How Many Other Jayson Blairs Are Out There?

How Many Other Jayson Blairs Are Out There?: Is it any wonder that so many bloggers have torn into the “Jayson Blair story” like a German Shepherd into a mailman’s thigh? Here we have a story that features the “Old Grey Lady”, the much hated New York Times taking the beating of a lifetime because one of their reporters engaged in “journalistic fraud” on a massive scale. How bad was it?

“Times journalists have so far uncovered new problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles Mr. Blair wrote since he started getting national reporting assignments late last October. In the final months the audacity of the deceptions grew by the week, suggesting the work of a troubled young man veering toward professional self-destruction.”

Here’s a little sample of the sort of thing they’re talking about…

“After the Hunt Valley article in late March, Mr. Blair pulled details out of thin air in his coverage of one of the biggest stories to come from the war, the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch.

In an article on March 27 that carried a dateline from Palestine, W.Va., Mr. Blair wrote that Private Lynch’s father, Gregory Lynch Sr., “choked up as he stood on his porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures.” The porch overlooks no such thing.

He also wrote that Private Lynch’s family had a long history of military service; it does not, family members said. He wrote that their home was on a hilltop; it is in a valley. And he wrote that Ms. Lynch’s brother was in the West Virginia National Guard; he is in the Army.

…It now appears that Mr. Blair may never have gone to West Virginia, from where he claimed to have filed five articles about the Lynch family. E-mail messages and cellphone records suggest that during much of that time he was in New York. Not a single member of the Lynch family remembers speaking to Mr. Blair.”

Although all of his fabrications weren’t this audacious, Blair got away with this phantom journalism for YEARS at the Times and was actually PROMOTED and given breaks over and over again despite what the Times itself points out was a mediocre performance. That has led some people to ask if Blair was given a free pass by the diversity conscious NYT because he was black? The New York Times largely tried to sidestep that issue, but here’s a very relevant passage from the article…

“In January 2001, Mr. Blair was promoted to full-time reporter with the consensus of a recruiting committee of roughly half a dozen people headed by Gerald M. Boyd, then a deputy managing editor, and the approval of Mr. Lelyveld.

Mr. Landman (metropolitan editor) said last week that he had been against the recommendation – that he “wasn’t asked so much as told” about Mr. Blair’s promotion. But he also emphasized that he did not protest the move.

The publisher and the executive editor, he said, had made clear the company’s commitment to diversity – “and properly so,” he said. In addition, he said, Mr. Blair seemed to be making the mistakes of a beginner and was still demonstrating great promise. “I thought he was going to make it.”

When you’re promoting people who are still “making the mistakes of a beginner”, there’s definitely something going on. Maybe Blair is someone’s cousin, maybe he has pics of Howell Raines in tutu, or maybe he got promotions he didn’t deserve in the name of “diversity”, but in any case this guy got a free ride that he didn’t deserve and everybody at the Times paid a price for it.

All of that is worth pointing out, but I wonder how many other Jayson Blairs are there? I mean let’s face it, the New York Times is the standard by which other newspapers are judged and if they’re not even doing rudimentary fact checking, how many other papers and magazines are doing it?

You know, it must be very tempting for some of these reporters to make things up. Just think about what a rush it must be for a reporter to make a juicy quote from a non-existent source and then watch the fur fly. Suddenly they’re talking about your story on the Sunday morning news shows, Ari Fleischer is being asked questions about it, and you’re getting pats on the back all around the office. You don’t even really have to worry about getting caught. Your editor doesn’t fact check you and it’s unsourced so no one can talk to your subject.

That’s why I always take it with a grain of salt when I see juicy unsourced quotes. You should too. Want some examples of what I’m talking about? How about this short article that originally appeared in Time? It says that, “the President “wanted to take a big swipe” at Gingrich during the interview–but Brokaw never brought up the subject.” The source for that sensational piece of gossip is “a Bush friend”. So how do we know that someone at Time didn’t make that up? To be honest, we only have Time’s word that it really happened. So can it be believed? Maybe, maybe not.

If you want another example of that sort of thing, you have only to look to Seymour Hersh who has a habit of quoting anonymous sources in the intelligence community that have acidic things to say about military operations in progress. During “Gulf War 2”, Hersh quoted an anonymous official as saying, “The only hope is that they (the troops) can hold out until reinforcements arrive”. Well of course, that turned out to be spectacularly wrong and it’s not the first time that Hersh’s supposedly in-the-know sources turned out to be badly off. So is there anybody going behind Hersh and checking his work to make sure he’s not just making all of these quotes up? They certainly should be, but who really knows?

The point of what I just said is not that you shouldn’t trust Time or Hersh — well actually, in my opinion, you probably shouldn’t trust Hersh — the point is to take anything that’s unsourced or disputed by a source with a grain of salt. There are journalists out there making things up and deliberately misquoting people and the fact that they work for reputable papers & magazines only means that it’s easier for them to get away with it. Jayson Blair is a great example of it, but he’s not the only one and you shouldn’t forget it.

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