- For the actor, see Jayson Blair (actor).
Jayson Blair (born March 23, 1976) is a former journalist with The New York Times. He resigned from the newspaper in May 2003 in the wake of the discovery of plagiarism and fabrication in his stories.
Blair was born in Columbia, Maryland, the son of a federal executive and a schoolteacher. While attending the University of Maryland, College Park, he was a student journalist. He became editor-in-chief of its student newspaper, The Diamondback, for the 1996–1997 school year. According to a letter later signed by 30 staffers, Blair made four serious errors as a reporter and editor that brought his integrity into question. The letter-signers alleged that questions about those errors were ignored by the board that owned the paper. Among the mistakes they cited was an award-winning story about a student who died of a cocaine overdose who was subsequently found to have actually died of a heart ailment.
After a summer interning at The New York Times in 1998, Blair was offered an extended internship. He declined in order to complete more coursework for graduation. He returned to The New York Times in June 1999, with a year of coursework left to complete. That November, he became an "intermediate reporter."
Plagiarism and fabrication scandal
On April 28, 2003, Blair received a call from Times national editor Jim Roberts asking him about similarities between a story he had written two days earlier and one written by San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez on April 18. Hernandez had a summer internship at The Times years earlier and had worked alongside Blair. The senior editor of the San Antonio Express-News contacted The Times about close similarities between Blair's article and a story penned by his reporter, Hernandez.
The resulting inquiry led to the discovery of fabrication and plagiarism in a number of articles Blair had written. Some untruths include Blair's claims to have traveled from New York to the city mentioned in the dateline, when he did not.
Some of the suspect articles include the following:
- In the October 30, 2002, piece "US Sniper Case Seen as a Barrier to a Confession," Blair wrote that a dispute between police authorities had ruined the interrogation of suspect John Muhammad and that Muhammad was about to confess, quoting unnamed officials. This was swiftly denied by everyone involved. Blair also named certain lawyers, who were not present, as having witnessed the interrogation.
- In the February 10, 2003, piece "Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks," Blair claimed to be in Washington, plagiarized quotations from a Washington Post story, and fabricated quotations from a person he had not interviewed. Blair ascribed a wide range of facts to a man featured in the article, almost all of which the man in question denied. Blair also published information that he had promised was off the record.
- In the March 3, 2003, piece "Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight," Blair claimed to be in Fairfax, Virginia. He described a videotape of Lee Malvo, the younger defendant in the case, being questioned by police and quoted officials' review of the tape. No such tape existed. Blair also claimed a detective noticed blood on a man's jeans leading to a confession, which did not occur.
- In the March 27, 2003, piece "Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News," Blair again pretended to be in West Virginia and plagiarized quotations from an Associated Press article. He claimed to have spoken to one relative who had no recollection of meeting Blair, said "tobacco fields and cattle pastures" were visible from Lynch's parents' house when they were not, erroneously stated that Lynch's brother was in the National Guard, misspelled Lynch's mother's name, and fabricated a dream that he claimed she had had.
- In the April 3, 2003, piece "Rescue in Iraq and a ‘Big Stir' in West Virginia," Blair claimed to have covered the Jessica Lynch story from her home town of Palestine, West Virginia. Blair never traveled to Palestine, and his entire contribution to the story consisted of rearranged details from Associated Press stories.
- In the April 7, 2003, piece "For One Pastor, the War Hits Home," Blair wrote of a church service in Cleveland and an interview with the minister. Blair never went to Cleveland; he only spoke to the minister on the phone and then copied most of the article from an earlier Washington Post article. He also plagiarized quotations from The Plain Dealer and New York Daily News. He fabricated a detail about the minister keeping a picture of his son inside his Bible and got the name of the church wrong.
- In the April 19, 2003, piece "In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded," Blair described interviewing four injured soldiers in a naval hospital. He never went to the hospital and only spoke to one soldier on the phone, to whom he later attributed made-up quotes. Blair wrote that the soldier "will most likely limp the rest of his life and need to use a cane," which was untrue. He said another soldier had lost his right leg when it had only been amputated below the knee. He described two soldiers as being in the hospital at the same time when in fact they were admitted five days apart.
The Times reported on Blair's journalistic misdeeds in an unprecedented 7,239-word front-page story on May 11, 2003, headlined "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception." The story called the affair "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." On the NPR radio show Talk of the Nation, Blair explained that his fabrications started with what he thought was a relatively innocent infraction: using a quote from a press conference which he had missed. He described a gradual process whereby his ethical violations became worse and contended that his main motivation was a fear of not living up to the expectations that he and others had for his career.
The investigation saw heated debate over affirmative action hiring. Jonathan Landman, Blair's editor, told the Siegal committee he felt being black played a large part in Blair's initial promotion to full-time staffer. "I think race was the decisive factor in his promotion," he said. "I thought then and I think now that it was the wrong decision."
Five days later, Times African-American op-ed columnist Bob Herbert asserted in his column that race had nothing to do with the Blair case: "Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting." Herbert said, "[F]olks who delight in attacking anything black, or anything designed to help blacks, have pounced on the Blair story as evidence that there is something inherently wrong with The Times's effort to diversify its newsroom, and beyond that, with the very idea of a commitment to diversity or affirmative action anywhere. And while these agitators won't admit it, the nasty subtext to their attack is that there is something inherently wrong with blacks."
After resigning from The Times, Blair returned to college and said he planned to go into human resources. The year after he left the Times, he published a memoir, Burning Down My Master's House. Although its initial print run was 250,000 copies, only 1,400 were sold in its first nine days. Subsequent sales are hard to estimate.
In popular culture
- A play about Blair, CQ/CX, written by Gabe McKinley, was produced by the Atlantic Theater Company in 2012. McKinley knew Blair personally, having worked at the Times during the period Blair was there.
- The television series Law and Order used the Blair story as the inspiration for Episode 14.02: 'Bounty'.
- In the television series Law and Order: Criminal Intent, the Blair story was used as inspiration for an episode about a young journalist in the third season episode "Pravda" (3.5).
- Season 5 of the HBO series The Wire, which is set in Baltimore and written by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun journalist and fellow alumni from the The Diamondback, the student newspaper at the University of Maryland, College Park where Blair was the editor, dealt with the subject of journalist fabrication, as well as the decline of print journalism, and specifically mentions Blair, one of many individuals who inspired storyline for Season 5, in the last episode.
- A 2003 series of Pearls Before Swine comic strips portray Rat writing fraudulent New York Times stories on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
- A scene in Gilmore Girls episode "The Reigning Lorelai" (4.16) shows Rory's editor, Doyle, becoming frustrated with the way Yale Daily News staffers act in the newsroom calling it "the breeding ground for the next Jayson Blair."
- A documentary film featuring Jayson Blair was made by director/producer Samantha Grant. A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times premiered at the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival on June 14, 2013.
- Blair, Jayson (2004). Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times. New Millennium Press. ISBN 1-932407-26-X.
- Folkenflik, David (February 29, 2004). "The making of Jayson Blair". Baltimore Sun.
- "Former Blair co-workers claim warnings ignored". The Diamondback. UWIRE.com. Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved June 13, 2003.
- Flanagan, Jason. "Former Blair co-workers claim warnings ignored". ePeak 7, vol. 114. Simon Fraser University, June 16, 2003.
- "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception". The New York Times. May 11, 2003.
- Blair, Jayson (April 26, 2003). "AFTEREFFECTS: THE MISSING; Family Waits, Now Alone, for a Missing Soldier". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- "MySA.com: Iraq: After the War". 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.
- Rosen, Jill (June–July 2003). "All about the retrospect: Jayson Blair charmed and dazzled the right people on his rapid rise from cocky college student to New York Times national reporter. But he left plenty of clues about the serious problems that lay beneath the surface". American Journalism Review (College Park: University of Maryland) 25 (5): 32+.
- Blair, Jayson (October 30, 2002). "Retracing A Trail: The Investigation; U.S. Sniper Case Seen As A Barrier To A Confession". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Blair, Jayson (February 10, 2003). "Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Blair, Jayson (March 3, 2003). "Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Blair, Jayson (March 27, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: MILITARY FAMILIES; Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Jehl, Douglas; Blair, Jayson (April 3, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: THE HOMETOWN; Rescue in Iraq and a 'Big Stir' in West Virginia". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Blair, Jayson (April 7, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: THE FAMILIES; For One Pastor, the War Hits Home". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- Blair, Jayson (April 19, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: VETERANS; In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- "Jayson Blair: A Case Study of What Went Wrong at The New York Times". PBS. 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.
- Herbert, Bob (May 19, 2003). "Truth, Lies and Subtext". The New York Times.
- Perrone, Matthew. "Jayson Blair searches for new life, reflects ... at the Wayback Machine". Fairfax County Times. June 9, 2005.
- "Ex-journalists' books not selling". Los Angeles Times. March 20, 2004.
- Rizzo, Frank (February 15, 2012). "'CQ/CX' by Gabe McKinley at Peter Norton Space". The New York Times.
- Zeitchik, Steven (February 24, 2012). "Ripped from the fake headlines". Los Angeles Times.
- "N.Y. Times Uncovers Dozens Of Faked Stories by Reporter." Washington Post. May 11, 2003.
- Kugler, Sara. "New York Times executives Howell Raines, Gerald Boyd resign." Associated Press. June 5, 2003.
- "Making a Turnaround," bp Magazine (bphope.com). Spring 2005. Retrieved 2010-12-06.
- "Jayson Blair searches for new life, reflects on legacy." Fairfax County Times. June 9, 2005.
- Blair: Why NYT should keep employee in-house. Romenesko Media News (Poynter Institute). June 15, 2005.