Jayson Blair: Amazing Writer and Profound Liar
Trust is the only thing you have as a journalist. The secret to any journalist’s success is being able to maintain that trust. If you fail to do so your career will end just as quickly as it began.
“A Fragile Trust” a new documentary on an old scandal, Samantha Grant tells the story of The New York Times writer Jayson Blair. Grant is able to tell the story with minimal bias leaving the viewer to come up with their own opinion. Is Jayson Blair the monster that everyone portrayed him to be or is he a victim?
We learn in the documentary about why Jayson Blair was called to journalism. He claims that he wanted to help people with his writing. He wanted to entertain them. He discovered his passion for writing in high school and it grew ever since. From writing for his school newspaper to getting small internships Jayson finally landed an internship with The New York Times in 1998.
Blair was described as an optimistic, young journalist who was eager to get his foot in the door. The real question is, when did this change for him?
Throughout the documentary we learn that Blair suffered from a severe drinking and cocaine addiction. He admitted that he would write stories while under the influence and he believed that those pieces were his best work. However, it was when he was under these influences that his lies began to grow.
The fabrication of stories began with the September 11th attacks. Blair did not want to write for the series that the Times was publishing called the “Portraits of Grief” so he chose to lie and write about his cousin that had died in the attack when in reality this was not true. After this incident his fabrication of stories became more prevelent.
The New York Times won seven Pulitzer Prizes after publishing it’s compelling stories about the 9/11 attacks so it made the executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd only want to continue with how they ran the paper. Raines admits that he is familiar with the term “arrogant” however, he says that if he were given more time to be adjusted into his job he would have been better. He was only in position for five days when the 9/11 attacks happened. That was his sixth day on the job.
Although, Raines and Boyd were good at what they did there were many flaws within the company that should have stopped Blair before his mistakes grew to the extent that they did. There were many red flags and nobody seemed to see them. It was if Blair was crying for help but wanted to be caught rather than just ask for help. There was one instance where he was supposed to attend a concert at Madison Square Garden however, he just watched it on TV instead while getting high and drunk. He then proceeded to write an article with many mistakes about who performed, ticket prices and etc. This was the first of many times he “toe touched.”
Toe touching is when journalists take a quick trip to a particular place, just so they can claim that location in the dateline of their published story. Blair admits countless times that he would be in home in Brooklyn when he was supposed to be elsewhere. He did this when he was assigned to cover the D.C. Sniper story. He always had more tips than the rest of the journalists but that was because he made them all up.
It all went down for Blair when he chose to plagairize a story by Macarena Hernandez. She wrote about a soldier who went missing in Iraq who was from Los Fresnos, Texas. When comparing his story next to hers there were so many similarities that it was inevitable that he did not write this himself.
Blair attempted to make the issue go away with several tactics. He would embellish and falsify his notes to make them seem more realistic and create stories to tell his bosses about how he got his information. They would quiz him on these details and he was so profound at lying that it became second nature to create these false stories. However, he could not keep the game up any longer so he chose to resign the day before The New York Times planned on firing him.
Blair claims that his lies stem from a severe mental disorder. He claims that he self medicated in order to deal with the pain yet although he was given an immense amount of opportunities to get better he failed to do so. He never learned from his mistakes he thrived off of them. Sure there was the pressure to always be better but that does not mean jeopardize your ethical views in order to do so.
Jayson Blair’s lying did not start with The New York Times, there have been accounts of his lies beginning with his high school newspaper. He knew what he was doing and he knew for a very long time. He admitted that fabricating stories was not rocket science. He took bits and pieces from many different stories and would claim them as his own. So while it looked as if he took only some information his writing was never 100% original.
At the end of the documentary he was asked if he feels sorry for the people he hurt during his career and I will never forget his response. He said that he feels bad but has no remorse. His actions do not keep him up at night. He claims that he had to let go of his past in order to move on with his life. The worst part is he said this with a mini grin on his face. That is when I knew he truly had no guilt for what he had done. Jayson Blair did whatever he could in order to succeed in the journalism world and in the end all of his lies caught up to him. He dug himself too deep a hole and could not lie his way out of it. The truth always sets itself free even if it took about nine years.
Although Blair was shunned by the world he has found a way to make a living out of his infamy. He wrote a novel and holds lectures for people to come listen to him.
Trust is no fragile thing. It is like a mirror. You can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the cracks in its reflection. That is how Jayson Blair will forever be viewed in the eyes of the public. A broken person.