Von der New YorK Times: 12. Mai 2003:
Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception
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.
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
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.
In an inquiry focused on correcting the record and explaining how such
fraud could have been sustained within the ranks of The Times, the
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.
Mr. Blair, who has resigned from the paper, was a reporter at The
Times for nearly four years, and he was prolific. Spot checks of the
more than 600 articles he wrote before October have found other
apparent fabrications, and that inquiry continues. The Times is asking
readers to report any additional falsehoods in Mr. Blair's work; the
e-mail address is email@example.com.
Every newspaper, like every bank and every police department, trusts
its employees to uphold central principles, and the inquiry found that
Mr. Blair repeatedly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism, which
is simply truth. His tools of deceit were a cellphone and a laptop
computer -- which allowed him to blur his true whereabouts -- as well
as round-the-clock access to databases of news articles from which he
The Times inquiry also establishes that various editors and reporters
expressed misgivings about Mr. Blair's reporting skills, maturity and
behavior during his five-year journey from raw intern to reporter on
national news events. Their warnings centered mostly on the errors in
His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional, that
by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, dashed off a
two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom administrators that read: "We
have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."
After taking a leave for personal problems and being sternly warned,
both orally and in writing, that his job was in peril, Mr. Blair
improved his performance. By last October, the newspaper's top two
editors -- who said they believed that Mr. Blair had turned his life
and work around -- had guided him to the understaffed national desk,
where he was assigned to help cover the Washington sniper case.
By the end of that month, public officials and colleagues were
beginning to challenge his reporting. By November, the investigation
has found, he was fabricating quotations and scenes, undetected. By
March, he was lying in his articles and to his editors about being at
a court hearing in Virginia, in a police chief's home in Maryland and
in front of a soldier's home in West Virginia. By the end of April
another newspaper was raising questions about plagiarism. And by the
first of May, his career at The Times was over.
A few days later, Mr. Blair issued a statement that referred to
"personal problems" and expressed contrition. But during several
telephone conversations last week, he declined repeated requests to
help the newspaper correct the record or comment on any aspect of his
work. He did not respond to messages left on his cellphone, with his
family and with his union representative on Friday afternoon.
The reporting for this article included more than 150 interviews with
subjects of Mr. Blair's articles and people who worked with him;
interviews with Times officials familiar with travel, telephone and
other business records; an examination of other records including
e-mail messages provided by colleagues trying to correct the record or
shed light on Mr. Blair's activities; and a review of reports from
competing news organizations.
The investigation suggests several reasons Mr. Blair's deceits went
undetected for so long: a failure of communication among senior
editors; few complaints from the subjects of his articles; his
savviness and his ingenious ways of covering his tracks. Most of all,
no one saw his carelessness as a sign that he was capable of
Mr. Blair was just one of about 375 reporters at The Times; his tenure
was brief. But the damage he has done to the newspaper and its
employees will not completely fade with next week's editions, or next
month's, or next year's.
"It's a huge black eye," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The
New York Times Company and publisher of the newspaper, whose family
has owned a controlling interest in The Times for 107 years. "It's an
abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers."
For all the pain resonating through the Times newsroom, the hurt may
be more acute in places like Bethesda, Md., where one of Mr. Blair's
fabricated articles described American soldiers injured in combat. The
puzzlement is deeper, too, in places like Marmet, W. Va., where a
woman named Glenda Nelson learned that Mr. Blair had quoted her in a
news article, even though she had never spoken to anyone from The
"The New York Times," she said. "You would expect more out of that."
Reporting Process Riddled With Lies
Two wounded marines lay side by side at the National Naval Medical
Center in Bethesda. One of them, Jayson Blair wrote, "questioned the
legitimacy of his emotional pain as he considered his comrade in the
next bed, a runner who had lost part of his leg to a land mine in
The scene, as described by Mr. Blair in an article that The Times
published on April 19, was as false as it was riveting. In fact, it
was false from its very first word, its uppercase dateline, which told
readers that the reporter was in Bethesda and had witnessed the scene.
He had not.
Still, the image was so compelling, the words so haunting, that The
Times featured one of the soldier's comments as its Quotation of the
Day, appearing on Page 2. "It's kind of hard to feel sorry for
yourself when so many people were hurt worse or died," it quoted Lance
Cpl. James Klingel as saying.
Mr. Blair did indeed interview Corporal Klingel, but it was by
telephone, and it was a day or two after the soldier had been
discharged from the medical center. Although the corporal, whose right
arm and leg had been injured by a falling cargo hatch, said he could
not be sure whether he uttered what would become the Quotation of the
Day, he said he was positive that Mr. Blair never visited him in the
"I actually read that article about me in The New York Times,"
Corporal Klingel said by telephone last week from his parents' home.
"Most of that stuff I didn't say."
He is confident, for instance, that he never told Mr. Blair that he
was having nightmares about his tour of duty, as Mr. Blair reported.
Nor did he suggest that it was about time, as Mr. Blair wrote, "for
another appointment with a chaplain."
Not all of what Mr. Blair wrote was false, but much of what was true
in his article was apparently lifted from other news reports. In fact,
his 1,831-word front-page article, which purported to draw on "long
conversations" with six wounded servicemen, relied on the means of
deception that had infected dozens of his other articles over the last
Mr. Blair was not finished with his virtual visit to Bethesda. Sgt.
Eric Alva, now a partial amputee, was indeed Corporal Klingel's
roommate for two days. But the sergeant, who is quoted by Mr. Blair,
never spoke to him, said Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Rostad, a medical center
spokesman. And a hospitalman whom Mr. Blair describes as being down
the hall, Brian Alaniz, was discharged five days before Corporal
"Our records indicate that at no time did Mr. Blair visit N.N.M.C. or
interview patients," Commander Rostad said.
As he would do in other articles, Mr. Blair appears to have stitched
this narrative by drawing at least partly on information available in
the databases of various news organizations. For example, he describes
Hospitalman Alaniz as someone who "not only lost his right leg, but
also had a finger torn off, broke his left leg and took shrapnel in
his groin and arms." His description seems to mirror one that had
appeared in The Washington Post.
Mr. Blair's deceptive techniques flouted long-followed rules at The
Times. The paper, concerned about maintaining its integrity among
readers, tells its journalists to follow many guidelines as described
in a memo on the newsroom's internal Web site. Among those guidelines:
"When we use facts gathered by any other organization, we attribute
them"; "writers at The Times are their own principal fact checkers and
often their only ones"; "we should distinguish in print between
personal interviews and telephone or e-mail interviews."
In addition, the newspaper uses a dateline only when a reporter has
visited the place.
Mr. Blair knew that rule. In March of last year, an editors' note
published in The Times about an article by another reporter prompted
Mr. Blair to e-mail a colleague the entry in The Times's stylebook
about "dateline integrity." In part, the stylebook explains that a
dateline guarantees that the reporter whose name appears on the
article "was at the specified place on the date given, and provided
the bulk of the information."
But for many photographers assigned to work with Mr. Blair, he was
often just a voice on the phone, one saying he was on his way or just
around the corner.
On April 6, for example, he was supposedly reporting from Cleveland.
He described a church service attended by the Rev. Tandy Sloan, whose
missing son, an Army supply clerk, had been pronounced dead in Iraq
the previous day. There is no evidence that Mr. Blair was either at
that service or at an earlier one also described in his article.
A freelance photographer whom Mr. Blair had arranged to meet outside
the Cleveland church on April 6 found it maddening that he could not
seem to connect with him. The photographer, Haraz Ghanbari, was so
intent on a meeting that he placed nine calls to Mr. Blair's cellphone
from 9:32 a.m. to 2:07 p.m., and kept trying six more times until
10:13 p.m., when he finally gave up.
Mr. Ghanbari said he managed to reach Mr. Blair three times, and three
times Mr. Blair had excuses for why they could not meet. In one
instance, Mr. Ghanbari said, Mr. Blair explained that he had left the
church in the middle of the service "to get his cellphone fixed" --
that was why so many of his calls had gone unanswered -- "and was
already on his way back."
"I just thought it was weird how he never showed up," Mr. Ghanbari
The article that Mr. Blair eventually filed incorporated at least a
half-dozen passages lifted nearly verbatim from other news sources,
including four from The Washington Post.
Some of Mr. Blair's articles in recent months provide vivid
descriptions of scenes that often occurred in the privacy of people's
homes but that, travel records and interviews show, Mr. Blair could
not have witnessed.
On March 24, for example, he filed an article with the dateline Hunt
Valley, Md., in which he described an anxious mother and father,
Martha and Michael Gardner, awaiting word on their son, Michael
Gardner II, a Marine scout then in Iraq.
Mr. Blair described Mrs. Gardner "turning swiftly in her chair to
listen to an anchor report of a Marine unit"; he also wrote about the
red, white and blue pansies in her front yard. In an interview last
week, Mrs. Gardner said Mr. Blair had spoken to her only by phone.
Some Times photo editors now suspect that Mr. Blair gained access to
the digital photos that Doug Mills, the photographer, transmitted that
night to The Times's picture department, including photos of the
Gardners watching the news, as well as the flowers in their yard.
As he often did, Mr. Blair briefed his editors by e-mail about the
progress of his reporting. "I am giving them a breather for about 30
minutes," he wrote to the national editor, Jim Roberts, at one point,
referring to the Gardners. "It's amazing timing. Lots of wrenching ups
and downs with all the reports of casualties."
"Each time a casualty is reported," he added, "it gets tense and
nervous, and then a sense of relief comes over the room that it has
not been their son's group that has been attacked."
The Gardner family, who had spent considerable time on the phone with
Mr. Blair, were delighted with the article. They wrote The Times
saying so, and their letter was published.
Mr. Roberts was also pleased. He would later identify Mr. Blair's
dispatch from Hunt Valley, Md., as a singular moment: this reporter
was demonstrating hustle and flair. He had no reason to know that Mr.
Blair was demonstrating a different sort of enterprise.
He was actually e-mailing from New York.
An Engaging Air, a Nose for Gossip
He got it.
That was the consensus about one of the college students seeking an
internship at The New York Times. He was only 21, but this Jayson
Blair, the son of a federal official and a schoolteacher from
Virginia, got what it meant to be a newspaper reporter.
"I've seen some who like to abuse the power they have been entrusted
with," Mr. Blair had written in seeking the internship. But, he had
added, "my kindred spirits are the ones who became journalists because
they wanted to help people."
Whether as a student journalist at the University of Maryland or as an
intern at The Boston Globe, the short and ubiquitous Mr. Blair stood
out. He seemed to be constantly working, whether on articles or on
sources. Some, like a fellow student, Catherine Welch, admired him.
"You thought, `That's what I want to be,' " she said.
Others considered him immature, with a hungry ambition and an
unsettling interest in newsroom gossip.
"He wasn't very well liked by the other interns," said Jennifer
McMenamin, another Maryland student who, with Mr. Blair, was a Globe
intern in the summer of 1997. "I think he saw the rest of the intern
class as competition."
Citing a U.S. News and World Report researcher, The Washington Post
reported yesterday that while reporting for The Globe, Mr. Blair
apparently lied about having interviewed the mayor of Washington,
His interest in journalism dated at least to his years at Centreville
High School, in Clifton, Va., where he asked to interview the new
principal for the school paper within minutes of her introduction to
the faculty. "He was always into the newspaper business, even here,"
the principal, Pamela Y. Latt, recalled. "He had a wonderful, positive
persistence about him that we all admired."
Mr. Blair's Times supervisors and Maryland professors emphasize that
he earned an internship at The Times because of glowing
recommendations and a remarkable work history, not because he is
black. The Times offered him a slot in an internship program that was
then being used in large part to help the paper diversify its
During his 10-week internship at The Times, in the summer of 1998, Mr.
Blair wrote 19 news articles, helped other reporters and never seemed
to leave the newsroom. "He did well," recalled Sheila Rule, a senior
editor who oversees the internship program. "He did very well."
But Joyce Purnick, who was the metropolitan editor at the time,
recalled thinking that he was better at newsroom socializing than at
reporting, and told him during a candid lunch that after graduation he
should work for a smaller newspaper. "I was telling him, `Go learn the
business,' " she said.
At summer's end, The Times offered Mr. Blair an extended internship,
but he had more college course work to do before his scheduled
graduation in December 1998. When he returned to the Times newsroom in
June 1999, Ms. Rule said, everyone assumed he had graduated. He had
not; college officials say he has more than a year of course work to
Mr. Blair was assigned to work in The Times's police bureau, where he
churned out article after article about the crimes of the day,
impressing colleagues with his lightning-quick writing ability and his
willingness to work long hours. But Jerry Gray, one of several Times
editors to become mentors to Mr. Blair, repeatedly warned him that he
was too sloppy -- in his reporting and in his appearance.
"There's a theme here," Mr. Gray remembers telling the young reporter.
"There are many eccentric people here, but they've earned it."
In November 1999, the paper promoted Mr. Blair to intermediate
reporter, the next step toward winning a full-time staff position.
While reporting on business for the metropolitan desk, editors say, he
was energetic and willing to work all hours. He was also a study in
carelessness, they say, with his telephone voicemail box too full to
accept messages, and his writing commitments too numerous.
Charles Strum, his editor at the time, encouraged Mr. Blair to pace
himself and take time off. "I told him that he needed to find a
different way to nourish himself than drinking scotch, smoking
cigarettes and buying Cheez Doodles from the vending machines," Mr.
Mr. Blair persevered, although he clearly needed to cut down on
mistakes and demonstrate an ability to write with greater depth,
according to Jonathan Landman, who succeeded Ms. Purnick as
In the fall of 2000, Joseph Lelyveld, then executive editor, the
highest-ranking editor at The Times, sent the strong message that too
many mistakes were finding their way into the news pages; someone had
even misspelled the publisher's surname, Sulzberger. That prompted Mr.
Landman to appoint an editor to investigate and tally the corrections
generated by the metropolitan staff.
"Accuracy is all we have," Mr. Landman wrote in a staff e-mail
message. "It's what we are and what we sell."
Mr. Blair continued to make mistakes, requiring more corrections, more
explanations, more lectures about the importance of accuracy. Many
newsroom colleagues say he also did brazen things, including
delighting in showing around copies of confidential Times documents,
running up company expenses from a bar around the corner, and taking
company cars for extended periods, racking up parking tickets.
At the same time, though, many at The Times grew fond of the affable
Mr. Blair, who seemed especially gifted at office politics. He made a
point of getting to know many of the newsroom support workers, for
example. His distinctive laugh became a familiar sound.
"He had charisma, enormous charisma," David Carr, a Times media
reporter, said. Mr. Blair, he added, often praised articles written by
colleagues, and, frequently, "it was something far down in the story,
so you'd know he read it."
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 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."
Mr. Boyd, who is now managing editor, the second-highest-ranking
newsroom executive, said last week that the decision to advance Mr.
Blair had not been based on race. Indeed, plenty of young white
reporters have been swiftly promoted through the ranks.
"To say now that his promotion was about diversity in my view doesn't
begin to capture what was going on," said Mr. Boyd, who is himself
African-American. "He was a young, promising reporter who had done a
job that warranted promotion."
But if anything, Mr. Blair's performance after his promotion declined;
he made more errors and clashed with more editors. Then came the
catastrophes of Sept. 11, 2001, and things got worse.
Mr. Blair said he had lost a cousin in the terrorist attack on the
Pentagon, and provided the name of his dead relative to a high-ranking
editor at The Times. He cited his loss as a reason to be excused from
writing the "Portraits of Grief" vignettes of the victims.
Reached by telephone last week, the father of his supposed cousin said
Mr. Blair was not related to the family.
A few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, he wrote an article laden with
errors. Many reporters make mistakes, and statistics about corrections
are only a rough barometer of journalistic skills. When considered
over all, Mr. Blair's correction rate at The Times was within
acceptable limits. Still, this article required a correction so
extensive that it attracted the attention of the new executive editor,
Mr. Blair's e-mail from that time demonstrate how he expressed
penitence to Mr. Landman, then vented to another editor about how he
had "held my nose" while writing the apology. Meanwhile, after a
disagreement with a third editor, Patrick LaForge, who tracks
corrections for the metropolitan desk, he threatened to take up the
issue "with the people who hired me -- and they all have executive or
managing editor in their titles."
A lot was going on at that time: fear of further terrorist attacks,
anthrax scares, grief. Uncharacteristic behavior was not uncommon
among people in the city or in the newsroom. Still, Mr. Blair's
actions stood out. He made mistakes and was unavailable for long
Mr. Landman sent Mr. Blair a sharply worded evaluation in January
2002, noting that his correction rate was "extraordinarily high by the
standards of the paper." Mr. Landman then forwarded copies of that
evaluation to Mr. Boyd and William E. Schmidt, associate managing
editor for news administration, along with a note that read, "There's
big trouble I want you both to be aware of."
At that point Mr. Blair told Susan Edgerley, a deputy metropolitan
editor, about his considerable personal problems, she said, and she
referred him to a counseling service. When he returned to the newsroom
after a two-week break, editors say, efforts were made to help him
focus on accuracy rather than productivity. But the inaccuracies soon
By early April, Mr. Blair's performance had prompted Mr. Landman to
write that the newspaper had to "stop Jayson from writing for the
Times." The next day, Mr. Blair received a letter of reprimand. He
took another brief leave.
When he returned to the newsroom weeks later, Mr. Landman and Jeanne
Pinder, the reporter's immediate supervisor, had a tough-love plan in
place. Mr. Blair would start off with very short articles, again
focusing on accuracy, not productivity, with Ms. Pinder brooking no
nonsense about tardiness or extended unavailability.
Mr. Blair resented this short-leash approach, Mr. Landman said, but it
seemed to work. The reporter's number of published corrections
plummeted and, with time, he was allowed to tackle larger reporting
assignments. In fact, within several weeks he was quietly agitating
for jobs in other departments, away from Ms. Pinder and the
Finally, Mr. Landman reluctantly signed off on a plan to send Mr.
Blair to the sports department, although he recalled warning the
sports editor: "If you take Jayson, be careful." Mr. Boyd also said
that the sports editor was briefed on Mr. Blair's work history and was
provided with his most recent evaluation.
Mr. Blair had just moved to the sports department when he was rerouted
to the national desk to help in the coverage of the sniper case
developing in his hometown area. The change in assignment took Mr.
Landman, Ms. Pinder and others on the metropolitan desk by surprise.
"Nobody was asking my opinion," Mr. Landman said. "What I thought was
on the record abundantly."
Ms. Pinder, though, said she offered to discuss Mr. Blair's history
and habits with anybody -- mostly, she said, "because we wanted him to
The Big Time
New Assignments for a `Hungry Guy'
The sniper attacks in suburban Washington dominated the nation's
newspapers last October. "This was a `flood the zone' story," Mr.
Roberts, the national editor, recalled, invoking the phrase that has
come to embody the paper's aggressive approach to covering major news
events under Mr. Raines, its executive editor.
Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd, the managing editor, quickly increased the
size of the team to eight reporters, Mr. Blair among them. "This guy's
hungry," Mr. Raines said last week, recalling why he and Mr. Boyd
picked Mr. Blair.
Both editors said the seeming improvement in Mr. Blair's accuracy last
summer demonstrated that he was ready to help cover a complicated,
high-profile assignment. But they did not tell Mr. Roberts or his
deputies about the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Blair's
"That discussion did not happen," Mr. Raines said, adding that he had
seen no need for such a discussion because Mr. Blair's performance had
improved, and because "we do not stigmatize people for seeking help."
Instead, Mr. Boyd recommended Mr. Blair as a reporter who knew his way
around Washington suburbs. "He wasn't sent down to be the first lead
writer or the second or third or fourth or fifth writer," Mr. Boyd
said. "He was managed and was not thrust into something over his
But Mr. Blair received far less supervision than he had on Mr.
Landman's staff, many editors agreed. He was sent into a confusing
world of feuding law enforcement agencies, a job that would have
tested the skills of the most seasoned reporter. Still, Mr. Blair
seemed to throw himself into the fray of reporters fiercely jockeying
for leaks and scoops.
"There was a general sense he wanted to impress us," recalled Nick
Fox, the editor who supervised much of Mr. Blair's sniper coverage.
Impress he did. Just six days after his arrival in Maryland, Mr. Blair
landed a front-page exclusive with startling details about the arrest
of John Muhammad, one of the two sniper suspects. The article,
attributed entirely to the accounts of five unidentified law
enforcement sources, reported that the United States attorney for
Maryland, under pressure from the White House, had forced
investigators to end their interrogation of Mr. Muhammad perhaps just
as he was ready to confess.
It was an important article, and plainly accurate in its central
point: that local and federal authorities were feuding over custody of
the sniper suspects. But in retrospect, interviews show, the article
contained a serious flaw, as well as a factual error.
Two senior law enforcement officials who otherwise bitterly disagree
on much of what happened that day are in agreement on this much: Mr.
Muhammad was not, as Mr. Blair reported, "explaining the roots of his
anger" when the interrogation was interrupted. Rather, they said, the
discussion touched on minor matters, like arranging for a shower and
The article drew immediate fire. Both the United States attorney,
Thomas M. DiBiagio, and a senior Federal Bureau of Investigation
official issued statements denying certain details. Similar concerns
were raised with senior editors by several veteran reporters in The
Times's Washington bureau who cover law enforcement.
Mr. Roberts and Mr. Fox said in interviews last week that the
statements would have raised far more serious concerns in their minds
had they been aware of Mr. Blair's history of inaccuracy. Both editors
also said they had never asked Mr. Blair to identify his sources in
"I can't imagine accepting unnamed sources from him as the basis of a
story had we known what was going on," Mr. Fox said. "If somebody had
said, `Watch out for this guy,' I would have questioned everything
that he did. I can't even imagine being comfortable with going with
the story at all, if I had known that the metro editors flat out
didn't trust him."
Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd, who knew more of Mr. Blair's history, also
did not ask him to identify his sources. The two editors said that
given what they knew then, there was no need. There was no inkling,
Mr. Raines said, that the newspaper was dealing with "a pathological
pattern of misrepresentation, fabricating and deceiving."
Mr. Raines said he saw no reason at that point to alert Mr. Roberts to
Mr. Blair's earlier troubles. Rather, in keeping with his practice of
complimenting what he considered exemplary work, Mr. Raines sent Mr.
Blair a note of praise for his "great shoe-leather reporting."
Mr. Blair was further rewarded when he was given responsibility for
leading the coverage of the sniper prosecution. The assignment
advanced him toward potentially joining the national staff.
On Dec. 22, another article about the sniper case by Mr. Blair
appeared on the front page. Citing unidentified law enforcement
officials once again, his article explained why "all the evidence"
pointed to Mr. Muhammad's teenage accomplice, Lee Malvo, as the
triggerman. And once again his reporting drew strong criticism, this
time from a prosecutor who called a news conference to denounce it.
"I don't think that anybody in the investigation is responsible for
the leak, because so much of it was dead wrong," the prosecutor,
Robert Horan Jr., the commonwealth attorney in Fairfax County, Va.,
said at the news conference.
Mr. Boyd was clearly concerned about Mr. Horan's accusations,
colleagues recalled. He repeatedly pressed Mr. Roberts to reach Mr.
Horan and have him specify his problems with Mr. Blair's article.
"I went to Jim and said, `Let's check this out thoroughly because
Jayson has had problems,' " Mr. Boyd said. Mr. Roberts said he did not
recall being told that Mr. Blair had had problems.
Again, no editor at The Times pressed Mr. Blair to identify by name
his sources on the article. But Mr. Roberts said he had had a more
general discussion with Mr. Blair to determine whether his sources
were in a position to know what he had reported.
After repeated efforts, Mr. Roberts reached Mr. Horan. "It was kind of
a Mexican standoff," Mr. Horan recalled. "I was not going to tell him
what was true and what was not true. I detected in him a real concern
that they had published something incorrect."
"I don't know today whether Blair just had a bad source," he
continued. "It was equally probable at the time that he was just
sitting there writing fiction."
Mr. Roberts, meanwhile, said Mr. Horan complained about leaks, and
never raised the possibility that Mr. Blair was fabricating details.
In the end, Mr. Raines said last week, the paper handled the
criticisms of both articles appropriately. "I'm confident we went
through the proper journalistic steps," he said.
It was not until January, Mr. Roberts recalled, that he was warned
about Mr. Blair's record of inaccuracy. He said Mr. Landman quietly
told him that Mr. Blair was prone to error and needed to be watched.
Mr. Roberts added that he did not pass the warning on to his deputies.
"It got socked in the back of my head," he said.
By then, however, those deputies had already formed their own
assessments of Mr. Blair's work. They said they considered him a
sloppy writer who was often difficult to track down and at times even
elusive about his whereabouts. At the same time, he seemed eager and
Close scrutiny of his travel expenses would have revealed other signs
that Mr. Blair was not where his editors thought he was, and, even
more alarming, that he was perhaps concocting law enforcement sources.
But at the time his expense records were being quickly reviewed by an
administrative assistant; editors did not examine them.
On an expense report filed in January, for example, he indicated that
he had bought blankets at a Marshalls department store in Washington;
the receipt showed that the purchase was made at a Marshalls in
Brooklyn. He also reported a purchase at a Starbucks in Washington;
again, the receipt showed that it was in Brooklyn. On both days, he
was supposedly writing articles from the Washington area.
Mr. Blair also reported that he dined with a law enforcement official
at a Tutta Pasta restaurant in Washington on the day he wrote an
article from there. As the receipt makes clear, this Tutta Pasta is in
Brooklyn. Mr. Blair said he dined with the same official at Penang,
another New York City restaurant that Mr. Blair placed in Washington
on his expense reports.
Reached last week, the official said he had never dined with Mr.
Blair, and in fact was in Florida with his wife on one of the dates.
According to cellphone records, computer logs and other records
recently described by New York Times administrators, Mr. Blair had by
this point developed a pattern of pretending to cover events in the
Mid-Atlantic region when in fact he was spending most of his time in
New York, where he was often at work refining a book proposal about
the sniper case.
In e-mail messages to colleagues, for example, he conveyed the
impression of a travel-weary national correspondent who spent far too
much time in La Guardia Airport terminals. Conversely, colleagues
marveled at his productivity, at his seemingly indefatigable
constitution. "Man, you really get around," one fellow reporter wrote
Mr. Blair in an e-mail message.
Mr. Raines took note, too, especially after Mr. Blair's tale from Hunt
Valley. By April, Mr. Raines recalled, senior editors were discussing
whether Mr. Blair should be considered for a permanent slot on the
national reporting staff.
"My feeling was, here was a guy who had been working hard and getting
into the paper on significant stories," Mr. Raines said. The plan, he
said, was for Mr. Roberts to give Mr. Blair a two- or three-month
tryout in the mid-Atlantic bureau to see if he could do the job.
Mr. Roberts said he resisted the idea, and told Mr. Boyd he had
misgivings about Mr. Blair. "He works the way he lives -- sloppily,"
he recalled telling Mr. Boyd, who said last week he had agreed that
Mr. Blair was not the best candidate for the job.
But with his staff stretched thin to supply reporters for Iraqi war
coverage and elsewhere, Mr. Roberts had little choice but to press Mr.
Blair into duty on the home front.
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
The article astonished the Lynch family and friends, said Brandi
Lynch, Jessica's sister. "We were joking about the tobacco fields and
the cattle." Asked why no one in the family called to complain about
the many errors, she said, "We just figured it was going to be a
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.
Between the first coverage of the sniper attacks in late October and
late April, Mr. Blair filed articles claiming to be from 20 cities in
six states. Yet during those five months, he did not submit a single
receipt for a hotel room, rental car or airplane ticket, officials at
The Times said.
Mr. Blair did not have a company credit card -- the reasons are
unclear -- and had been forced to rely on Mr. Roberts's credit card to
pay bills from his first weeks on the sniper story. His own credit
cards, he had told a Times administrator, were beyond their credit
limit. The only expense he filed with regularity was for his
cellphone, that indispensable tool of his dual existence.
"To have a national reporter who is working in a traveling capacity
for the paper and not file expenses for those trips for a four-month
period is certainly in hindsight something that should attract our
attention," Mr. Boyd said.
On April 29, toward the end of his remarkable run of deceit, Mr. Blair
was summoned to the newsroom to answer accusations of plagiarism
lodged by The San Antonio Express-News. The concerns centered on an
article that he claimed to have written from Los Fresnos, Tex., about
the anguish of a missing soldier's mother.
In a series of tense meetings over two days, Mr. Roberts repeatedly
pressed Mr. Blair for evidence that he had indeed interviewed the
mother. Sitting in Mr. Roberts's small office, the reporter produced
pages of handwritten notes to allay his editor's increasing concern.
Mr. Roberts needed more -- "You've got to come clean with us," he said
-- and zeroed in on the mother's house in Texas. He asked Mr. Blair to
describe what he had seen.
Mr. Blair did not hesitate. He told Mr. Roberts of the reddish roof on
the white stucco house, of the red Jeep in the driveway, of the roses
blooming in the yard. Mr. Roberts later inspected unpublished
photographs of the mother's house, which matched Mr. Blair's
descriptions in every detail.
It was not until Mr. Blair's deceptions were uncovered that Mr.
Roberts learned how the reporter could have deceived him yet again: by
consulting the newspaper's computerized photo archives.
What haunts Mr. Roberts now, he says, is one particular moment when
editor and reporter were facing each other in a showdown over the core
aim of their profession: truth.
"Look me in the eye and tell me you did what you say you did," Mr.
Roberts demanded. Mr. Blair returned his gaze and said he had.
When Wrong, 'Get Right'
The New York Times continues as before. Every morning, stacks of The
Times are piled at newsstands throughout the city; every morning,
newspaper carriers toss plastic bags containing that day's issue onto
the lawns of readers from Oregon to Maine. What remains unclear is how
long those copies will carry the dust from the public collapse of a
young journalist's career.
Mr. Blair is no longer welcome in the newsroom he so often seemed
unable to leave. Many of his friends express anger at him for his
betrayal, and at The Times for not heeding signs of his
self-destructive nature. Others wonder what comes next for him; Thomas
Kunkel, dean of the journalism program at the University of Maryland,
gently suggested that the former student might return to earn that
But Mr. Blair harmed more than himself. Although the deceit of one
Times reporter does not impugn the work of 375 others, experts and
teachers of journalism say that The Times must repair the damage done
to the public trust.
"To the best of my knowledge, there has never been anything like this
at The New York Times," said Alex S. Jones, a former Times reporter
and the co-author of "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family
Behind The New York Times" (Little Brown, 1999). He added: "There has
never been a systematic effort to lie and cheat as a reporter at The
New York Times comparable to what Jayson Blair seems to have done."
Mr. Jones suggested that the newspaper might conduct random checks of
the veracity of news articles after publication. But Tom Rosenstiel,
director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, questioned how
much a newspaper can guard against willful fraud by deceitful
"It's difficult to catch someone who is deliberately trying to deceive
you," Mr. Rosenstiel said. "There are risks if you create a system
that is so suspicious of reporters in a newsroom that it can interfere
with the relationship of creativity that you need in a newsroom -- of
the trust between reporters and editors."
Still, in the midst of covering a succession of major news events,
from serial killings and catastrophes to the outbreak of war,
something clearly broke down in the Times newsroom. It appears to have
been communication -- the very purpose of the newspaper itself.
Some reporters and administrators did not tell editors about Mr.
Blair's erratic behavior. Editors did not seek or heed the warnings of
other editors about his reporting. Five years' worth of information
about Mr. Blair was available in one building, yet no one put it
together to determine whether he should be put under intense pressure
and assigned to cover high-profile national events.
"Maybe this crystallizes a little that we can find better ways to
build lines of communication across what is, to be fair, a massive
newsroom," said Mr. Sulzberger, the publisher.
But Mr. Sulzberger emphasized that as The New York Times continues to
examine how its employees and readers were betrayed, there will be no
newsroom search for scapegoats. "The person who did this is Jayson
Blair," he said. "Let's not begin to demonize our executives -- either
the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the
Mr. Raines, who referred to the Blair episode as a "terrible mistake,"
said that in addition to correcting the record so badly corrupted by
Mr. Blair, he planned to assign a task force of newsroom employees to
identify lessons for the newspaper. He repeatedly quoted a lesson he
said he learned long ago from A. M. Rosenthal, a former executive
"When you're wrong in this profession, there is only one thing to do,"
he said. "And that is get right as fast as you can."
For now, the atmosphere pervading the newsroom is that of an estranged
relative's protracted wake. Employees accept the condolences of
callers. They discuss what they might have done differently. They find
comfort in gallows humor. And, of course, they talk endlessly about
how Jayson could have done this.