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Revealing Jayson Blair
Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 3/10/2004

In his much-publicized memoir, the self-professed fabricator and plagiarist Jayson Blair cuts right to the chase. He bypasses excuses, and holds only himself responsible for the journalistic fiasco that he created after he falsified and fabricated events and quotes in several dozen New York Times articles.
Blair, who is Black, was eventually forced to resign, and the paper’s top two editors, Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, followed suit.
The 27-year-old former journalist, who fabricated throughout his career at the Times, has written a candid book telling readers how he tricked them into believing that he was writing stories from places that he had never visited.
“I lied and I lied – and then I lied some more,” Blair writes. “I lied about where I had been, I lied about where I had found information, I lied about how I wrote the story. And these were no everyday little white lies – they were complete fantasies embellished down to the tiniest made-up detail.”
But in “Burning Down My Masters’ House,” the 298-page book published by New Millennium Press, an apologetic Blair comes clean, helping the readers to understand the rationale for his deceptions. And he acknowledges that the scandal has created a tense environment that has made it more difficult for African Americans working in mainstream newsrooms like the New York Times.
“I am not the poster boy for what went wrong with affirmative action,” said Blair in an interview with the Amsterdam News. “Diversity is still needed in America’s newsrooms.”
But some have charged that Blair was a recipient of special affirmative action programs – that he only advanced to the New York Times because of the paper’s intended desire to bring in young, African American reporters, a charge that Times editors dismiss.
Tomorrow, Blair will talk about the scandal at Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem as part of his national tour that has taken him on the “Today” show and “Larry King Live.”
In the well-written memoir, we are confronted with a journalist who cuts corners, deceives the public and struggles with substance abuse, suicide and mental illness – issues that still remain way under the radar screen as topics of discussion in the African American community.
In truth, much of the Black community pretends that mental illness doesn’t exit. In this context, Blair’s powerful testimony can encourage a national discourse around the issue and inspire African Americans who are battling the deadly disease to get the help that they need.
“This book was really about my own personal therapy,” said Blair, who has maintained a distance from drugs and is currently on medication to help treat his mental illness. “It was an excuse for me to look at myself, my own character.”
While the New York Times has denounced the book and others have criticized Blair for writing the memoir, saying that the former reporter is merely seeking to make a profit from its sales, there appears to be a double standard of sorts at work.
Blair has received much more scrutiny in the mainstream media than other white reporters and columnists, such as Stephen Glass and Michael Barnicle, who committed similar atrocious acts of journalistic fraudulence.
In fact, both Glass and Barnicle have gone on to close lucrative deals following their falls from grace. Glass has written a book and has been portrayed on the movie screen, and Barnicle has been a frequent television commentator and has recently been asked to write a column for another newspaper.
There’s something quite believable about Blair’s insistence that the book was written so that others could “learn from it.”
“I think throughout the book there are many teachable moments,” Blair said. “Here, there is no happy ending. It was a very painful process to write this book.”
Blair certainly can’t undo his past, but his future is by no means over. While reading the page-turning memoir, it becomes immediately clear that he can write, and he can write well.
And while efforts to demonize him will continue, it’s also clear that if there is any group of people who understand the importance of redemption and forgiveness, it’s Black people.
And just by standing up and agreeing to face the wolves by offering what is certainly a sincere apology, it seems that Blair certainly deserves a bit of that forgiveness.
Jayson Blair will speak and sign copies of his book “Burning Down My Masters’ House” on Friday, March 12, from 6-8 p.m. at Hue-Man Bookstore located at 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd. in Harlem.

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