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Jayson Blair

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Writer, journalist

Jayson Blair


Thomas Blair

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Full Name
Jayson Thomas Blair

March 23, 1976 (age 48) (
Columbia, Maryland, United States

Alma mater
University of Maryland, College Park

University of Maryland, College Park

Burning Down My Master's House: My Life at the New York Times

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Stephen Glass, Howell Raines, Janet Cooke, Jack Kelley, Rumer Willis

Jayson blair the former new york times journalist

Jayson Thomas Blair (born March 23, 1976) is a former American journalist associated 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.


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Blair published a memoir of this period, entitled Burning Down My Master's House (2004), recounting his career, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder after his resignation, and his view of race relations at the newspaper. He later established a support group for people with bipolar disorder, and a life coaching company based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.

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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. For 1996-1997, he was selected as the second African-American editor-in-chief of its student newspaper, The Diamondback. According to a 2004 article by the Baltimore Sun, some of his fellow students opposed his selection.

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After a summer interning at The New York Times in 1998, Blair was offered an extended internship there. He declined in order to complete more coursework for graduation. But he returned to The New York Times in June 1999, with a year of coursework left to complete. That November, he was classified as an "intermediate reporter." He was later promoted to a full reporter and then to editor.

Plagiarism and fabrication scandal

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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 published April 18 by San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez. The senior editor of the San Antonio Express-News had contacted The New York Times about the similarities between Blair's article in The New York Times and Hernandez's article in his paper.

The resulting inquiry led to the discovery of fabrication and plagiarism in a number of articles written by Blair. Some fabrications include Blair's claims to have traveled from New York to the city mentioned in the dateline, when he did not.

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 Beltway sniper 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. He allegedly plagiarized quotations from a Washington Post story, and fabricated quotations from a person he had never 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 to be 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 claimed to be in West Virginia. He allegedly plagiarized quotations from an Associated Press article. He claimed to have spoken to the father of Jessica Lynch, 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.
  • On 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.
  • On 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 spoke to the minister by telephone, and copied portions 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 spoke to only one soldier by telephone, 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 been amputated below the knee. He described two soldiers as being in the hospital at the same time, but they were admitted five days apart.
  • After internal investigations, The New York 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.

    After the scandal broke, some 30 former staffers of The Diamondback, who had worked with Blair when he was editor-in-chief at the university newspaper, signed a 2003 letter alleging that Blair had made four serious errors as a reporter and editor while at the University of Maryland. They said these and his work habits brought his integrity into question. The letter-signers alleged that questions raised by some of these staffers at the time were ignored by Maryland Media, Inc. (MMI), the board that owned the paper.


    The investigation, known as the Siegal committee, found heated debate among the staff over affirmative action hiring, as Blair is African American. Jonathan Landman, Blair's editor, told the Siegal committee he felt that Blair's being black played a large part in the younger man's initial promotion in 2001 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."

    Others disagreed. Five days later, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert, an African American, 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 New York 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."

    Two senior editors, Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, resigned after losing newsroom support in the aftermath of the scandal.

    After resigning from The New York Times, Blair struggled with severe depression and, according to his memoir, entered a hospital for treatment. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time. He has acknowledged that he had been self-medicating when he was dealing with substance abuse of alcohol and cocaine in earlier years.

    Later career

    Blair later returned to college to complete his postponed degree. At one time he said he considered going into politics.

    The year after he left the Times, Blair wrote a memoir, Burning Down My Master's House, published by New Millennium Books in 2004. Its initial print run was 250,000 copies; some 1,400 were sold in its first nine days. The Associated Press reported that the potential audience for his book may have gained enough information from the New York Times coverage of the reporting scandal. Although most reviews were critical, sales of the book increased after Blair was interviewed by King and Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly.

    In his book Blair revealed extended substance abuse, which he had ended before he resigned from the newspaper, and a struggle with bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed and first treated after he resigned. He also discussed journalistic practices at the Times, and his view of race relations and disagreements among senior editors at the newspaper.

    In 2006 Blair was running a support group for people with bipolar disorder, for which he has received continuing treatment. By 2013 Blair was working as a certified life coach, where he owned and operated a company based in Centreville, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

  • Choke Point, the play written by Colm Byrne and produced in 2007 in Los Angeles by Che'rae Adams, is based on Blair's downfall.
  • 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 & Order used the Blair story as the inspiration for Episode 14.02: "Bounty".
  • In the television series Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the Blair story inspired an episode about a young journalist in the third season episode "Pravda" (3.5).
  • Season 5 of the HBO series The Wire dealt with the subject of journalist fabrication, as well as the decline of print journalism. It mentions Jayson Blair in the last episode. The Wire creator David Simon had been a Baltimore Sun journalist and worked on The Diamondback, the student newspaper at the University of Maryland, College Park, where Blair was editor.
  • 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.
  • An episode of the television series The Simpsons based a joke on the Blair story in Episode 15.22: "Fraudcast News". Milhouse tells Lisa he's sorry but a story he "filed from Baghdad was all made up, (he) was actually in Basrah."
  • References

    Jayson Blair Wikipedia

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