scandal "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."[4]

The fallout

Following the revelations of Blair's deceit, The Times moved to uncover how management had allowed a young reporter with what appeared to be obvious problems to rise so quickly through the paper's ranks. The Siegal committee's months-long investigation found "a series of management and operation breakdowns" and "a stunning lack of communication within the newsroom." It found that Blair’s quick advancement may have become favored as part of a "star system" that advanced some reporters close to then-executive editor Howell Raines. "He was given a regular tenured reporting job despite the misgivings of his immediate boss," the report said of Blair. "He was put on high-profile national assignments with his new supervising editors receiving no notice of the serious problems that had marked periods in his previous four years at the newspaper."

Both Raines and managing editor Gerald M. Boyd, considered partially culpable for Blair's indiscretions, resigned a month after Blair's departure. Several other Times staff members were investigated but ultimately were not asked to resign.

The Siegal committee made several recommendations, many of which have since been instituted at the paper, including the appointment of a public editor to encourage access to the paper and to monitor readers' complaints about the paper's performance.

The Blair scandal also stoked much controversy and debate over affirmative action hiring. Landman told the Siegal committee he felt the fact that Blair was African-American played a large part in his initial promotion to full-time staffer. "I think race was the decisive factor in his promotion," he said. "I thought then and I think now that it was the wrong decision."[6] Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin similarly said that Blair was fast-tracked because of the Times's desire for a more racially diverse workforce.

On May 14, 2003, while he was still Times executive editor, Raines (who is white) acknowledged at a massive meeting of Times news staffers, managers, and its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., that Blair had gotten the breaks he had enjoyed because of his race. Five days later, however, black Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert asserted in his column that race had nothing to do with the Blair case: "Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting."[18]

Blair wrote the memoir Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times (ISBN 1-932407-26-X), published on March 6, 2004. In the book, he accused The Times of racism, and described his ethical lapses as the result of previous drug problems and bipolar disorder.

After resigning from The Times, Blair returned to college and said he planned to go into human resources.[19] He is now a life coach in northern Virginia.[20]

See also

Bibliography

  • Blair, Jayson (2004). Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times. New Millennium. ISBN 1-932407-26-X. 

Cultural references

Season 5 of the HBO series The Wire, which is set in Baltimore, dealt with this subject and others relating to journalism and the print media business and mentions Blair in the last episode.

A 2003 series of Pearls Before Swine comic strips portray Rat writing fraudulent New York times stories on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

A scene in Gilmore Girls episode "The Reigning Lorelai" (4.16) shows Rory's editor, Doyle, becoming frustrated with the way Yale Daily News staffers act in the newsroom calling it "the breeding ground for the next Jayson Blair."

The plot of Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Pravda" (3.5) resembles the Jayson Blair scandal.

References

  1. ^ David Folkenflik (29 February 2004), "The making of Jayson Blair", The Baltimore Sun, http://web.archive.org/web/20070930035634/http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/arts/bal-as.blair23,0,3313659.story 
  2. ^ "Former Blair co-workers claim warnings ignored -- The Diamondback UWIRE.com". http://web.archive.org/web/20060115191349/http://www.uwire.com/content/topnews061303002.html. Retrieved 2003-06-13. 
  3. ^ http://www.peak.sfu.ca/the-peak/2003-2/issue7/ne-jayblair.html
  4. ^ a b c "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception", The New York Times, 11 May 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/national/11PAPE.html?ex=1367985600&en=d6f511319c259463&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND 
  5. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/national/11PAPE.html?ex=1367985600&en=d6f511319c259463&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND
  6. ^ a b "Jayson Blair: A Case Study of What Went Wrong at The New York Times". PBS. 2008. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/media/media_ethics/casestudy_blair.php. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  7. ^ AFTEREFFECTS: THE MISSING; Family Waits, Now Alone, for a Missing Soldier - New York Times
  8. ^ "MySA.com: Iraq: After the War". 2008. http://www.mysanantonio.com/specials/battlefield/stories/MYSA982379.xml.d7d1e3.html. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  9. ^ A NATION AT WAR: VETERANS; In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded - New York Times
  10. ^ A NATION AT WAR: THE FAMILIES; For One Pastor, the War Hits Home - New York Times
  11. ^ A NATION AT WAR: THE HOMETOWN; Rescue in Iraq and a 'Big Stir' in West Virginia - New York Times
  12. ^ A NATION AT WAR: MILITARY FAMILIES; Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News - New York Times
  13. ^ Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight - New York Times
  14. ^ Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks - New York Times
  15. ^ Execution Opponent Joins Sniper Case - New York Times
  16. ^ "Blairs victims: that helpless feeling.(former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair) Industry & Business Article - Research, News, Information, Contacts, Divisions, Subsidiaries, Business Associations". 2008. http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-2968248/Blair-s-victims-that-helpless.html. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  17. ^ Retracing A Trail: The Investigation; U.S. Sniper Case Seen As A Barrier To A Confession - New York Times
  18. ^ Herbert, Bob (May 19, 2003). "Truth, Lies and Subtext". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE0DF133EF93AA25756C0A9659C8B63. 
  19. ^ Leitch (10 June 2005). "Jayson Blair Is Your New HR Person. Commence Screaming". Gawker. http://gawker.com/107290/jayson-blair-is-your-new-hr-person-commence-screaming. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  20. ^ Blair. "Jayson Blair Certified Life Coach". http://www.jayson-blair.com/index.html. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  • "N.Y. Times Uncovers Dozens Of Faked Stories by Reporter." The 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. Romenesko Media News. June 15, 2005.

External links

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