The unraveling of Jayson Blair's news career has been interesting and shocking to media watchers and embarrassing to his employer, The New York Times. Blair, who repeated fabricated elements of his stories, resigned last week under pressure, after it soon became clear he did not truly report on the stories he was covering. And the Times, in an incredibly detailed investigation and mea culpa, writes about Blair's career, from intern to national reporter, checkered with various incidents that should have been red flags a long the way, as well as how it has damaged the newspaper itself. It describes Blair's work as that "of a troubled young man veering toward professional self-destruction."
Noting two turning points, the Maryland sniper coverage and the recent war coverage, the Times was faced with a number of conflicting reports about Blair's accuracy and integrity when reporting. After a thorough investigation, they realized he had been falsifying and plagiarizing his work. Things like Blair's laptop and cellphone enabled him to pretend to be at a story's location, like Virginia or Texas, when he'd really be in New York. Some editors were wary of his reporting skills, including Jonathan Landman who emailed newsroom administrators with "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now." in 2002.
Gothamist is fascinated by the story because it involves so many different elements: Ideas about youth and race and ambition, coupled with the seductive deception that technology can encourage, under the guise of one of the most important newspapers in the country. After reading the article, Gothamist was stunned, by both the level of investigation and honesty (but there was really no other way the Times could go, aside from emphasizing Blair is, hopefully, an isolated occurrence, not representative of its 375 reporters) in the piece and the scope of Blair's "double life" - that as seemingly reliable reporter when really someone who took the work of others while not seeming to do much of his own original work.
The Times' editors' note, apologizing for the lapse in journalistic standards. A list of Blair's articles and errors.
Seth Mnookin interviews Stephen Glass in Newsweek, whom Mnookin calls "founding member" of the media "liar's club." Glass fabricated an unseemly amount of stories at the New Republic.
Updated, May 21, 2003: All of Gothamist's coverage on Jayson Blair, including today's Observer pieces.
Gothamist excerpts a few interesting parts of the Times article on Blair's reporting history:
Example of Blair at work:
- A freelance photographer whom Mr. Blair had arranged to meet outside the Cleveland church on April 6 found it maddening that he could not seem to connect with him. The photographer, Haraz Ghanbari, was so intent on a meeting that he placed nine calls to Mr. Blair's cellphone from 9:32 a.m. to 2:07 p.m., and kept trying six more times until 10:13 p.m., when he finally gave up.
Mr. Ghanbari said he managed to reach Mr. Blair three times, and three times Mr. Blair had excuses for why they could not meet. In one instance, Mr. Ghanbari said, Mr. Blair explained that he had left the church in the middle of the service "to get his cellphone fixed" that was why so many of his calls had gone unanswered "and was already on his way back."
"I just thought it was weird how he never showed up," Mr. Ghanbari said.
The article that Mr. Blair eventually filed incorporated at least a half-dozen passages lifted nearly verbatim from other news sources, including four from The Washington Post.
Day to day deception:
- In e-mail messages to colleagues, for example, he conveyed the impression of a travel-weary national correspondent who spent far too much time in La Guardia Airport terminals. Conversely, colleagues marveled at his productivity, at his seemingly indefatigable constitution. "Man, you really get around," one fellow reporter wrote Mr. Blair in an e-mail message.
Blair's early days at the Times:
- At summer's end, The Times offered Mr. Blair an extended internship, but he had more college course work to do before his scheduled graduation in December 1998. When he returned to the Times newsroom in June 1999, Ms. Rule said, everyone assumed he had graduated. He had not; college officials say he has more than a year of course work to complete.
- Charles Strum, his editor at the time, encouraged Mr. Blair to pace himself and take time off. "I told him that he needed to find a different way to nourish himself than drinking scotch, smoking cigarettes and buying Cheez Doodles from the vending machines," Mr. Strum said.
-On an expense report filed in January, for example, he indicated that he had bought blankets at a Marshalls department store in Washington; the receipt showed that the purchase was made at a Marshalls in Brooklyn. He also reported a purchase at a Starbucks in Washington; again, the receipt showed that it was in Brooklyn. On both days, he was supposedly writing articles from the Washington area.
Mr. Blair also reported that he dined with a law enforcement official at a Tutta Pasta restaurant in Washington on the day he wrote an article from there. As the receipt makes clear, this Tutta Pasta is in Brooklyn. Mr. Blair said he dined with the same official at Penang, another New York City restaurant that Mr. Blair placed in Washington on his expense reports.