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JAYSON BLAIR Printer Friendly Page

Major Introductory Resources:

L’affaire Blair
By Heather MacDonald
May 14, 2003

The Gray Lady & the Black Reporter
By Roger Clegg
May 13, 2003


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  • Former New York Times reporter
  • Resigned from the Times after the public revelation of his repeated breaches of journalistic ethics


Jayson Blair is a former New York Times reporter who in May 2002 resigned in disgrace after it was learned that he had engaged in serious and repeated breaches of journalistic ethics.

Born in March 1976 and raised in Maryland, Blair in the mid-1990s attended the University of Maryland at College Park, majoring in journalism and serving as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Diamondback.

In the summer of 1998 Blair took a job as an intern with The New York Times. That fall, he was offered a permanent full-time position with the publication. He declined the offer, claiming that he first needed to finish his studies at the University of Maryland. The Times agreed to defer his hiring until after he had graduated. Blair returned to the Times in January 1999, falsely maintaining that he had received his degree in journalism. That November the Times promoted him to “intermediate reporter,” and by January 2001 he was made a full-time staff reporter.

Blair's early career with the Times was dogged by complaints of shoddy journalism and egregious errors in reporting. His own editor, Jonathan Landman, sent an internal memo to management, declaring, “We have to stop Jayson from writing for The New York Times ... Right now.” Despite this warning, in 2002 Blair was promoted to the Times' national desk.

Blair resigned from the Times on May 2, 2003 when it was learned that he had recently plagiarized from an article that had originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. A subsequent investigation led by Times editors, staffers, and external reporters found that 36 of the 73 news stories attributed to Blair since October 2002 contained plagiarisms or lies. For example, Blair had filed numerous dispatches purporting to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when he was actually in New York. Moreover, he had fabricated comments and events, and had lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. Spot checks of the more than 600 articles Blair had written during his four years at the Times turned up additional apparent fabrications.

A panel headed by Times Assistant Managing Editor Allan Siegal studied the Blair controversy and concluded that Blair's promotions may have been the result of a “star system” that favored him because of his closeness to Times Executive Director Howell Raines. Jonathan Landman told the Siegal committee that in his opinion, the fact that Blair was African-American "was the decisive factor in his promotion" to full-time staffer. Landman's assertion was confirmed by Raines, who on May 14, 2003 (while he was still the Executive Editor) told a meeting of Times news staffers, managers, and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., that Blair had received preferential treatment because of his race.

Blair's resignation was followed by the resignations a month later of Howell Raines and Times Managing Editor Harold Boyd, who were seen as partly responsible for Raines' indiscretions. 

In 2004 Blair published his autobiography -- Burning Down My Masters' House: A Personal Descent Into Madness That Shook the New York Times -- which accused the Times of rampant racism, both in regard to its news coverage as well as its dealings with employees. “The one thing that was clear was that it took a lot of dead Africans for anyone to notice on West Forty-third Street,” wrote Blair. He further claimed that “a black recovering drug addict at The Times was not going to be given the same leeway that a white one might be.” And he contended that journalistic accuracy was not a high priority for the Times: “The message was clear: getting it right was not as important as getting it fast.” Blair's book also offered numerous excuses for why he had plagiarized and lied in his articles. These included Blair's self-confessed bouts with alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and bipolar disorder, as well as his alleged maltreatment by Times managers.

After leaving the Times, Blair became an advocate for the mentally ill, founding the Bipolar Support Group for Northern Virginia. He also returned to college to pursue a B.A. degree in Business Communications. Blair currently heads Azure Entertainment Corporation, which manages his speaking engagements and media appearances.

 

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