Perhaps but when even NPR mentions it, the cat's out of the bag...http://www.timeswatch.org/articles/2003/0509.asp
Times Watch for 05/09/03
Raines: Diversity More Important Than Better Journalism
Melissa Block, a host of the National Public Radio program All Things Considered, interviewed Times executive editor Howell Raines on the Blair fiasco--and challenged Raines with a rather incriminating blast from Raines past:
Mr. Raines, you spoke to a convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001, and you specifically mentioned Jayson Blair as an example of the Times spotting and hiring the best and brightest reporters on their way up. You said, 'This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.' And I wonder now, looking back, if you see this as something of a cautionary tale, that maybe Jayson Blair was given less scrutiny or more of a pass on the corrections to his stories that you had to print because the paper had an interest in cultivating a young, black reporter.
Raines defensive reply: No, I do not see it as illustrating that point. I see it as illustrating a tragedy for Jayson Blair, that here was a person who under the conditions in which other journalists perform adequately decided to fabricate information and mislead colleagues. And it is--you know, I don't want to demonize Jayson, but this is a tragedy of failure on his part.
It sounds like a failure of nerve on the part of Raines. And as for his proud admission to the NABJ that increasing racial diversity was more important to him than increasing the quality of his papers journalismthats just pathetic.
Off the Record
On the evening of April 28, Jim Roberts, the national editor for The New York Times, called his reporter, Jayson Blair. Questions, he said he told Mr. Blair, had arisen about an April 26 story Mr. Blair had written about Juanita Anguiano, the mother of a 24-year-old Army mechanic whod gone off to Iraq and was then the last American soldier declared missing in action. A reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, Macarena Hernandeza former Times internhad called the paper that day in distress, alerting The Times to similarities between Mr. Blairs story and hers, also about Ms. Anguiano, that ran on April 18.
Mr. Blair was in Fairfax, Va., Mr. Roberts said, but now he wanted to meet with him in New York.
"I had been told he was covering a hearing [on the Washington, D.C., sniper case] in Fairfax, Va.," Mr. Roberts said. "Now, Im not certain of anything."
Jayson Blair was a 27-year-old reporter who, according to newsroom sources, was well-liked in the newsroom of The Times. He first joined as an intern in 1998, was hired as an intermediate reporter in 1999, and became a full reporter in 2001. As it turned out, Mr. Blair hadnt traveled to Texas to interview Ms. Anguiano about her son. He lifted whole swaths, including descriptions and quotations, from the work of Ms. Hernandez, whom he knew and once worked with. Confronted with this evidence, Mr. Blair resigned his post on Thursday, May 1.
In a letter Mr. Blair wrote to Times executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, Mr. Blair apologized for his "lapse in journalistic integrity."
"This is a time in my life that I have been struggling with recurring personal issues, which have caused me great pain," Mr. Blair wrote. "I am now seeking appropriate counseling. Journalism and The New York Times have been very good to me and I regret what I have done.
"I am deeply sorry," Mr. Blair concluded.
When reached by Off the Record, Mr. Blair declined to comment. But speaking to Off the Record on May 5, Mr. Raines accepted Mr. Blairs mea culpa.
"The last thing we want to do is demonize Jayson Blair," Mr. Raines said. "He wrote a public letter apologizing for a journalistic lapse in integrity. He apologized for it. I can accept that. But my concern is for our readers and our integrity."
For Mr. Raines and The Times, the episode began on Tuesday, April 22. Since the start of the war in Iraq, Mr. Roberts said, The Times had maintained a database, tracking the dead and missing, producing yearbook-esque eulogies about those who had died. Mr. Roberts said hed heard from a researcher working on the database that there were only two soldiers left whod been deemed M.I.A.s. When another set of remains was identified, that left oneEdward Anguiano. Mr. Roberts thought it would be a good idea to profile the family of the last missing soldier, and Mr. Blair got the assignment. (Mr. Anguianos remains were later found.)
Mr. Blair posted an e-mail saying he was "off to San Antonio," Mr. Roberts said, and turned in his copy on the afternoon of Thursday, April 24. Mr. Roberts said he liked what he saw, but that the Times desk sent Mr. Blair back for more phone reporting. The story ran in The Times two days later, in its April 26 edition. The following Monday, Mr. Roberts said he was called into a meeting with Mr. Boyd.
In the meeting, Mr. Boydjoined by Sheila Rule, a senior manager in charge of reporter recruiting, and Bill Schmidt, The Times associate managing editortold Mr. Roberts there was a problem. After looking over both pieces, Mr. Roberts agreed and called Mr. Blair. He asked him if hed ever seen the San Antonio story. Mr. Blair said no. According to Mr. Roberts, he told Mr. Blair to return to New York with his notes so they could meet first thing on Tuesday morning.
In the meeting that followed on April 29, Mr. Roberts said that Mr. Blair maintained his innocence, saying hed traveled to Texas and had met with Ms. Anguiano. Mr. Blair also said hed mixed up his notes with copies of other stories that hed downloaded onto his laptop, Mr. Roberts said.
Following the public disclosure in the Washington City Paper and The Washington Post of a note sent to both Mr. Boyd and Mr. Raines by Express-News editor Robert Rivard, Mr. Boyd met with Mr. Blair the following day, Wednesday, April 30, for five minutes. Mr. Boyd said he urged Mr. Blair to tell them everything that happened. Mr. Roberts said he told Mr. Boyd and others: "I just dont have any confidence he was ever there."
Midway through Wednesday, April 30, Mr. Blair, along with representation from the Newspaper Guild, met with Mr. Schmidt and members of The Times legal staff. In a session that lasted into the early evening, Mr. Schmidt said that Mr. Blair again gave his account of what had occurred. The Times, Mr. Schmidt said, asked that Mr. Blair provide receipts and documents of his travel. The meeting would be continued the following day.
The next morning, however, according to Mr. Boyd and Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Blair refused to appear. The Guild told Mr. Schmidt that Mr. Blair wouldnt furnish proof of his reporting, and that hed chosen to resign. The Times made the announcement the following day in an editors note and in a story about the incident by Times reporter Jacques Steinberg. Mr. Steinberg is now one of the reporters investigating Mr. Blairs past work.
Since his abrupt departure, Mr. Blair has been criticized by those outside and inside The Times who say the paper should have seen problems coming. Insiders say that Mr. Blair, while extremely amiable, often displayed erratic behavior. (In a report published in the Washington City Paper, Mr. Raines said that Mr. Blair had previously enrolled in a company program that provides counseling for employees with personal problems). Critics were quick to note that The Times had published the dozens of corrections regarding Mr. Blairs work since he began writing as an intern in 1998.
Speaking to Off the Record, Mr. Raines addressed Mr. Blairs errors. He acknowledged that following his jump to metro reporter from his apprenticeship in 1999 and 2000, Mr. Blair struggled to get things right. Indeed, from Sept. 11 to early 2002, he said Mr. Blair wrote 70 stories, with eleven corrections. But Mr. Raines said Mr. Blair improved (two corrections in 100 stories) after receiving a stern warning in April 2002 from metro editor Jonathan Landman and Nancy Sharkey, assistant to the managing editor.
Mr. Landman said he had seen talent in Mr. Blair, but had warned him several times about the mistakes. After the reprimand, there were only two mistakes in over a hundred stories.
"We told him to go real slow," Mr. Landman said. "I said, I dont care if you just do a brief a weekthe point is to get things accurate and in context."
Mr. Landman added that "the guy was a promising young reporter. You wanted to make it work."
Following a stint in metro, during which Mr. Boyd said the paper kept close watch on his work, The Times moved Mr. Blair in summer 2002 to an assignment in sports, where, Mr. Boyd said, "it was thought that based on his performance, he deserved a shot to see what he could do."
However, during the Washington, D.C., sniper crisis, Mr. Raines dispatched eight reportersincluding Mr. Blairto cover the story. Mr. Raines said he thought Mr. Blair was a good choice, since hed grown up in the area and went to school at the University of Maryland. As the clamor of the sniper arrests ended and the court cases began, Mr. Roberts said, "We felt it was wise to keep him on the story."
But The Times is now investigating Mr. Blairs reporting in at least two sniper-case stories from October 2002 to January 2003. On Oct. 30, Mr. Blair reported that U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio had interrupted the interrogation of the sniper suspect John Muhammad at the behest of the White House, a report that was later disputed by Mr. DiBiagio. In a piece on Dec. 22, he wrote that DNA evidence ruled out Mr. Muhammad as the primary shooter. Regarding the latter assertion, Fairfax County Commonwealths Attorney Robert Horan called a press conference to dispute The Times story. But Mr. Roberts told Off the Record that in his conversation with Mr. Horan, the prosecutor never made clear what his problems with the story were. (In a December piece about how Kent State University counted football attendance, Mr. Blair quoted an athletic-department official who later said he never spoke to Mr. Blair.)
As The Times begins the process of re-reporting Mr. Blairs stories, the paper has also taken shots for letting a young reporter rise too far, too fast. The conversation has also considered Mr. Blairs race (he is African-American). On May 4 on his CNN program Reliable Sources, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz asked: "Look, this was a promising young black reporter. I wonder if a middle-aged hack would have gotten away with 50 mistakes and still be at that job."
Asked if he wanted to respond to Mr. Kurtzs assertion, Mr. Raines said: "No." But then he added that The Times had a commitment to "equal treatment of all our employees."
"If someone wants to have some unbecoming speculation on their television show, thats their prerogative," Mr. Raines said. "We have a diverse staff, and we manage them in a very evenhanded way."
Asked about Mr. Blairs youth, Mr. Raines said the paper had "lots" of correspondents in their 20s, and called upon his own and his predecessors history at the paper.
"Some people come here in their 20s," Mr. Raines said. "Some in their 30s. I came to The Times at the age of 34. [Former executive editor] Joe Lelyveld came at the age of 25. We dont discriminate against people because of their youth or their being old."
Sources within The Times have viewed the episode with a combination of anger and disappointmentanger over one of their own betraying a public trust, disappointment over someone who decided to implode their career.
"It makes you very, very sad," Mr. Landman said.