Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception
The New York Times ^ | May 11, 2003

Posted on 05/10/2003 10:29:40 AM PDT by sarcasm

This article was reported and written by Dan Barry, David Barstow, Jonathan D. Glater, Adam Liptak and Jacques Steinberg. Research support was provided by Alain Delaquérière and Carolyn Wilder.

A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.

The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He stole material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.

And he used these techniques to write falsely about emotionally charged moments in recent history, from the deadly sniper attacks in suburban Washington to the anguish of families grieving for loved ones killed in Iraq.

In an inquiry focused on correcting the record and explaining how such fraud could have been sustained within the ranks of The New York Times, the Times journalists have so far uncovered new problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles Mr. Blair wrote since he started getting national reporting assignments late last October. In the final months the audacity of the deceptions grew by the week, suggesting the work of a troubled young man veering toward professional self-destruction.

Mr. Blair, who has resigned from the paper, was a reporter at The Times for nearly four years, and he was prolific. Spot checks of the more than 600 articles he wrote before October have found other apparent fabrications, and that inquiry continues. The Times is asking readers to report any additional falsehoods in Mr. Blair's work; the e-mail address is

Every newspaper, like every bank and every police department, trusts its employees to uphold central principles, and the inquiry found that Mr. Blair repeatedly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism, which is simply truth. His tools of deceit were a cellphone and a laptop computer — which allowed him to blur his true whereabouts — as well as round-the-clock access to databases of news articles from which he stole.

The Times inquiry also establishes that various editors and reporters expressed misgivings about Mr. Blair's reporting skills, maturity and behavior during his five-year journey from raw intern to reporter on national news events. Their warnings centered mostly on his struggle to make fewer errors in his articles.

His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional, that by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, dashed off a two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom administrators that read: ``We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.''

After taking a leave for personal problems and being sternly warned, both orally and in writing, that his job was in peril, Mr. Blair improved his performance. By last October, the newspaper's top two editors — believing that Mr. Blair had turned his life and work around — had guided him to the understaffed national desk, where he was assigned to help cover the Washington sniper case.

By the end of that month, public officials and colleagues were beginning to challenge his reporting. By November, the investigation has found, he was fabricating quotations and scenes, undetected. By March, he was lying in his articles and to his editors about being at a court hearing in Virginia, in a police chief's home in Maryland and in front of a soldier's home in West Virginia. By the end of April another newspaper was raising questions about plagiarism. And by the first of May, his career at The Times was over.

A few days later, Mr. Blair issued a statement that referred to ``personal problems'' and expressed contrition. But during several telephone conversations last week, he declined repeated requests to help the newspaper correct the record or comment on any aspect of his work. He did not respond to messages left on his cellphone, with his family and with his union representative on Friday afternoon.

The reporting for this article included more than 150 interviews with subjects of Mr. Blair's articles and people who worked with him; interviews with Times officials familiar with travel, telephone and other business records; an examination of other records including e-mail messages provided by colleagues trying to correct the record or shed light on Mr. Blair's activities; and a review of reports from competing news organizations.

The investigation suggests several reasons Mr. Blair's deceits went undetected for so long: a failure of communication among senior editors; few complaints from the subjects of his articles; his savviness and his ingenious ways of covering his tracks. Most of all, no one saw his carelessness as a sign that he was capable of systematic fraud.

Mr. Blair was just one of about 375 reporters at The Times; his tenure was brief. But the damage he has done to the newspaper and its employees will not completely fade with next week's editions, or next month's, or next year's.

``It's a huge black eye,'' said Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of the newspaper, whose family has owned a controlling interest in The Times for 107 years. ``It's an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers.''

For all the pain resonating through the Times newsroom, the hurt may be more acute in places like Bethesda, Md., where one of Mr. Blair's fabricated articles described American soldiers injured in combat. The puzzlement is deeper, too, in places like Marmet, W.Va., where a woman named Glenda Nelson learned that Mr. Blair had quoted her in a news article, even though she had never spoken to anyone from The Times.

``The New York Times,'' she said. ``You would expect more out of that.''

The Spree: A Pattern Of Deception

The sniper attacks in suburban Washington dominated the nation's newspapers last October. ``This was a flood the zone story,'' Mr. Roberts, the national editor, recalled, invoking the phrase that has come to embody the paper's aggressive approach to covering major news events under Mr. Raines, its executive editor.

Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd, the managing editor, quickly increased the size of the team to eight reporters, Mr. Blair among them. ``This guy's hungry,'' Mr. Raines said last week, recalling why he and Mr. Boyd picked Mr. Blair.

Both editors said that the seeming improvement in Mr. Blair's accuracy last summer demonstrated that he was ready to help cover a complicated, high-profile assignment. But they did not tell Mr. Roberts or his deputies about the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Blair's reporting.

``That discussion did not happen,'' Mr. Raines said, adding that he had seen no need for such a discussion because Mr. Blair's performance had improved, and because ``we do not stigmatize people for seeking help.''

Instead, Mr. Boyd recommended Mr. Blair as a reporter who knew his way around Washington suburbs. ``He wasn't sent down to be the first lead writer or the second or third or fourth or fifth writer,'' Mr. Boyd said. ``He was managed and was not thrust into something over his head.''

But Mr. Blair received far less supervision than he had on Mr. Landman's staff, many editors agreed. He was sent into a confusing world of feuding law enforcement agencies, a job that would have tested the skills of the most seasoned reporter. Still, Mr. Blair seemed to throw himself into the fray of reporters fiercely jockeying for leaks and scoops.

``There was a general sense he wanted to impress us,'' recalled Nick Fox, the editor who supervised much of Mr. Blair's sniper coverage.

Impress he did. Just six days after his arrival in Maryland, Mr. Blair landed a front-page exclusive with startling details about the arrest of John Muhammad, one of the two sniper suspects. The article, based entirely on the accounts of five unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that the United States attorney for Maryland, under pressure from the White House, had forced investigators to end their interrogation of Mr. Muhammad perhaps just as he was ready to confess.

It was an important article, and plainly accurate in its central point: that local and federal authorities were feuding over custody of the sniper suspects. But in retrospect, interviews show, the article contained a serious flaw, as well as a factual error.

Two senior law enforcement officials who otherwise bitterly disagree on much of what happened that day are in agreement on this much: Mr. Muhammad was not, as Mr. Blair reported, ``explaining the roots of his anger'' when the interrogation was interrupted. Rather, they said, the discussion touched on minor matters, like arranging for a shower and meal.

The article drew immediate fire. Both the United States attorney, Thomas M. DiBiagio, and a senior Federal Bureau of Investigation official issued statements denying certain details. Similar concerns were raised with senior editors by several veteran reporters in The Times's Washington bureau who cover law enforcement.

Mr. Roberts and Mr. Fox said in interviews last week that the statements would have raised far more serious concerns in their minds had they been aware of Mr. Blair's history of inaccuracy. Both editors also said they had never asked Mr. Blair to identify his sources in the article.

``I can't imagine accepting unnamed sources from him as the basis of a story had we known what was going on,'' Mr. Fox said. ``If somebody had said, `Watch out for this guy,' I would have questioned everything that he did. I can't even imagine being comfortable with going with the story at all, if I had known that the metro editors flat out didn't trust him.''

Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd, who knew more of Mr. Blair's history, also did not ask him to identify his sources. The two editors said that, given what they knew then, there was no need. There was no inkling, Mr. Raines said, that the newspaper was dealing with ``a pathological pattern of misrepresentation, fabricating and deceiving.''

Mr. Raines said he saw no reason at that point to alert Mr. Roberts to Mr. Blair's earlier troubles. Rather, in keeping with his practice of complimenting what he considered exemplary work, Mr. Raines sent Mr. Blair a note of praise for his ``great shoe-leather reporting.''

Mr. Blair was further rewarded when he was given responsibility for leading the coverage of the sniper case. It was a plum assignment, advancing him toward potentially joining the national staff.

But on Dec. 22, another article about the sniper case by Mr. Blair appeared on the front page. Citing unnamed law enforcement officials once again, his article explained why ``all the evidence'' pointed to Mr. Muhammad's teenage accomplice, Lee Malvo, as the triggerman. And once again his reporting drew strong criticism, this time from a prosecutor who called a news conference to denounce it.

``I don't think that anybody in the investigation is responsible for the leak, because so much of it was dead wrong,'' the prosecutor, Robert Horan Jr., the commonwealth attorney in Fairfax County, Va., said at the news conference.

Mr. Boyd was clearly concerned about Mr. Horan's accusations, colleagues recalled. He repeatedly pressed Mr. Roberts to reach Mr. Horan and have him specify his problems with Mr. Blair's article.

``I went to Jim and said, `Let's check this out thoroughly because Jayson has had problems,''' Mr. Boyd said. Mr. Roberts said that he did not recall being told of the problems.

Again, no editor at The Times pressed Mr. Blair to identify by name his sources on the story. But Mr. Roberts said he had had a more general discussion with Mr. Blair to determine whether his sources were in a position to know what he had reported.

After repeated efforts, Mr. Roberts reached Mr. Horan. ``It was kind of a Mexican standoff,'' Mr. Horan recalled. ``I was not going to tell him what was true and what was not true. I detected in him a real concern that they had published something incorrect.''

``I don't know today whether Blair just had a bad source,'' he continued. ``It was equally probable at the time that he was just sitting there writing fiction.''

Mr. Roberts, meanwhile, said that Mr. Horan complained only about leaks, and never raised the possibility that Mr. Blair was fabricating details.

In the end, Mr. Raines said last week, the paper handled the criticisms of both articles appropriately. ``I'm confident we went through the proper journalistic steps,'' he said.

It was not until January, Mr. Roberts recalled, that he was warned about Mr. Blair's record of inaccuracy and erratic behavior. He said Mr. Landman quietly told him that Mr. Blair was prone to error and needed to be watched. Mr. Roberts added that he did not pass the warning on to his deputies. ``It got socked in the back of my head,'' he said.

By then, however, the national editors had already formed their own assessments of Mr. Blair's work. They said they considered him a sloppy writer who was often difficult to track down and at times even elusive about his whereabouts.

Close scrutiny of his travel expenses would have revealed other signs that Mr. Blair was not where his editors thought he was, and, even more alarming, that he was perhaps concocting law enforcement sources. But at the time his expense records, when provided, were being quickly reviewed by an administrative assistant; editors did not examine them.

On an expense report filed in January, for example, he indicated that he had bought blankets at a Marshall's department store in Washington; the receipt showed that the purchase was made at a Marshall's in Brooklyn. He also reported a purchase at a Starbuck's in Washington; again, the receipt showed that it was in Brooklyn. On both days, he was supposedly writing articles from Washington.

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 that he dined with the same official at Penang, another New York City restaurant that Mr. Blair placed in Washington on his expense reports.

Reached this week, the official said that he had never dined with Mr. Blair, and in fact was in Florida with his wife on one of the dates.

According to cellphone records, computer logs and other records recently described by New York Times administrators, Mr. Blair had by this point developed a pattern of pretending to cover events in the Mid-Atlantic region when in fact he was spending most of his time in New York.

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.

Mr. Raines took note, too, especially after Mr. Blair's tale from Hunt Valley. By April, Mr. Raines recalled, senior editors were discussing whether Mr. Blair should be considered for a permanent slot on the national reporting staff.

``My feeling was, here was a guy who had been working hard and getting into the paper on significant stories,'' Mr. Raines said. The plan, he said, was for Mr. Roberts to give Mr. Blair a two- or three-month tryout in the Mid-Atlantic bureau to see if he could do the job.

Mr. Roberts said that he resisted the idea, and told Mr. Boyd he had misgivings about Mr. Blair. ``He works the way he lives - sloppily,'' he recalled telling Mr. Boyd, who said last week he had agreed that Mr. Blair was not the best candidate for the job.

But with his staff stretched thin to supply reporters for Iraqi war coverage and elsewhere, Mr. Roberts had little choice but to press Mr. Blair into duty on the home front.

After the Hunt Valley article in late March, Mr. Blair pulled details out of thin air in his coverage of one of the biggest stories to come from the war, the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch.

In an article on March 27 that carried a dateline from Palestine, W.Va., Mr. Blair wrote that Private Lynch's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., ``choked up as he stood on his porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures.'' The porch overlooks no such thing.

He also wrote that Private Lynch's family had a long history of military service; it does not, family members said. He wrote that their home was on a hilltop; it is in a valley. And he wrote that Ms. Lynch's brother was in the West Virginia National Guard; he is in the Army.

The article astonished the Lynch family, said Brandi Lynch, Jessica's sister. ``We were joking about the tobacco fields and the cattle.'' Asked why neither she nor anyone else in the family called to complain about the many errors, she said, ``We just figured it was going to be a one-time thing.''

It now appears that Mr. Blair may never have gone to West Virginia, from where he claimed to have filed five articles about the Lynch family. E-mail messages and cellphone records suggest that during much of that time he was in New York. Not a single member of the Lynch family remembers speaking to Mr. Blair.

Between the first coverage of the sniper attacks in late October and late April, Mr. Blair filed articles claiming to be from 20 cities in six states. Yet during those five months, he did not submit a single receipt for a hotel room, rental car or airplane ticket, officials at The Times said.

Mr. Blair did not have a company credit card - the reasons are unclear - and had been forced to rely on Mr. Roberts's credit card to pay bills from his first weeks on the sniper story. His own credit cards, he had told a Times administrator, were beyond their credit limit. The only expense he filed with regularity was for his cellphone, that indispensable tool of his dual existence.

``To have a national reporter who is working in a traveling capacity for the paper and not file expenses for those trips for a four-month period is certainly in hindsight something that should attract our attention,'' Mr. Boyd said. But the fact that it did not, he and others said, is an indication of just how thoroughly the newspaper relies on trust.

On April 29, toward the end of his remarkable run of deceit, Mr. Blair was summoned to the newsroom to answer accusations of plagiarism lodged by The San Antonio Express-News. The concerns centered on an article that he claimed to have written from Los Fresnos, Tex., about the anguish of a missing soldier's mother.

In a series of tense meetings over two days, Mr. Roberts repeatedly pressed Mr. Blair for evidence that he had indeed interviewed the mother. Sitting in Mr. Roberts's small office, the reporter produced pages of handwritten notes to allay his editor's increasing concern.

Mr. Roberts needed more - ``You've got to come clean with us,'' he said - and zeroed in on that house in Texas. He asked Mr. Blair to describe precisely what he had seen.

Mr. Blair did not hesitate. He told Mr. Roberts of the reddish roof on the white stucco house, of the red Jeep in the driveway, of the roses blooming in the yard. Mr. Roberts later inspected unpublished photographs of the mother's house, which matched Mr. Blair's descriptions in every detail.

It was not until Mr. Blair's deceptions were uncovered that Mr. Roberts learned how the reporter could have deceived him yet again: by gaining access to the newspaper's computerized photo archives.

What haunts Mr. Roberts now, he says, is one particular moment when editor and reporter were facing each other in a showdown over the core aim of their profession: truth.

``Look me in the eye and tell me you did what you say you did,'' Mr. Roberts demanded. Mr. Blair returned his gaze and said he had.

The Lessons: When Wrong, 'Get Right'

The New York Times continues as before. Every morning, stacks of The Times are piled at newsstands throughout the city; every morning, newspaper carriers toss plastic bags containing that day's issue onto the lawns of readers from Oregon to Maine. What remains unclear is how long those copies will carry the dust from the public collapse of a young journalist's career.

Mr. Blair is no longer welcome in the newsroom he so often seemed unable to leave. Many of his friends express anger at him for his betrayal, and at The Times for not heeding signs of his self-destructive nature. Others wonder what comes next for him; Thomas Kunkel, dean of the journalism program at the University of Maryland, gently suggested that the former student might return to earn that college degree.

But Mr. Blair harmed more than himself. Although the deceit of one Times reporter does not impugn the work of 375 others, experts and teachers of journalism say that The Times must repair the damage done to the public trust.

``To the best of my knowledge, there has never been anything like this at The New York Times,'' said Alex S. Jones, a former Times reporter and the co-author of ``The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times'' (Little Brown, 1999). He added: ``There has never been a systematic effort to lie and cheat as a reporter at The New York Times comparable to what Jayson Blair seems to have done.''

Mr. Jones suggested that the newspaper might conduct random checks of the veracity of news articles after publication. But Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, questioned how much a newspaper can guard against willful fraud by deceitful reporters.

``It's difficult to catch someone who is deliberately trying to deceive you,'' Mr. Rosenstiel said. ``There are risks if you create a system that is so suspicious of reporters in a newsroom that it can interfere with the relationship of creativity that you need in a newsroom - of the trust between reporters and editors.''

Still, in the midst of covering a succession of major news events, from serial killings and catastrophes to the outbreak of war, something clearly broke down in the Times newsroom. It appears to have been communication - the very purpose of the newspaper itself.

Some reporters and administrators did not tell editors about Mr. Blair's erratic behavior. Editors did not seek or heed the warnings of other editors about his reporting. Five years' worth of information about Mr. Blair was available in one building, yet no one put it together to determine whether he should be put under intense pressure and assigned to cover high-profile national events.

``Maybe this crystallizes a little that we can find better ways to build lines of communication across what is, to be fair, a massive newsroom,'' said Mr. Sulzberger, the publisher.

But Mr. Sulzberger emphasized that as The New York Times continues to examine how its employees and readers were betrayed, there will be no newsroom search for scapegoats. ``The person who did this is Jayson Blair,'' he said. ``Let's not begin to demonize our executives - either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher.''

Mr. Raines, who referred to the Blair episode as a ``terrible mistake,'' said that in addition to correcting the record so badly corrupted by Mr. Blair, he planned to assign a task force of newsroom employees to identify lessons for the newspaper. He repeatedly quoted a lesson he said he learned long ago from A.M. Rosenthal, a former executive editor.

``When you're wrong in this profession, there is only one thing to do,'' he said. ``And that is get right as fast as you can.''

For now, the atmosphere of a disliked relative's protracted wake pervades the newsroom. Employees accept the condolences of callers. They discuss what they might have done differently. They find comfort in gallows humor. And, of course, they talk endlessly about how Jayson could have done this.

Readers with information about other articles by Jayson Blair that may be false wholly or in part are asked to e-mail The Times:

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ccrm; corrupt; ethics; falsification; howellraines; jaysonblair; journalists; liars; mediafraud; newyorktimes; nyt; plagiarism; presstitutes; thenewyorktimes
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-20 ... 121-140141-160161-180181-193 last
To: Drango
There's another type of "flooding the zone"'s providing so much detail that the real questions get buried underneath the flood of information. NYT, when all the dust clears, is clearly culpable in this deception.

1. They chose to "fast track" a reporter because of his skin color in the interest of "diversity".

2. They chose to ignore obvious warning signs that their reporter was being dishonest.

3. They chose to assign him to high-profile stories like the DC sniper and Jessica Lynch because they placed more emphasis on the "scoop" or the "exclusive" than the facts.

But, of course, this will not prevent anyone at the Times, and certainly not their editors and publishers, from sticking their blues noses in the air the next time an important breaking story appears on Fox News or in the Washington Times and questioning the credibility of "those people".
181 posted on 05/11/2003 8:38:46 AM PDT by Tall_Texan (Destroy the Elitist Democrat Guard and the Fedayeen Clinton using the smart bombs of truth!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 180 | View Replies]

To: sarcasm
"There has never been a systematic effort to lie and cheat as a reporter at The New York Times comparable to what Jayson Blair seems to have done."

This guy never heard of Walter Duranty?

182 posted on 05/11/2003 9:40:54 AM PDT by nickcarraway
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: DanzigGirl
Yeah, right. This had affirmative action quotas writing on it from day one.
183 posted on 05/11/2003 10:01:02 AM PDT by gcruse (Vice is nice, but virtue can hurt you. --Bill Bennett)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 174 | View Replies]

To: DanzigGirl
Blair is black and a college dropout. I read that he used to be a drinking buddy with managing editor Boyd, who is also black.

The brothers are looking after their own.
184 posted on 05/11/2003 10:58:25 AM PDT by Pukka Puck
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 174 | View Replies]

To: sarcasm
Cause: PC driven media hiring practices.

Prognosis: Much more of the same.

185 posted on 05/11/2003 11:07:23 AM PDT by Enough is ENOUGH
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pukka Puck
Blair is black and a college dropout. I read that he used to be a drinking buddy with managing editor Boyd, who is also black.

The brothers are looking after their own

You have a point. According to the MSNBC article :

Indeed, more than one Times staffer pointed out that the paper’s national staff would not have been in need of the services of an untested young reporter with a spotty track record had a number of veterans not been pushed out by Raines last year.
It seems that several season reporters were dismissed last year because they did not add much to the diversity goal
186 posted on 05/11/2003 11:24:17 AM PDT by george wythe
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 184 | View Replies]

To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Blair isn't the only reporter at the NY Times fabricating stories. Most of them do it. Blair only got caught because he didn't learn the art of subtlety in fabricating his stories. Methinks this might have been due to a need to fill a drug habit so he let his guard down.
187 posted on 05/11/2003 2:21:42 PM PDT by PJ-Comix (A Person With No Sense Of Humor Is Someone Who Confuses The Irreverent With The Irrelevant)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 156 | View Replies]

To: PJ-Comix
Well now we know the New Yorks Times motto.

It isn't "All the News That's fit to Print."

It's "All the News That's Fit to Print ... or Invent."
188 posted on 05/11/2003 2:40:58 PM PDT by meatloaf
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 187 | View Replies]

To: Miss Marple
I would certainly like a list of the stories this guy fabricated.

Right here

189 posted on 05/11/2003 2:42:51 PM PDT by The Raven (Ever notice the tax advocates make lots more money than you?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: meatloaf
"All The Fits That News To Print."
190 posted on 05/11/2003 2:50:46 PM PDT by PJ-Comix (A Person With No Sense Of Humor Is Someone Who Confuses The Irreverent With The Irrelevant)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 188 | View Replies]

To: Miss Marple
Better yet...I posted it here
191 posted on 05/11/2003 2:54:49 PM PDT by The Raven (Ever notice the tax advocates make lots more money than you?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Drango
Here is Times Magazines take on the story...,9171,1101030519-450990,00.html

Given the chance, Macarena Hernandez might have done great things at the New York Times. With a gift for detail and musical prose, she was offered a job after working as a summer intern in 1998 and planned to take it — right up until the day that August when her father, a construction worker, was killed by an 18-wheeler. Her mother needed her, and so Hernandez went home to Texas. With no journalism jobs in sight, she began teaching English to mostly poor Mexican-American kids at her old high school. She urged them to follow their dreams.

One of her fellow interns that summer, Jayson Blair, was also talented and ambitious, and quite a bit luckier. Despite some reprimands for sloppy reporting — like missing the fact that a murder victim was not shot but strangled — he rose fast at the Times, made friends, wooed mentors and eventually got sent to Washington to join the team covering the hunt for the Beltway sniper. There he brought glory to the paper with front-page scoops that left rivals shaking their heads in wonder — and disbelief.

This spring, when he began writing about the families of soldiers who died fighting in Iraq, Blair and Hernandez crossed paths again. Now 28, she had found a job at the San Antonio Express-News; on April 18 the paper published her story about Juanita Anguiano, the mother of a missing soldier from Los Fresnos, Texas. Blair's article about Anguiano landed on the front page of the Times eight days later. Both were moving, vivid portraits of a mother's love and loss. But only one was original. "He stole her story," says Express-News editor Robert Rivard, who wrote to Howell Raines, executive editor of the New York Times, asking him to look into the matter.

Which is how it came to pass that Raines returned early from his honeymoon, Blair resigned, and the country's most prestigious newspaper found itself answering ever sharper questions about just who Jayson Blair was, how much of the material in his 700 or so Times stories over the past five years was made up and what the paper of record was going to do to correct that record. As soon as national editor Jim Roberts began calling sources in some of Blair's pieces, says Raines, "in every case ... there was an apparent falsification."

In the belief that "the proper response to bad journalism is to do good journalism," Raines assigned three editors and five reporters to re-report Blair's suspicious stories and comb through his computer files and expense accounts. The result was a 7,200-word story on last Sunday morning's front page that autopsied what it called a "low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." According to the Times's investigation, Blair "fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He stole material from other newspapers and wire services." He described the houses of grieving parents he never visited, the nightmares of wounded soldiers who deny discussing them, the tears of people who seldom cry. "It's a huge black eye," said publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., whose family has controlled the paper since 1896.

The revelations gave the Times a hard shove into the company of the nation's other great but occasionally humbled papers: the Boston Globe, whose columnists Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith resigned in 1998 after charges of serial plagiarism; the Wall Street Journal, whose financial columnist R. Foster Winans was convicted on 59 counts of conspiracy and fraud in 1985 for using his articles to make money in the stock market; and the Washington Post, which had to return the 1981 Pulitzer Prize won by reporter Janet Cooke for the haunting story of Jimmy, the 8-year-old heroin addict who turned out to be nothing more than a ghost from her typewriter.

Like every other news organization, the Times has had its share of embarrassments, but it also has a custom of obsessively addressing them in a corrections section on page 2 that is so meticulous about the smallest mistakes that it suggests the paper would never make any big ones. Any reporter with a 5% or 6% correction rate, says Raines, comes under scrutiny; the Times found 36 errors in the 73 articles Blair wrote between October and the end of April. Some of the editors who suspected his methods were reluctant to condemn him. Others neglected to share their concerns, or their warnings just got lost.

Despite accuracy issues from his earliest days, Blair was promoted in 2001 to full staff reporter, only to have his correction rate leap over the eight months following 9/11. (He claimed that a cousin died in the attacks; tracked down last week by the Times, the family denied that Blair was related.) According to metro editor Jonathan Landman's year-end summation, Blair made three times as many mistakes as the next-highest offender. "It alarmed everyone," says Raines, "and it should have."

The following April, the Times article reveals, Landman e-mailed other editors, saying "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now." Officially warned that he could be fired, Blair took a brief leave of absence; when he returned, he was watched more closely, and his correction rate improved dramatically enough to win him deployment on the sniper case. "Jayson had problems that were monitored aggressively," Raines says, "and in our view we tried to manage what problems we had. You don't stigmatize someone and tell them they can't do journalism or get a chance to show they can do stories of consequence."

From the May. 19, 2003 issue of TIME

Blair knew Washington from his days at the University of Maryland and a stint working there for the Boston Globe, so he joined the seven other Times reporters on the story. "Lots of people were told to break news, but he wasn't one of them," says one Times source. "He was supposed to baby-sit the police headquarters and go to the press conferences, not break news." But that changed after Blair caught fire: newsrooms in New York City and Washington fizzed each time he tossed a new scoop on the table — the grape stem found at a murder scene with suspect Lee Boyd Malvo's DNA on it, his supposed videotaped confession. Some of Blair's colleagues argue that the competitive passion that has driven some of the paper's recent triumphs, particularly its coverage of 9/11, may also have left the impression on an impressionable reporter that getting beat is worse than getting it wrong. "The story gets handed to anybody who gets hot," says one. "There's no talk about 'Make sure it's fair, make sure it's right.'" But the idea that competitive pressures somehow created Blair's deceptions is a charge Raines flatly rejects: "To suggest that this pathology seems to be a response to the stress of journalism is unfair to the 375 reporters and editors who work under the exact same circumstances and don't lie."

Whether or not this is a scandal born of ambition, it is also being cast as a story about race. Publications like the Times work hard to find and keep the best black reporters. That sometimes involves hiring minority reporters whose experience was "significantly below what we'd normally require because we wanted a lot of minority reporters," says one Times senior manager, who notes that a special training program helps bring young reporters up to speed. As Blair's record came to light, some colleagues concluded that he got second chances that others might not have. But others deny that race ensured Blair's rise or delayed his fall. He is variously described as charming and cunning, ambitious and lazy. "He was a picture of affability; he had a big hello for everyone. He was a hell of a fun, nice guy," says one colleague. "Most people rooted for him, most people were thrilled by his success, and now people are heartbroken."

Journalism may worship truth, but it is built on trust, and honest editors will admit, as Raines has, that a determined and creative liar is hard to catch. The Times will remember this catastrophe for a long time but will, in all likelihood, not suffer much for it. Blair's suffering, however, may have just begun. Upon resigning, he told the Associated Press, "I have been struggling with recurring personal issues, which have caused me great pain. I am now seeking appropriate counseling."

192 posted on 05/11/2003 3:10:13 PM PDT by Drango (There are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those that understand binaries, and those that don't.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 180 | View Replies]

To: Pukka Puck
Affirmative action reason that this joker rose to the top so quickly despite the total lack of competence and absence of journalistic integrity. Juan Williams got totally defensive about this on FOX News today, claiming that "well connected" white kids do it as well, although he could not name anyone. Its clear that Jayson Blair got away with this because of the atmosphere of political correctness at the NY Times.
193 posted on 05/11/2003 3:19:36 PM PDT by KC_Conspirator
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-20 ... 121-140141-160161-180181-193 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson