Skip to comments.N.Y. Times: Ex-Reporter 'Committed Fraud'
Posted on 05/11/2003 3:27:17 AM PDT by kattracks
NEW YORK, May 11, 2003 (AP Online via COMTEX) -- A New York Times reporter "committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud," including stealing material from other newspapers, inventing quotes and lying about his whereabouts, according to an investigation conducted by the paper.
The review found problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles written by Jayson Blair from the time he began receiving national reporting assignments in late October to his May 1 resignation. The Times described the episode as "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."
Blair, 27, "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," according to a story the Times posted on its Web site Saturday before its publication in Sunday's editions.
The 7,500-word story was accompanied by an editor's note apologizing to Times' readers and a detailed accounting of articles in which falsification, plagiarism or other problems were discovered by a team of Times reporters and researchers.
"It's a huge black eye," Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and publisher of the newspaper, said in the article. "It's an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers."
The inquiry into Blair's work continues, especially on more than 600 articles he wrote before his sniper coverage began in October. The newspaper asked readers to report problems by e-mailing a special address: retrace(at)nytimes.com.
The Times cited several reasons for not detecting the problems with Blair, including "a failure of communication among senior editors; few complaints from the subjects of (Blair's) articles; his savviness and his ingenious ways of covering his tracks."
Blair attended the University of Maryland, but did not graduate, and joined the Times in 1999 after an internship the previous year. He did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment, and the Times said he rejected repeated requests to help the newspaper in its inquiry or comment on his work.
In a letter sent to the Times and read to the AP after his resignation, Blair blamed "personal issues" and apologized for his "lapse of journalistic integrity."
The review began after the editor at the San Antonio Express-News pointed to similarities in an April 26 piece by Blair and a story that appeared in the Texas paper a week earlier.
The story concerned a woman's monthlong wait for news on her son, a soldier missing in Iraq. The Times said at the time it was unable to determine whether Blair had done any original reporting for the piece, and Blair quit within days.
The investigation showed that while he was filing stories with datelines from around the country, Blair was often in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, even filing expense receipts from stores and restaurants there.
In other instances:
-On Oct. 30, Blair wrote that John Muhammad, one of the two sniper suspects, had been talking with local investigators for more than an hour when federal authorities forced an end to the interrogation - perhaps as Muhammad was ready to confess. But law enforcement officials told the Times that the conversation with Muhammad was focused on minor matters, such as arranging for a shower, rather than "explaining the roots of his anger" as Blair reported.
Blair's story claimed to be based on the accounts of five unnamed law enforcement sources. Times editors did not ask Blair who those sources were prior to publication.
-On March 27, Blair wrote under a dateline from Palestine, W.Va., about the family of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, a POW rescued in Iraq. He described how Lynch's father "choked up as he stood on his porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures." The porch overlooks no such thing, the Times said, and no member of Lynch's family remembers talking to Blair. The Times said some of the Lynch articles also contained material apparently lifted from the AP.
-On April 6, Blair reported on a Cleveland church service attended by a reverend whose son had been pronounced dead in Iraq the previous day. The Times said there was no evidence Blair was at the service and that his article lifted at least six passages from other news sources, including The Washington Post.
When he joined the paper, Blair was assigned to the metropolitan desk. But because of mistakes and unprofessional behavior, the Times said, Metropolitan Editor Jonathan Landman wrote an April 2002 e-mail message to newsroom administrators saying, "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."
Blair's performance improved after he took a leave for personal problems and was warned that his job was at risk, according to the paper. But he began pushing for assignments on other desks, and Landman reluctantly signed off on a plan to send Blair to the sports department, with a briefing to the editor there.
Blair had just moved to the sports desk when he was sent to the newspaper's national desk to help cover the sniper shootings in the suburbs of Washington. National editors said they were not informed of Blair's earlier performance problems.
"By the end of that month, public officials and colleagues were beginning to challenge his reporting," the Times said. "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."
The Times said Blair was aided in his deception by the use of laptops and cell phones - which prevented his editors from knowing where he was - and his access to databases of news articles and photographs, from which he took details of places he had never been.
The Times said its investigation was "focused on correcting the record and explaining how such fraud could have been sustained within the ranks of The New York Times," and Executive Editor Howell Raines said he would assign a task force of newsroom employees to identify lessons for the newspaper.
The Times article said Raines repeatedly quoted a lesson he learned from A.M. Rosenthal, one of his predecessors as executive editor: "When you're wrong in this profession, there is only one thing to do. And that is get right as fast as you can."
On the Net:
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com
By TARA BURGHART Associated Press Writer
This guy's crime was that he was using other people's material. If this guy had stuck to making up headlines and proving his points through creative writing, he would have been just fine. That's how the media does business. He wrote over 600 articles. The Times looked the other way for this guy until they just couldn't anymore.
Remember that the other paper not only "asked" the Times to investigate, but also leaked the data to Howard Kurtz as well, who published it. I believe it wasn't even 36 hours from initial complaint until Blair
was shown the door "resigned."
Also more important than whether the guy has even graduated from a school of journalism. This guy failed to complete his course of studies and yet got a NYT internship and was then hired on as a reporter. This is a job most experienced journalists with degrees cannot get. The NYT promoted an inexperienced rank amateur over the heads of well-trained and seasoned professionals. They knew exactly what they were doing and yet went ahead anyway. The question is --
It can't be the color of his skin only, because there are plenty of qualified black journalists out there.
He made the mistake of getting caught. He wasn't taught to do that. In fact, he had plenty of examples before him of what happens when even experienced reporters get caught -- at the Boston Globe, at The New Republic, etc.
Wonder if Arthur and Howell will blame this on the vast, right wing controlled, media cabal.
Some information from the L.A. Times:
The least credible and complete portion of the Times' account is its categorical denial that the unusual tolerance and solicitude the paper accorded Blair, who is African American, had anything to do with his race. Like other major American news organizations, the Times has in recent years made strenuous efforts to compensate for the decades of discrimination that kept women and minority reporters out of their newsrooms. The New York Times, in particular, has had demonstrable difficulties recruiting and retaining black reporters and editors.
The Times report is candid about the severe criticisms directed at Blair by the two metropolitan editors Joyce Purnick and Jonathan Landman prior to his assignment to the paper's national staff. It is less forthcoming about the close mentor-protégé relationship that apparently existed between Blair and the Times' managing editor, Gerald Boyd, who also is African American. By the Times' account, Boyd was head of a committee that recommended Blair be hired, despite the reservations of other editors. Boyd, along with Raines, pushed the inexperienced reporter with a poor record onto the prestigious national staff.
What the Times does not note is that in 2001 it was the tyro Blair who nominated Boyd for the National Assn. of Black Journalists' journalist of the year award for his role in producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning series "How Race Is Lived in America." When Boyd subsequently was promoted to managing editor, according to sources at the Times, Blair was selected to write the announcement for the paper's in-house newsletter.
Go to the above website. This cartoon was printed in The Diamondback, the University of Marylands newspaper. This clown Blair used to work there before he dropped out of UMD and went to making up stories for the NYT. Below is what I wrote to The Diamondback, hoping they would print it as a guest column. I suppose it was too scathing. Anyway, my point, is if this is what college newspapers allow, and papers like the NYT hire these clowns, then we should not be shocked or surprised when guys like Blair finally get caught.
To the Editors:
A friend directed my attention to the Editorial Cartoon in the latest edition of The Diamondback. I do not know whether to be angry or amused, perhaps just sadly disappointed. I will confess to being shocked, being forty-five years old and a career veteran of the United States Navy, at my naiveté.
Why am I naïve? Because I was under the impression that the University of Maryland, or any university for that matter, was in the business of educating children to become functioning adults in our society. The cartoon by Mr. Friedman indicates otherwise, shows not only a total lack of respect for Governor Ehrlich, it implies a juvenile mentality not only on his part but also on the editors of The Diamondback. I can see Mr. Friedman impressing editors using this cartoon in future employment interviews. Perhaps he can find work at the New York Times, as did Jayson Blair, another fine example of fair and professional journalism from the ranks of The Diamondback.
Would the editors allow Mr. Friedman to print the words the hand symbol represents in the paper? I think not. I learned years ago that an individual who resorts to cursing has run out of things to say. It is obvious that Mr. Friedman has nothing original to say and it is sad that the editors allow the ranting of a child. It makes one wonder on the teaching methods at the university that allows for a shocking lack of _expression, but also the low standards of The Diamondback. Considering the recent news of Jayson Blair and his connection with The Diamondback, perhaps one should not wonder at all.
I am sure that Mr. Friedmans intention was to shock and I will confess that he did. I am equally positive that my letter will not be the only one you receive negatively commenting on Mr. Friedmans freedom of speech. I am not suggesting that Mr. Friedman should not exercise his God given right of free speech. However, like a child that utters the profanity it hears at home in the open market, Mr. Friedman must learn that there is a time and place for vulgarisms. The time and place is not in a venue which sole purpose is the _expression of ideas and the reporting of items of interest to the UMD campus.
One question I have for the young Mr. Friedman when you drew this cartoon an amateurish attempt by the way did you take into consideration how this will make Governor Ehrlichs wife and children feel? For the editors is that what you consider responsible journalism? If so, than I am not surprised that you allowed Mr. Friedmans socialistic shock cartoon. Considering the attention Jayson Blair brings to The Diamondback, this seems to be the quality of people you obviously like to attract and work on your paper.
In the interest of fairness, would you allow the printing of a rebuttal cartoon featuring former Governor Glendening? Considering that Governor Ehrlich has not yet signed a budget and not responsible for the fiscal woes the state and university now encounter, by using your artistic logic, a cartoon representing what former Governor Glendening accomplished would probably be fit for a magazine such as Hustler. Right up your alley, so to speak.
In conclusion, I want to be as blunt as possible so that there is no misunderstanding. The cartoon was not funny, was disrespectful to the Governors family, indicated a severe lack of knowledge of how government works by young Mr. Friedman, and the artistic quality well, let us just say it is somewhat lacking. Your editorial control, with Mr. Friedman and Jayson Blair as examples, is also lacking. However, I will continue to pick up the Diamondback. I have three cats at home and they find great use of the paper. Besides, it is free.
The First Amendment stricture,". . . no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ."means that the government forbidden to require a standard of reliabiliy on books, magazines, or newspapers. The writers are not under oath, and are not subject to penalties for perjury.
That is essential for freedom of thought and opinion to flourish. It does now occur to me, however, that there could be an analog to the "super marriage" concept being tried in, I believe, Louisiana. That concept being, that the "super marriage" vows are more binding, more respected by the state and divorce more difficult than in "regular" marriage.
The incentive to enter a "super marriage" is, simply, that refusal to enter into it is much like insisting on a prenuptial agreement--it implies a limitation of trust which both partners should have in each other before marriage in any event.
Perhaps there should be a "super journalism" entered into voluntarily by a news organization, and by its reporters individually as a condition of employment. That "super jouralism" would subject its practitioners to the penalties of perjury for knowingly false publication, including the insinuation that you know something when you do not in fact know it. The incentive to enter "super journalism" would be, simply, that refusal to do so would be denial of your proud boasts of "journalistic ethics"--a refusal to put your money where your mouth is.
Theoretically, FCC-licensed broadcasters already are subject to that sort of standard; the FCC certifies by law that the licensees are "broadcasting in the public interest as a public trustee"--and is charged with enforcing a prohibition on the transmission of false signals. We saw in the aftermath of the "Gore Wins Florida" announcement, tho, how seriously that law is taken. The discussion on Wednesday morning was not about the error broadcast Tuesday night at 7:50, but about the blood relation between GWB and the analyst who first correctly called "Bush wins Florida."
So my "super journalism" proposal is unserious, meant to dramatize the contrast between the claims of journalistic "objectivity" and the reality of journalistic cowardice/herd mentality. And to illustrate Why Broadcast Journalism is Unnecessary and Illegitimate