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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why did you do it?

The movie opens with that question. In response, Jayson Blair makes a joke. “This one again,” he mutters, rolling his eyes in mock consternation at the predictability of it.

But predictable as it is and as long as he’s had to ponder it, Blair still ends up punting. “I don’t have a good answer for the question,” he acknowledges.

A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at the New York Times — it premieres this week on PBS; check your local listings — reintroduces us to the central figure in one of the great media scandals of all time, the one-time wunderkind who lied and plagiarized his way through a career on what is arguably the greatest stage in American journalism, The New York Times. He claimed to have been places he had not gone, to have interviewed people he had not met, to have witnessed scenes he had not seen. He stole the work of other reporters and passed it off as his own. And he did this dozens of times.

The question that opens the movie has pressed us ever since. Why?

At the time — spring, 2003 — some pundits claimed the scandal reflected an unseemly obsession with diversity, the supposed inability of white editors strait-jacketed by political correctness to confront a black reporter’s incompetence. Blair worked the other side of the street, claiming in a bizarre New York Observer interview that racism was a factor in his betrayal of the most basic ethical tenets of his profession.

Neither claim made much sense then. They seem preposterous now.

In her search for the answer to the question, filmmaker Samantha Grant follows Blair — now pushing 40 — through the life he has made since his old life crumbled. She takes us to the nondescript office where he works as, of all things, a life coach and to a university where he lectures skeptical students on — wait for it — journalistic ethics. Along the way, Blair and others reminisce about the then-27-year-old who duped the Times. We learn that he was a brown noser, an abuser of alcohol and drugs, had bipolar disorder and all the social maturity of a Muppet.

All useful details, but none of them answer that question. Why?

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    I remember when this story first broke and people were saying, “But he’s Black! How was it possible that he plagiarized? It must be some White guy lying about it!” In this case, Blair can be considered “Patient Zero” of Black Journalists with less than stellar ethics. I am not counting Black “Pundits” like Thomas Sowell who continually comment on half-truths, lies and innuendo, or Black “Spokesmen” like Al Sharpton, who fly off half-cocked whenever anyone questions the integrity of another Black person, without doing any fact-checking. People like them will always be with us. Jayson Blair, on the other hand, broke the golden rule of journalism and got caught.
    His lecturing on Journalistic Ethics is like former CT Governor John Rowland lecturing on Political Ethics. For those not familiar with the latter, he is the former Governor who served time in prison for bribes and payola in awarding contracts. He is currently under indictment for helping a failing Republican Candidate cheat the system (he was paid to be a “consultant” to her husband’s medical services company as a cover to being her campaign consultant and adviser), and for offering the same services to another Republican Candidate under similar terms (that guy wisely said no).

    I guess some people are just too dumb to learn from their mistakes.

  • sigrid28

    “Why did you do it?” The same question I have for moderate Republicans who have caved to the Tea Party faction in Congress, voting to starve families, deny them health care, kill the American Jobs Act, and give Wall Street and the fossil fuel giants that buy elections a free pass. Is it sociopathic to act in one’s own interest, protecting one’s own privileged position by harming millions of others, just because you can?

    • charleo1

      I think moderate Republicans seemed to cave to the T-Party, because there aren’t actually any moderate Republicans around successful enough in big league power politics, to represent the so called, Eisenhower Wing of the Grand Old Party anymore. In retrospect, the demise began that morning in Washington, when Richard Nixon, after months of betraying most everything his Party claimed to stand for. And, before ducking one last time into the Presidential Chopper, gave that curious peace sign, or, “V,” for victory, salute. That seemed oddly appropriate, but not in a good way. For a President that had promised peace, only to widen the War. That had carried the Party’s aspirations to make Conservatism a real choice again for Americans. And we couldn’t know it at the time, but the corpse of what remained of the Party of Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and William Buckley’s brand of Conservatism, was carried out of American politics that day, on that Presidential Chopper, along with Richard Nixon. So, why do people do what they do? Because they see it, whatever it is, as perhaps risky, or slightly so, but ever so, convenient. If you’re President George W. Bush, you see a golden opportunity. As the terrorist attacks have united the Country, and most of the civilized world behind you. You see opportunity, and you take it. Invading, and occupying Iraq, and setting up a puppet regime, is the answer to several vexing problems. Obtaining a sufficient energy supply, against the fierce competition for oil, against the exploding economies of Asia. You don’t have to take on the oil companies, and promote other renewable energy sources. And at the same time, geo-politically projecting American military power into the wider Mid-East. A move Saudi Arabia strongly applauded, and supported. As did Israel, and a loud contingent of Neo-Cons within the GOP. And, obviously the American press, that 4th institution of American politics, was quickly to become an enthusiastic convert in the aggressively named,”Drain the Swamp,” initiative, that began with the invasion of Iraq. Why do people do the things they do? Sometimes because they firmly believe the ends justify the means. Sometimes because they’ve lost their way, and they are in a panic, and the extremist seize the moment to remind cooler heads what they’ve been saying all along. And in the temporary absence of sanity, the loons take their turn at power. In my estimation, the results of the same long unstoppable tumble the GOP began that August morning, back in 1974, on that chopper, with Nixon.

      • sigrid28

        By convenient, do you mean they recognized that these votes in Congress would assure them the chance of winning future elections or retiring to take up a lucrative position at a right-wing “think tank,” Jim DeMint style? I suppose I agree. I wish I could believe they had looked around for leadership worthy of a vote or approbation of any kind. Instead, they seem determined to view their role in government as a job and the big money behind their campaigns as their boss: the worker ant mentality, if ants didn’t care about anything except what was good for themselves. In this case, this analogy, Republicans in Congress give ants a bad name. The party of opportunity, as they would like to be thought of, is just the country club of opportunists. The public has little or nothing to do with it. Why are we having such a hard time in the media tearing this thing apart?

        • charleo1

          To address the media for a moment. They are not
          totally without an interest here. First, to their credit,
          it seems to me, they actually do feel a responsibility to inform. And fundamentally believe the best interests of the Country are served by a two party system. That’s excluding Fox News, by the way. Which is entirely agenda driven. And most likely reflects the general world view of it’s owner, and his ilk. Secondly, the press is becoming more single sourced, consolidated, and incorporated. And stands to make a great deal more money, the more more money there is in our political process. Additionally, as to the Republican’s troubles. I think it’s almost impossible to overstate the long term damage the Bush Presidency did to the GOP. A Political Organization, already suffering from some very serious foundational identity, and demographic issues, that only promise to get worse. And so are almost entirely dependent on the small minority of wealthy contributors, whom they are forced by their circumstances, to stick to their agenda, to the letter.
          And as we know, billionaires, and the Middle Class
          have fewer, and fewer issues in common nowadays.
          So, what to run on, is out. And what to run against, is becoming a tricker proposition, as the economy is
          much better, and healthcare reform is here to stay.
          So, it’s back to more Benghazi. Yes, they give ants
          a bad name. The Party that prays for opportunity,
          lives for opportunity, has so far, failed to be provided with precious little of it by a remarkably, scandal free, Obama Presidency. I apologize. Way far afield,
          not on topic, at all. But, some random thoughts on the trials, and tribulations of the GOP. as I read your
          thoughtful, and much more cogent post.

          • sigrid28

            Good answer! Hard truths.

  • ps0rjl

    Before we all join in on castigating Jason Blair, how about throwing a light on how reporters and newspapers couldn’t wait to get in on the rush to war in Iraq. They printed reports such as high ranking Iraqi officials met with Al Qaeda members in Europe without even bothering to check if the stories were true. They were fed on Friday or Saturday, rumors by administration insiders that they then printed on Sunday. Then administration officials would go on talk shows and bolster their arguments by saying it was in the Post or Times. Only the small Knight-Ridder newspaper was printing opposing stories and no other newspapers even bothered to find out why. Jason Blair may have been one person who lacked mores but almost the whole newspaper world stands accused in the run up to the Iraq war.

    • Independent1

      And unfortunately, the complicity that the media played back then, in the run-up to the Iraq war, it continues to play today in its complicity in the raping of America by the GOP; as media outlet after media outlet blindly print the lies and distortions from the GOP as if they were truth, without many if any major media outlets seriously questioning the validity of the majority of the GOP’s often inflammatory false rhetoric; especially during election campaigns.

      • JPHALL

        You need to remember who owns them. Despite what the right wing says, the “Main stream media” is not a left wing creature but a money machine for its owners, mostly rich right wing supporters, like Murdock.

    • JPHALL

      Do not forget the “Christian Science Monitor” in te list of media who did not stand in line to repeat unproven allegations on Iraq.

  • jointerjohn

    There was a time when all news outlets were ranked by their integrity, their believability. Today, when much of what used to be news has shifted to “infotainment”, only sales and ratings matter to many of them. If advertising sales and media ratings are the measure of success, accuracy and accountability don’t stand a chance. A misinformed public is the result and that will cost us for a long time to come.

  • Mikey7a

    I watch TV News, but as you see, I also seek out news from various other sources. This caused me to be curious as to where people went to get their news, seeking the truth. After just one internet search, I think I learned exactly what I feared. Both articles below are from the same source, yet contradict one another. Although the second story singles out young adults, they are still a part of the “everyone”, from the first article.

    The most disturbing article I read today, was this one. In a time in American History, when being informed about current events seems so important, we are even less aware than I thought.

    • Independent1

      I think I would put the most stock on the PEW study that comes up via the link in the Huffington article just above the video. I can relate pretty well to the charts in that study that are by age group; and even their overall distribution makes the most sense. And being over 65, what Pew shows for the 65+ age group seems to fit very well. To be honest, I have little or no trust in anything that gallup publishes.

  • ExVariable

    If we examine the contrast between liberty and servitude, we discover that the “negative” sense of liberty does not reduce its desirability.