The New York Times is the most prestigious daily Newspaper in America with a long history of notable events, but never in its history did one man garner so much attention for their actions as an employee. It was a shock to hear that one of their reporters had fabricated stories from his imagination. When the news broke of plagiarism, fabricated and inaccurate stories coming from the pages of the NY Times, it was like the circus just let out. Jayson Blair's was the culprit and the media treated it as a first time event. Did the overwhelming reaction have something to do with race? You can be certain it did, even though Blair's actions were indefensible. Blair likes to note that The New York Times is not as liberal as they like people to think. After all it wasn't until 1993 that the New York Times hired Bob Herbert as its first black columnist. Unfortunately ten years later, Blair's actions as an African-American reporter have bastardized his legacy. In May 2003 he said goodbye to The New York Times after his activity was discovered and we witnessed the $7 billion News giant bring its full weight upon Blair declaring his actions "a betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." In all accuracy media watchdog FAIR shows that the Times has been guilty of sloppy or inaccurate reporting involving domestic and international stories of greater consequence than those Blair covered. http://www.fair.org/press-releases/times-blair.html
In the meantime the majority of media outlets were reporting that the Jayson Blair fiasco had "rocked journalism" and we saw the forced resignation of New York Times executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd. Boyd was an African American who mentored Blair (and still awaits an apology call from him). Some African American journalist feel that Blair owes them an apology, but in truth Blair only embarrassed himself. Perhaps more than anything Blair was "[seemed to be] the brother who had figured out the system," as Aaron McGruder described Blair when recounting their days as students at the University of Maryland where Blair was an editor at the campus newspaper, The Diamondback, and was the first person to publish McGruder's "Boondocks" comic strip. As McGruder recalled about Blair, "It was like, 'You don't seem one hundred per cent down, but you're definitely not a Tom. Somehow you're making it work.'"
The scandal was great news for the race baiting corporate media and those against affirmative action. Blair became the poster boy for the white myth that African-Americans get special treatment and unfair job appointments based on race. They said since Blair did not complete his University of Maryland degree he would never have been hired at the NY Times unless it was due to affirmative action. Most dismissed the fact that Blair was an aberration. Blair's hiring likely had nothing to do with affirmative action. In fact many point out that whether it is the NY Times, Washington Post, etc, you can't find any black reporter getting the kind of breaks Blair received. Ask yourself how many Black Reporters do you see covering the news. African American Journalist Terry M. Neal says "You could count on one hand the number of black journalists covering the White House, Congress or a major cabinet-level agency, such as the Defense Department, for one of the news networks or top four newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times). And most of them are in their 30s, 40s or 50s with years -- if not decades -- of reporting experience". Those who have read the Book "Within The Veil, Black Journalist, White Media" by Pamela Newkirk see an accounting of the double standard in journalism between Black and whites. Despite the context of how you view what Blair did and the reaction to it, agreed upon is that it was not enough to make people want to kill him. He then incensed America by writing a book with an incendiary title called "Burning Down My Masters House". Even carving out a presence in cyberspace (http://www.jayson-blair.com/). Hearing about it makes you say that he must have been on drugs; well after reading it we now, know that he was addicted to drugs and battling depression due to his bipolar condition. It's almost a year later and he is ready to come clean to Playahata.com and he takes full blame for his actions Now that he is sober Ooh Papi and Bruce Banter got the 411 on the Blair Trick Project.
.....And Their Eyes Were Watching Jayson....
Playahata.com: While you have addressed the racism that you encountered at The New York Times, do you feel that it is important to address the disappointment that your actions have caused many African American journalists? What is your message to the National Association of Black Journalists?
Jayson Blair: I have not spoken at any recent National Association of Black Journalists events, but have been in touch with members of the organization in recent weeks. My message is clear. As an African-American journalist, I unfairly carried a greater responsibility to African Americans - knowing full well that any misdeeds would tarnish the larger group. That said, the notion that African Americans would be painted with a broad brush because of my misdeeds is a racist one. I am an individual who is responsible for his own actions. No one else is.
Playahata.com: What do you think would have happened had you not fabricated news stories? If instead of lying, you had simply not filed certain stories or asked for deadline extensions or sought help for whatever personal problems you were having? Could you describe the pressures you felt you were under?
Blair: I believe that if I had asked for help there was a chance, a strong chance, that I would have received it and my manic depression would have been diagnosed before I self-destructed. There is a cautionary tale in this. One should not put hubris or pride or arrogance ahead of integrity Ultimately, even if there are costs to coming forward and admitting a weakness, you will sleep better at night knowing that you have done the best thing for yourself and the right thing in general. I was under a lot of pressure, to answer your other question, most of it internally driven by my own belief that I would have to run twice as hard and twice as fast to gain the same respect as white colleagues. It is hard to say whether my belief was an accurate representation of reality, but that is how I feel.
Playahata.com: I hear that there were a few African-Americans at the NY Times more qualified than you, therefore why were you given the assignments that you received?
Blair: I am not sure this notion is supported by the facts.
Playahata.com: Is it true or false that you only came forward because a certain Latino sister (Macarena Hernandez) was about to drop a dime on you?
Blair: She did "drop the dime" on me. I did not come forward and say anything until after it was already public and if it had not become public, it is true that I would not have volunteered anything.
Playahata.com: I think that plagiarism is more widespread than people realize. It is often a subjective labeling, there are different levels of it and types but I say to you objectively the idea of faking whole stories is the most blasphemous. If you had stolen others writers work do you think you might still be at the New York Times?
Blair: It's hard to say. The Times policy is against plagiarism period. The cases of Rick Bragg and Charlie LeDuff suggest different outcomes. It's hard to say.
Playahata.com: Rumor has it that you usually date white women and that book title is not really you? Did you give your book the title "Burning down My Masters House" because of intense racism at the NY Times (Ironically it is supposed to be a left leaning organization) or was it just for the sensationalism or the prospective sales? Give us some insight on this.
Blair: It explains the book title. The lesson of the book is that I was the master of my own house, and I burnt it down. I never suggest that it was "intense racism." The editorial page of The Times does expose liberal views, but I would argue that the institution and the news pages are driven by ideological elitism, which excludes all sorts of people from the marketplace of ideas, whether they are members of ACT-UP or conservatives or minorities. I don't think many African Americans in New York City would argue that The New York Times is their friend and demographic profiles of their readership would show that the thing that bonds readers of The Times is their wealth.
Playahata.com: I'm curious about if you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. There are a number of observations that people have made about some of your associations and interviews that would lead people to believe that you are a Republican?
Blair: That's a good question. No one has asked. I am a registered independent and an independent thinker. I cannot be easily pigeonholed into either party. My views vary from issues to issue. I tend to be conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues. I am not troubled by the intense role that government plays in Americans lives. I think we have seen many examples, such as civil rights, where history has judged it necessary. I support affirmative action. I have a problem with racial quotas. I am an issue-by-issue person.
Playahata.com: Are you planning to go back into journalism?
Playahata.com: Are you not going back into journalism because no organization would employ you or do you feel that you would be allowed back into journalism if you wanted? I am sure that you are aware that since your scandal at least 3 white reporters from major newspapers have come forth and been exposed for the same thing and yet they are all still working in the field of journalism as reporters.
Blair: I am not interested in going back into newspaper journalism. As for the second part of your question, well, you said it.
Playahata.com: In closing we learned a lot about you today, serious stuff like your Mental and emotional troubles, prior drug problems and previous mind state when you committed the foul acts that you did. People wanting more will really need to get the book or can simply email you but just tell us some lighter things about you cause they can also be insightful. Tell us like what type of movies you like, your favorite type of music or groups, the last book you read and where has your family been though out all of this?
Blair: The last book I read was "Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover" by Richard Hack. I like all sorts of music, from rap to folk. And in the movie department, I tend to like anything by David Lynch. And as for television, my favorite show was "Homicide: Life on the Street."
Playahata.com: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Blair: I will still be making amends, working in advocacy areas, such as mental health awareness, and writing novels.
Playahata.com: When you are old and gray, what is it that you would like to be remembered for beyond The Times scandal? How do you hope that history deals with you and what do you plan to do to see to it that you aren't merely regarded as Jayson Blair - the black man who was caught up in a journalistic scandal?
Blair: I hope that I will be remembered for spending the rest of my life doing good things. I am powerless, though, over how historians see me.