"A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."
So began an extraordinary 7,239-word article on the front page The New York Times on 11 May 2003, headlined "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception".
It continued: "The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland , Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York . He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not."
And then the details that made his deception all the worse: "And he used these techniques to write falsely about emotionally charged moments in recent history, from the deadly sniper attacks in suburban Washington to the anguish of families grieving for loved ones killed in Iraq."
Jayson Blair, a previously unheard-of reporter, was about to become a national figure and enter the history books for all the wrong reasons. He had lied to an extraordinary degree on important national stories of the day. He had made up quotes, pretended he'd spoken to people he hadn't, invented entire stories - and he had done so on the front page of one of the most respected newspapers in America.
In the initial investigation into Blair, an incredible 36 of the 73 national news stories he had written since the previous October were found to be suspect. When the investigation was widened to the approximately 600 articles he had written over four years for The Times, yet more problems were encountered.
What became clear was that Blair was a compulsive, pathological liar. It didn't matter what the story was, who or what it covered, its importance or irrelevance, Blair would create names, invent quotes, pretend to visit places he hadn't, interview people he never met and steal details from other reports without a second thought.
As he continued to get away with it, Blair became more confident and more blatant in his lying. Unfortunately, this coincided with Blair being given more important assignments. In the end, he was found to have undermined trust in one of the US' most respected journals through a series of extraordinary untruths. They included:
- On 19 April 2003, in "In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded", Blair describes interviewing four injured soldiers in naval hospital. He never went to the hospital and only spoke to one soldier - over the phone - whom he later attributed made-up quotes to. Blair wrote that the soldier "will most likely limp the rest of his life and need to use a cane" - neither of which is true. He said another solider had lost his right leg when it had only been amputated below the knee. He described two soliders as being in the hospital at the same time, when they were in fact five days apart.
- On 7 April 2003, in "For One Pastor, the War Hits Home", Blair writes about a church service in Cleveland and an interview with the minister. Blair never went to Cleveland, only spoke to the minister on the phone, and copied most of the article from an earlier Washington Post article. He also stole quotes from The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Daily News. He made up a detail about the minister keeping a picture of his son inside his Bible, and got the name of the church wrong.
- On 3 April 2003, in "Rescue in Iraq and a ‘Big Stir' in West Virginia", in a co-written article, Blair covered the Jessica Lynch story apparently from her home town of Palestine. Blair never went there and his entire contribution to the story consisted of rearranged details from Press Association stories.
- On 27 March 2003, in "Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News", Blair again pretended to be in West Virginia when he was in New York. He stole quotes from an Associated Press article; claimed to have spoken to one relative who has no recollection of the event; said "tobacco fields and cattle pastures" were visible from Jessica Lynch parents' house when they aren't; said Lynch's brother was in the National Guard, when he's in the Army; misspelled Jessica Lynch's mother's name and made up a dream that he claimed she had had.
- On 3 March 2003, in "Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight", Blair covered the Washington sniper story and claimed to be in Fairfax, Virginia while actually in New York. He made great play of 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 exists. Blair also make up a story about a detective noticing blood on a man's jeans leading to a confession - neither of which happened. A female detective on the case was described as having a trademark blazer and black shirt when she prefers bright colours.
- On 10 February 2003, in "Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks", Blair claimed to be in Washington when he was in New York; stole quotes from a Washington Post story; and made up quotes from someone he hadn't interviewed even claiming that she saw similarities between herself and the Washington snipers. 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 went against his word and included published information he had promised was off-the-record.
- On 30 October 2002, in "US Sniper Case Seen as a Barrier to a Confession", Blair wrote that a dispute between police authorities has ruined the interrogation of suspect John Muhammad. He was about to confess, Blair claimed, quoting unnamed officials. This was swiftly denied by everyone involved in the case. Blair also named certain lawyers as having witnessed the interrogation that weren't there.
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