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The Nation

Reporter Fabricated, Plagiarized Stories, N.Y. Times Says

Jayson Blair's work is a 'huge black eye' and an 'abrogation of trust,' the paper's publisher says.

May 11, 2003|John J. Goldman and Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Calling the incident "a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper," the New York Times in today's editions said a former reporter made up quotes and scenes, lied about his whereabouts and plagiarized material from other publications.

"It's a huge black eye," Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co. and the newspaper's publisher, was quoted as saying. "It's an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers."

The newspaper published a 7,500-word article examining the work of Jayson Blair, 27, who has resigned over the scandal. He had been with the paper for four years.

A review of his work after he began receiving national reporting assignments despite misgivings by some editors found problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles Blair wrote between October 2000 and his leaving the paper May 1.

Blair had been assigned to help cover major stories, from the sniper attacks in the Washington area to the families of those killed and captured in the war in Iraq. Those articles were among the many the paper identified as containing fabrications or plagiarized material.

In today's article, Executive Editor Howell Raines called the episode a "terrible mistake" and said that in addition to correcting the record, he planned to assign a task force of newsroom employees to identify lessons for the paper.

The New York Times said its inquiry, conducted by a team of reporters, "found that Mr. Blair repeatedly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism, which is simple truth."

"His tools of deceit were a cell phone 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 team examining Blair's career wrote that "his mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional" that Metropolitan Editor Jonathan Landman sent an e-mail message in April 2002 to newsroom administrators. "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now," the newspaper said the message read.

The Times said after Blair took a leave of absence for personal problems, he was "sternly warned, both orally and in writing, that his job was in peril" and his performance improved.

It said that by last October, top editors believed that Blair had turned his life around and "guided him to the understaffed national desk."

The article said 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."

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington, D.C., praised the Times on Saturday for its forthright and detailed account of what Blair did, but did not think it had "as fully explained how he hoodwinked the editors at the New York Times. ... I don't think this account fully examines whether the Times did everything it should have or whether it should have caught him sooner."

Marty Kaplan, associate dean at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said as he read the New York Times account of events, he found it astonishing "the number of second and third chances this guy got. In a sense, [his] whole career was a series of warning signals.

"This is really about issues you find in a journalism classroom," he said. "You can't use a dateline unless you're in the city. You can't quote somebody unless you've interviewed them."

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