New York Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception
By May 11, 2003
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 had not.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 stole.
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 articles.
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 systematic fraud.
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 Times.
"The New York Times," she said. "You would expect more out of that."
The DeceptionReporting 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 Iraq."
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 hospital.
"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 few months.
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 Klingel arrived.
"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 said.
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, Anthony Williams.
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 newsroom.
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 complete.
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. Strum said.
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 metropolitan editor.
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, Howell Raines.
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 stretches.
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 returned.
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 metropolitan desk.
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 succeed."
The Big Time
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 reporting.
"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 head."
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 meal.
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 the article.
"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 energetic.
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 Army.
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 one-time thing."
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.
The LessonsWhen Wrong,
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 college degree.
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 reporters.
"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 publisher."
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 editor.
"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.
Witnesses and Documents Unveil Deceptions in a Reporter's Work
By May 11, 2003
Following is an accounting of the articles in which falsification, plagiarism and similar problems were discovered in a review of articles written by Jayson Blair, a reporter for The New York Times who resigned May 1. The review, conducted by a team of Times reporters and researchers, concentrated on the 73 articles Mr. Blair wrote since late October, when he was given roving national assignments and began covering major news events including the Washington-area sniper attacks and the rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch. Spot checks of his previous stories also found errors of fact and possible fabrications.
Detective Says Sniper Suspect
After He Requested Lawyer
APRIL 29, 2003
DENIED REPORTS Michael S. Arif, a lawyer for Lee Malvo, the younger of two men charged in the Washington-area sniper attacks last fall, was quoted as saying: "Not one of Mr. Malvo's five attorneys who had been appointed by the court to represent him was given any information about the action taken." Through a law partner, Thomas B. Walsh, Mr. Arif said he had not spoken to Mr. Blair that day or uttered the quoted words to anyone.
FACTUAL ERRORS The first sentence of the article stated that Detective June Boyle, the lead Fairfax County investigator in the sniper case, testified that she continued to interrogate Mr. Malvo without a lawyer after he had requested one. While Detective Boyle acknowledged in her testimony that Mr. Malvo had asked a question "Do I get to see my attorneys?" she did not say that he had invoked his right to counsel. In a later ruling, the judge in the case found that Mr. Malvo's question was not an unambiguous request for the assistance of counsel.
In Military Wards, Questions And Fears From the Wounded
APRIL 19, 2003
WHEREABOUTS The scenes described in the article took place ostensibly inside a ward of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. But Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Rostad, the public affairs officer for the center, said there was no record that Mr. Blair had visited or interviewed patients there.
DENIED REPORTS Of the six wounded soldiers quoted in what Mr. Blair described as "long conversations" at the medical center, one, Lance Cpl. James Klingel, said he was interviewed by Mr. Blair, but by telephone from his home in Lodi, Ohio, after he had been discharged. Telephone records described by Times officials suggest that Mr. Blair made this 27-minute call from his desk at the paper in New York on April 17. Three men Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, Lt. Col. Jonathan Ewers and Hospitalman Brian Alaniz said they had not spoken to Mr. Blair, Commander Rostad said. (Two others could not be reached.)
In a telephone interview, Corporal Klingel said that Mr. Blair had manufactured or embellished parts of the article. He said that, for example, the following quotation attributed to him by Mr. Blair had been made up: "I am still looking over my shoulder. I am sure I will be standing on the back porch and worry about who might come shooting at me out of the bush."
Corporal Klingel also disputed the portion of the article that described him as "disheartened because he will most likely limp the rest of his life and need to use a cane." He said he was neither limping nor using a cane now.
In addition, he denied he had told Mr. Blair he was having nightmares about his tour in Iraq. And he said he had not spoken to Mr. Blair about "his mind wandering from images of his girlfriend back in Ohio to the sight of an exploding fireball to the sounds of twisting metal," as Mr. Blair described.
Because he interviewed Corporal Klingel by phone, Mr. Blair was not in a position to describe him as he did in his article: speaking from a hospital bed and contemplating a visit to a chaplain, as Sergeant Alva lay in the bed next to him.
Reached by phone, Sergeant Alva's mother, Lois, declined to comment. But Commander Rostad said that Sergeant Alva contended that he did not say any of the comments attributed to him by Mr. Blair. These included the following: "But in more private moments last week in the hospital, Sergeant Alva acknowledged that he had anger that he directed inward and toward the news media that he said were too hard on soldiers and a public that he said did not really understand the costs of war. `There is no point in explaining how I feel,' he said, `because no one really is going to be able to understand it.' "
Later in the article, Mr. Blair wrote: "Sergeant Alva, who has had 10 operations since stepping on the mine on March 22, blames himself for the injuries of Seaman Alaniz, who is 28. If he had not been dumb enough to step on the mine, Sergeant Alva concluded, his friend would have never been injured."
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair erroneously described Hospitalman Alaniz as a seaman and as being "down the hall" from Sergeant Alva and Corporal Klingel at the medical center. Hospitalman Alaniz was discharged on April 9, five days before Corporal Klingel's arrival, Commander Rostad said. In addition, the article stated that Sergeant Alva had lost his right leg; his right leg had been amputated below the knee.
A Couple Separated by War While United in Their Fears
APRIL 15, 2003
WHEREABOUTS The article's dateline the label of the place and, ordinarily, the time where the reporting was done was given as Jacksonville, N.C., April 11. According to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, "Because believable firsthand news gathering is The Times's hallmark, datelines must scrupulously specify when and where the reporting took place."
But in a telephone interview, Sarai Thompson, whose husband is a marine stationed in Iraq, said she had been interviewed by Mr. Blair by phone, not in person.
Former P.O.W. Returns Home for Treatment At Army Hospital
APRIL 13, 2003
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair wrote that while waiting for Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch to arrive back in the United States, her family stayed at the Melrose House, an Army hotel in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. There is no hotel of that name in the complex.
For One Pastor, The War Hits Home
APRIL 7, 2003
WHEREABOUTS It does not appear that Mr. Blair was at the church service in Cleveland on April 6 that he described. The associate minister described in the piece, the Rev. Tandy Sloan, said in a telephone interview that he did not recall meeting, seeing or being interviewed by him. A Times official recently checked with the hotel that Mr. Blair said he had stayed at, but it had no record of his stay.
PLAGIARISM Mr. Blair appears to have borrowed substantial portions of his article from an article in The Washington Post, which appeared March 29 under the byline of Tamara Jones. For example, Mr. Blair wrote: "The senior pastor, the Rev. Larry Howard, opened the prayer service by reminding the several hundred people who had gathered that God was `bigger than Hussein.' Mr. Sloan bowed his head and closed his eyes. He could hear the women, mostly family members, weeping behind him, and, as he recalls, he started to cry. `We still have hope,' Mr. Sloan said after taking the pulpit. `Hope hasn't gone anywhere.' " He also described Mr. Sloan "with his head slumped."
Ms. Jones wrote: "Now, as the Rev. Larry Howard opened the prayer service for Brandy Sloan, reminding several hundred congregants that `God is bigger than Hussein,' Tandy Sloan closed his eyes and bowed his head." She later wrote: "His broad shoulders slumped, and in four pews filled with his extended family, he could hear the women softly weeping. Then Howard invited Sloan to speak, and he climbed behind the pulpit." She also described: " `We still have hope,' he began. `Hope hasn't gone anywhere.' "
Mr. Blair also used, without attribution, quotations that had appeared in articles by The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Daily News in New York.
DENIED REPORTS Mr. Blair described Mr. Sloan, at the April 6 service, as "gazing at a photograph" of his son inside his Bible. Mr. Sloan said he did not have a photograph of his son inside his Bible at the service.
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair referred to Mr. Sloan's church at one point as "Historical Greater Friendship Baptist Church." It is "Historic Greater Friendship Baptist Church," which he rendered correctly later in the article.
Family Begins Trip To Rejoin Freed Soldier
APRIL 6, 2003
WHEREABOUTS: An article about the decision by the parents of Private Lynch to fly to Germany to meet her while she was undergoing treatment there carried a dateline of Charleston, W.Va., April 5. But the hotels in the area have no record of Mr. Blair's checking in. And an editor in the national department of The Times said he saw Mr. Blair in the newsroom in New York shortly after 4 that afternoon. The editor, who had been under the impression Mr. Blair was in Charleston when he spoke to him late that morning, asked Mr. Blair how he had returned to New York so quickly. Mr. Blair said he had taken a 2:30 p.m. flight. There does not appear to have been such a flight that day. And there are calls made from his desk extension to towns in West Virginia beginning at 2:20 p.m., phone records indicated.
FACTUAL ERRORS The article stated that Private Lynch's family had flown to Germany on a commercial flight; Brandi Lynch, Private Lynch's sister, said in a telephone interview that the H.J. Heinz Company's private jet had been made available to the family.
Gifts and Offers for Book Deals Arrive at Rescued Private's House as She Has Surgery
APRIL 5, 2003
WHEREABOUTS For this article, Mr. Blair reported ostensibly from Palestine, W.Va., on April 4. But local hotels have no record of Mr. Blair's visiting around that time. Mr. Blair filed an article the same day with a dateline of Fairfax, Va., reporting on the legal proceedings against the Washington-area sniper suspects.
PLAGIARISM Mr. Blair quoted Private Lynch's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., as saying that he was "truly grateful" to the Iraqi lawyer who led United States forces to his daughter, and that the lawyer "would get a world of hugs out of that heroic deal." Mr. Lynch made those statements to other news organizations, not in an interview with Mr. Blair, a review of other publications showed. Mr. Lynch told The Washington Post that he never spoke to Mr. Blair. And Brandi Lynch told The Times that her father never spoke to Mr. Blair.
Tapes Hint at Possible Flaws In Sniper Suspect Confession
APRIL 5, 2003
FACTUAL ERRORS Detective Boyle is described as a 21-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department. She is a 26-year veteran, according to Lt. Amy Lubas, the commander of the department's public information office.
Is in Better Condition Than
First Thought, Father Says
APRIL 4, 2003
WHEREABOUTS As with all articles Mr. Blair filed from Palestine, W.Va., no hotels in Mineral Wells, the nearby town where many reporters covering the Lynch family stayed, have records of Mr. Blair's reserving or paying for a room.
PLAGIARISM Quotations appear to have come from an Associated Press article by Allison Barker that was written on April 3. For example, Ms. Barker related the following quotation and description of Mr. Lynch: " `They have successfully done one surgery on her,' he said, smiling as he joked about pink casts for her broken limbs. `There will be other surgeries, and it's going to take time and patience. She's in real good spirits.' "
Mr. Blair used most of the quotation verbatim, but slightly changed the description of Mr. Lynch, writing that he "smiled as he joked about her getting pink casts for her broken legs." Mr. Blair also wrote of Private Lynch, "She's in really good spirits."
Rescue in Iraq And A `Big Stir' in West Virginia
APRIL 3, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Hotels in the vicinity of Palestine, W.Va., had no record of Mr. Blair. His co-writer, as well as a photographer who was stationed at the Lynch home for The Times, said they did not see Mr. Blair. Mr. Blair gave his editors and his co-writer a number where he could be reached on April 2, the day the article was written. The number belonged to Glenda and Donald Nelson, friends of the Lynch family; the Nelsons said that they never met or spoke to Mr. Blair. The Nelsons live in Marmet, W.Va., about a two-hour drive from Palestine.
PLAGIARISM Mr. Blair described the Nelsons' talking about Private Lynch and a letter they had received from her: "Ms. Nelson and her husband, Donald, sat in their kitchen today, staring at their own letter from Private Lynch, which arrived on Monday. In the time it took the letter, dated March 18, to make its way from Kuwait, Private Lynch's unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was attacked during some of the first fighting in Nasiriya, she was declared missing in action for five days and yellow ribbons began to pop up all over town.
" `We just bawled like babies when we got the letter,' Mr. Nelson said today. `It just tore us apart to think of how scared she was or what might have happened to her.' "
In an Associated Press article that ran on April 2, Ms. Barker wrote: "Before the war started, Private Lynch wrote a letter to family friends Glenda and Don Nelson. The letter, dated March 18, arrived on Monday. `She said she was ready to go to war and was just waiting on President Bush's word, but I could tell she was scared,' said Don Nelson. `We bawled like babies when we read it. It tore us up.' "
Mr. Blair also used details and quotations about a shopping trip to Charleston that was recounted in an Associated Press article from March 25.
In addition, Mr. Nelson's quotation about Private Lynch being "a wholesome West Virginia country girl" appears to have been adapted from a comment in the April 2 Associated Press article made by Lorene Cumbridge, a cousin of Private Lynch. "She's just a West Virginia country girl. Warm-hearted. Outgoing," Ms Cumbridge said.
The Last Stop On the Journey Home
APRIL 1, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair's article, about the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, took place ostensibly at the base on March 31. Second Lt. Cathy L. Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the 512th Airlift Wing at the base, whom Mr. Blair interviewed by phone around that time, said in a telephone interview that she was "100 percent" sure that Mr. Blair had not visited the base to interview people for this article.
DENIED REPORTS Mr. Blair quoted Lieutenant Milhoan as saying of the reservists who staff the military mortuary: "They have really been taxed both logistically and emotionally."
Lieutenant Milhoan said that Mr. Blair had inserted the reference to logistics into her comment and that she had spent considerable time during the interview explaining that the Iraq operation presented no logistical challenge to the reservists working at the mortuary. "There were plenty of people," she said. "This is our mission. This is what we do." She said she called Mr. Blair on April 1 to discuss her concern with him, after he had e-mailed her a link to the article on The New York Times Web site. Lieutenant Milhoan said he had apologized.
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair wrote that the base, to assist in the handling of soldiers' remains, "brought in 58 reservists from a local wing in Delaware and eight more from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland." Shortly after the article appeared, Lieutenant Milhoan told Mr. Blair that the correct figures were 42 Dover reservists and 16 Andrews Air Force Base reservists, according to an e-mail message that a Times official described.
For Families of the Dead,
A Fateful Knock on the Door
MARCH 31, 2003
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair embellished certain details while incorporating notes from a co-author into the article. He wrote that Stacy L. Menusa and her 3-year-old son were "standing in the driveway of her parents' home" when two marines arrived with news of her husband's death. Ms. Menusa, in a recent interview, said that she and her son were inside the house at the time.
Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News
MARCH 27, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Although this article about the relatives of soldiers missing in combat in Iraq carried a March 26 dateline from Palestine, W.Va., Mr. Blair's cellphone records, described to reporters by William E. Schmidt, an associate managing editor of The Times, indicate that he was in New York. In addition, several people at the Lynch home including photographers and other reporters said they had not met or seen Mr. Blair there. And the hotels nearest to Palestine have no record of Mr. Blair's staying there.
PLAGIARISM In the article, Mr. Blair described the anguish of the Estrella family whose son was one of the eight members of the 507th Maintenance Company listed by the Pentagon as whereabouts unknown. " `We don't know anything. Not knowing anything is so hard,' said Ruben Estrella, whose 18-year-old son, Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto of El Paso, is among the members of the 507th listed as missing. `I can't take this waiting.' " An Associated Press article, written from El Paso on March 26, quoted Ruben Estrella as saying, "We don't know anything, not knowing anything. It's been three days of waiting."
DENIED REPORTS Mr. Blair quoted Kimberly Cieslak, whose brother, Sgt. Donald Walters, was missing. Ms. Cieslak said she did not recall speaking to Mr. Blair, although she did remember speaking to a different reporter for The Times for a later story.
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair wrote that tobacco fields and cattle pastures were visible from the porch of the Lynch home. Brandi Lynch said there is no such view. Mr. Blair wrote that Private Lynch's brother was in the National Guard in West Virginia. He is actually in the Army. Mr. Blair described a dream of Private Lynch's mother, Deadra Lynch; Brandi Lynch said her mother had not described any such dream. Mr. Blair also misspelled Deadra Lynch's first name.
Watching, and Praying, As a Son's Fate Unfolds
MARCH 25, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair does not appear to have traveled to Hunt Valley, Md., on March 24, as the article indicated. The article included interviews with the members of only one family Martha and Michael Gardner, the parents of Cpl. Michael P. Gardner II, a marine in Iraq, and his sister Cara. Martha Gardner said that he did not visit their home and that she spoke to him only by phone. Phone and other records suggest that Mr. Blair was in New York from 10:09 a.m. to 3:59 p.m. that day, and again the following morning.
DENIED REPORTS Mr. Blair described Ms. Gardner speaking as she was "turning swiftly in her chair to listen to an anchor report on a marine unit that had suffered heavy casualties in southern Iraq and about a group of soldiers that had been captured nearby." He also recounted other scenes, which a photographer for The Times did not recall describing to him.
FACTUAL ERRORS The sister of Corporal Gardner is named Cara, not Kara.
Chief in Sniper Case Considers a Job Change
MARCH 22, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair filed this profile of Charles A. Moose, the police chief in Montgomery County, Md., ostensibly from Gaithersburg, Md., on March 21, 2003. Mr. Blair's cellphone records did not indicate that any calls originated from or were received in Maryland that day.
DENIED REPORTS The article described Chief Moose as speaking "in an interview here in the apartment he shares with his wife, Sandy." A spokeswoman for Chief Moose said the quotations in the story were accurate but that the interview had been conducted over the phone, not in his apartment.
FACTUAL ERRORS Chief Moose's annual salary was listed as $120,000 in the article; it is $160,619. Joseph D. McNamara is a former police chief in San Jose, Calif., not San Diego. And the article misstated the name of a public body. It is the Montgomery County Council's public safety committee, not public safety commission.
Bearing the Worst News, Then Helping the Healing
MARCH 22, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair purported to write this article about the work of military officers assigned to notify families of soldiers killed on duty from Norfolk, Va. on March 21. A Times official said cellphone and other records indicated that Mr. Blair was in New York that day.
FACTUAL ERRORS Four people were quoted by name in this article concerning military officials who deliver the news of soldiers' deaths to their relatives, and two of those names were misspelled. Lt. Asha Fotos's surname was rendered as Potos on five occasions. And Chief Petty Officer Glen Gaynor's first name was given as Glenn.
Sniper Suspect Is Disciplined For Cell Graffiti
MARCH 8, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Phone records described to reporters by Times officials indicated there were calls made from Mr. Blair's desk in New York to Virginia at 11:46 a.m. on March 7, when the article was ostensibly written, and cellphone and computer records indicated that he remained in New York through the rest of the afternoon.
Judge in Sniper Case Bars Cameras From Trial
MARCH 4, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Cellphone records, which Mr. Blair had submitted for reimbursement, indicate that calls were made from New York between 2:16 p.m. and 10:50 p.m. on March 3, when the article was supposedly written. At 5:19 p.m., he sent an e-mail message to his editors, saying that he was in the Washington bureau and was about to send a draft of his story.
Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight
MARCH 3, 2003
WHEREABOUTS The article was written ostensibly in Fairfax, Va., on March 1. Mr. Blair's cellphone records indicated that no calls originated from outside New York between Feb. 27 and March 26. Phone and other computer records indicate that he was at his desk in New York.
DENIED REPORTS The article reported that statements made by Lee Malvo, the younger defendant in the Washington-area sniper shootings, during questioning by Detective Boyle on Nov. 7, 2002, had been videotaped. There is no videotape of the questioning, according to Lt. Amy Lubas, the commander of the public information office at the Fairfax County Police Department; there is only an audiotape. In addition, a quotation from one law enforcement official who had supposedly seen parts of the videotape described him as being in awe of Detective Boyle's performance. "To watch her is to watch a master," the official was quoted as saying. The quotation appears to be manufactured, because law enforcement officials said there was no videotape to be watched.
FACTUAL ERRORS Mr. Blair wrote that Detective Boyle, while investigating the death of a young woman in 1995, had noticed blood on the jeans of the woman's brother. According to the article, the detective was then able to build a circumstantial case that led to the man's confession. Lieutenant Lubas said that Detective Boyle did not notice the blood and that the brother did not confess. In addition, Detective Boyle was described as being dressed in her trademark combination of a blazer and black shirt. Lieutenant Lubas said that Detective Boyle did not have a trademark combination and preferred bright colors, not black.
Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks
FEB. 10, 2003
WHEREABOUTS This Page 1 article carried a Feb. 8 dateline from Washington. Cellphone and other Times records indicate that Mr. Blair was in New York that day.
PLAGIARISM Mr. Blair quoted Mrytha Cinada, the daughter of a sniper victim who died, as saying, "That is a big hole in my life that will never be filled by anyone else." The quotation appears to have come from a story in The Washington Post that ran on Oct. 10, 2002, by two reporters, Sylvia Moreno and Darragh Johnson. Ms. Cinada said of Mr. Blair, "I never heard of him and I've never spoken to him."
DENIED REPORTS Penny Hannum, also quoted in the story, said she did not speak to Mr. Blair. It is not clear where her quotation came from. Kellie Adams, who was shot in a liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Ala., said she did not compare her background to those of the suspected snipers when she was quoted as saying, "There are similarities in our backgrounds, and I see bits and pieces of myself in even them."
FACTUAL ERRORS James Ballenger III said in a telephone interview that he is not a part-time preacher or any kind of preacher. Mr. Ballenger did not volunteer at the local prison; it was a paid position. He had not "relied heavily" on donations from others; he said he accepts them but does not rely on them. The article said that he took "a message of forgiveness to church pulpits and television programs across Louisiana, arguing ferociously that Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo should not be executed," referring to the two suspects arrested in the sniper shootings. Mr. Ballenger said he never addressed this topic from a church pulpit and that he made his points "peacefully." Ms. Adams did not suffer from back pain; she said she suffered from shoulder and neck pain.
OTHER ISSUES Mr. Ballenger said that he discussed the fact that his son, James IV, had dropped out of college on the condition that it not be published, and that he was upset to see it in the paper.
Gun Tests Said To Bolster Sniper Case
JAN. 25, 2003
WHEREABOUTS This article was written ostensibly in Washington on Jan. 24. That day, records indicated, calls were made from Mr. Blair's cellphone in New York beginning at 10:51 a.m. and continuing until 10:10 p.m.
In Absence of Parents, A Voice for the Accused
JAN. 19, 2003
WHEREABOUTS The article, about one of the lawyers for Lee Malvo, the younger of the two men accused in the sniper shootings last fall, had a dateline of Fairfax, Va., Jan 18. Calls originating in New York were made from Mr. Blair's cellphone that day beginning at 11:42 a.m. and continuing throughout the day until midnight, records indicated. In the middle of the afternoon he made a purchase at a Starbucks in Brooklyn, according to a receipt he submitted.
Like Sniper Case, Hearing For
Youth Is Out of the Ordinary
JAN. 18, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Cellphone records indicate calls were made on Jan. 17 from New York at 3:43 a.m., 12:32 p.m., and then throughout the afternoon and into the evening until 11:11. The article was supposedly reported and written in Fairfax, Va., on that date.
Prints Reportedly Tie Sniper Suspect to Killing
JAN. 6, 2003
WHEREABOUTS This article was reported and written ostensibly in Washington on Jan. 5. But cellphone records described to reporters by Times officials indicate calls originating in New York were made beginning at 11:35 a.m. until 4:57 p.m. Mr. Blair, who stopped submitting expenses for reimbursement in the middle of January, ate at a restaurant in Brooklyn that day, according to a receipt he submitted for reimbursement.
Execution Opponent Joins Sniper Case
JAN. 2, 2003
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair ostensibly filed this article on Dec. 31, 2002, from Lexington, Va., where the subject of the profile, Roger D. Groot, is a law professor at Washington and Lee University. Professor Groot said that his quotations in the story were accurate, but that he had spoken to the reporter only by phone. Cellphone records indicate that Mr. Blair was making calls from New York between 9:31 a.m. until nearly midnight.
Teenager's Role Tangles Case Against Older Sniper Suspect
DEC. 22, 2002
WHEREABOUTS The article about how Mr. Malvo's supposed role in the sniper shooting was affecting the case against the older defendant, John Muhammad, carried a dateline of Centreville, Va., Dec. 19. Calls were made that day from Mr. Blair's desk and cellphone in New York beginning at 12:17 p.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m., records indicated.
DENIED REPORTS The article reported on supposed evidence from unnamed law enforcement officials showing that Mr. Malvo was the likely triggerman in most of the shootings. The commonwealth attorney in Fairfax County, Va., said in a recent interview that at least two of the five pieces of evidence cited in the article do not exist. The first is a videotape said to have been recovered from a security camera near the Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, Va., where Linda Franklin was killed on Oct. 14, 2002, showing someone who appears to be Mr. Muhammad in the driver's seat. The second is a grape stem bearing Mr. Malvo's saliva said to have been found near the site of another shooting.
Acquittal in Shooting Of Priest Splits a City
DEC. 18, 2002
WHEREABOUTS This article about divisions in Baltimore following the acquittal of a man who, claiming he had been molested by a priest as a child, shot the priest, was ostensibly reported and written in that city on Dec. 17. Records indicate that calls originating in New York on that date were made from Mr. Blair's desk phone, including calls to Baltimore. Calls were made from Mr. Blair's office extension as late as 10:06 p.m. In addition, Mr. Blair did not submit a train ticket receipt or ask to be reimbursed for other travel expenses.
OTHER ISSUES Mr. Blair used comments by Lee Gardner, editor of The Baltimore City Paper, that Mr. Gardner said he had stipulated could not be used with his name attached. Donna Jones Stanley, the executive director of the Associated Black Charities of Maryland, said Mr. Blair had used her comments out of context. Mr. Blair wrote that Ms. Stanley said that blacks were "happy that this young man did not have to pay the price for a broken system." Ms. Stanley said she had been speaking only for herself and did not say anything about the views of blacks in general.
Man Who Shot Priest In An Abuse Case Wins Acquittal
DEC. 17, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Cellphone and office phone records indicate that calls were made from New York throughout the day of Dec. 16, until 9:40 p.m., while the article was supposedly being written and reported in Baltimore.
Sniper Case Will Be First Test Of Virginia Antiterrorism Law
DEC. 17, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Cellphone records indicate that Mr. Blair was in New York from 9:37 a.m. to 7:36 p.m. on Dec. 9, ostensibly when the article was written with a Washington dateline. There are no records of travel to Washington, and he appears to have been in the New York office the next day as phone calls to Virginia were made from his extension.
Laura Bush Visits The Youngest Sniper Victim
DEC. 13, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Cellphone bills that Mr. Blair submitted for reimbursement indicate that calls were made from New York beginning at 11:07 a.m. on Dec. 12 and continuing past midnight. He was supposedly in Washington that day to report and write this article.
Questions Over Reward For Tips in the Sniper Case
NOV. 27, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair was supposedly in Rockville, Md., on Nov. 26 to write the article. But receipts submitted for reimbursement include one from a Marshalls store in Brooklyn at 5:12 p.m. that day. On his expense form, he wrote that the purchase was for blankets for his hotel-room bed in Washington.
Attendance Requirement Leaves Colleges Sweating
NOV. 23, 2002
DENIED REPORTS An article about efforts by college football teams to increase attendance to comply with a new requirement of the National Collegiate Athletic Association quoted Pete Mahoney, the associate athletic director at Kent State. In a telephone interview, Mr. Mahoney denied making the quoted statement or speaking with Mr. Blair.
FACTUAL ERRORS The article said that the new N.C.A.A. rule setting minimum home-game attendance requirements "went into effect this season." In fact, the rule will go into effect in 2004.
OTHER ISSUES The article used a quotation from The San Jose Mercury News of Sept. 26, 2002, without attribution. Robert Caret, the president of San Jose State University, told that newspaper: "You can like it or not like it, but the fact of the matter is, of the institutions we want in our peer group, Division I football is one of our defining characteristics." Mr. Blair wrote only that Mr. Caret had made the comment earlier in the year.
In addition, The Daily Kent Stater, a student newspaper, published an article in December in which school officials took issue with Mr. Blair's reporting. The writer of the article, who said that he could not reach Mr. Blair because his voice-mail in box was full, then left detailed messages for The Times's sports department. No one at the paper responded to the messages.
Statements by Teenager May Muddy Sniper Case
NOV. 11, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Expense records, as described by Times officials, suggest that Mr. Blair traveled to New York from Washington on the weekend of Nov. 9 and did not not return to Washington until Nov. 11, the day after this article was filed with a Washington dateline. A receipt submitted with his expenses indicated that he bought $11.46 worth of cigarettes and magazines at Penn Station in New York on the morning of Nov. 11.
DENIED REPORTS In this article, Mr. Blair quoted Toby Vick, a former state and federal prosecutor in Virginia, about the dangers that the inclusion of Mr. Malvo's statements could have on Mr. Muhammad's trial. "It helps him with one of the statutes, the capital murder charge, but it does not help him on the terrorism charge," Mr. Vick said. "If you bring it in to prove he was not the shooter, prosecutors could bring it in to prove the terrorism charge, where you don't have to show the defendant fired the shot."
Mr. Vick has said that while he has spoken to Mr. Blair about the sniper case for previous articles, he is "fairly confident" that he did not make this statement.
Officials Link Most Killings To Teenager
NOV. 10, 2002
WHEREABOUTS Mr. Blair used The Times's travel agent to book a train ticket from Washington to New York on the evening of Nov. 8. Cellphone records indicate that he was in New York later that same night as well as the next day, at least between 11 a.m. and 4:46 p.m. While it is possible that Mr. Blair could have returned to Washington later that day, hotel records at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington show no additional charges to the room tariff. Food and phone charges were incurred between Nov. 4 and Nov. 8.
Sniper Suspects Linked To Yet Another Shooting
NOV. 2, 2002
FACTUAL ERRORS In an article about how investigators linked the Washington-area snipers to earlier shootings in other states, Mr. Blair described the recovery of a handgun used in a shooting in Montgomery, Ala. Mr. Blair wrote that "John Wilson, the chief of the Montgomery police, said a .22-caliber Magnum handgun that was stolen in Oklahoma was found on Wednesday in an area where an officer said he had chased Mr. Muhammad," one of the sniper suspects. In a telephone interview, Mr. Wilson said that the handgun was found in an area where a civilian said he had chased Mr. Malvo after a fatal shooting in the area on Sept. 21.
U.S. Sniper Case Seen As a Barrier to a Confession
OCT. 30, 2002
FACTUAL ERRORS In this article, Mr. Blair wrote about the way a dispute between local and federal prosecutors affected the interrogation of John Muhammad, a suspect in the sniper case. Mr. Blair wrote that two assistant United States attorneys from Maryland, James M. Trusty and A. David Copperthite, participated in discussions about whether the suspects should be charged by local or federal authorities. Neither official participated in the discussions, according to Thomas M. DiBiagio, the United States attorney for Maryland, whose account was confirmed by other law enforcement officials who participated in the meeting. The article also suggested inaccurately, Mr. DiBiagio said that Mr. Trusty and Mr. Copperthite were among the officials who had gathered to watch the interrogation of Mr. Muhammad.
OTHER ISSUES In the first sentence of the article, Mr. Blair wrote that Mr. Muhammad had been talking to investigators for more than an hour, "explaining the roots of his anger," when a federal prosecutor interrupted the interrogation and told investigators to deliver Mr. Muhammad to Baltimore. In the third paragraph of the article, he also quoted an anonymous law enforcement official as saying that "it looked like Muhammed was ready to share everything." The article drew a conclusion unwarranted by the reporting. According to local and federal law enforcement officials who monitored the interrogation, the conversations were aimed at building a rapport with Mr. Muhammad and he was not on the verge of a confession. The officials said that the interrogation had not yet broached any of the shootings, and that Mr. Muhammad was not discussing the "roots of his anger." Editors who worked on the article said that the story should have also acknowledged more promptly information from other Times reporters that contradicted Mr. Blair's account of the interrogation.
Cultural Groups Need Help
OCT. 20, 2001
FABRICATIONS A brief article concerning the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York cultural institutions said that the American Craft Museum was "already in serious financial trouble before Sept. 11." The assertion was not attributed. A correction published on Oct. 30, 2001, stated that "while lower-level staff members spoke of financial troubles that existed before Sept. 11, the director, Holly Hotchner, says the museum's finances are strong."
In defending his original reporting to his editors, Mr. Blair relied primarily on what he said were conversations with the museum's chief financial officer, who was said to have acted as a confidential source.
In a recent interview, the museum's chief financial officer then and now, Robert J. Salemo, said he never spoke with Mr. Blair. There is no evidence that Mr. Blair spoke with "lower-level staff members." Mr. Salemo said that the museum broke even that year.
Fighting Words: Whose Icon Is It?
SEPT. 29, 2001
FACTUAL ERRORS In an article about the effort by some family members of passengers on one of the aircraft hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, to trademark the phrase "let's roll," Mr. Blair quoted John F. Delaney, a lawyer, on what a trademark is. Mr. Blair quoted Mr. Delaney accurately but failed to identify him or his law firm correctly. Mr. Delaney's first name is John, not Jonathan, and he is a lawyer in the New York office of Morrison & Foerster, not Morrison & Forester.
In Side Effect of Economic Prosperity, White-Collar Crime Flourishes
MARCH 13, 2000
FACTUAL ERRORS An article about white-collar crime discussed the experiences of Gary Ahlert, who was said to have lost $400,000 on a plan to market a material to cover artificial limbs. That loss, the article added, made him eager to listen to a sales pitch concerning an investment in a mine in Arizona. In a recent telephone interview, Mr. Ahlert said he had not lost money on a marketing plan, though he did fail to collect a licensing fee of some $200,000 in connection with it. He added that the investment involved ore in a warehouse and not in a mine.
Readers with information about other articles by Jayson Blair that may be false wholly or in part are asked to e-mail The Times: email@example.com.
By May 11, 2003
Ten days ago, Jayson Blair resigned as a reporter for The New York Times after the discovery that he had plagiarized parts of an article on April 26 about the Texas family of a soldier missing in Iraq. An article on Page 1 today recounts a chain of falsifications and plagiarism that unraveled when The Times began an inquiry into that Texas article. At least 36 more articles written by Mr. Blair since October reflected plagiarism, misstatements, misrepresentation of the reporter's whereabouts or a combination of those. An accounting of the flaws will be found on the right side of this page, as the first headline under "Related."
Today's article and the accounting result from a weeklong investigation by five Times reporters and a team of researchers. The newspaper organized it in the belief that the appropriate corrective for flawed journalism is better journalism accurate journalism.
The reporters have telephoned news sources cited by Mr. Blair and have interviewed other journalists who worked with him. Executives have read them summaries of telephone records and expense documents. To examine the newsroom processes that went awry, they have had unrestricted access to other Times staff members, including top editors, involved with Mr. Blair's copy and the management of his career. Within the limits of laws and ethical codes governing health and employment records, Times managers have described documents for the reporting team.
The reporters' examination has centered on the last seven months, a period in which Mr. Blair increasingly received assignments distant from the newsroom, which allowed him wider independence. His earlier work, done under closer supervision, will be spot-checked. If another major examination appears warranted, it will be carried out. Readers and news sources who know of defects in additional articles should send e-mail to The Times: retrace@ nytimes.com.
In online databases that include copy from The Times, cautionary notices will be attached to the faulty articles in coming days.
The Times regrets that it did not detect the journalistic deceptions sooner. A separate internal inquiry, by the management, will examine the newsroom's processes for training, assignment and accountability.
For all of the falsifications and plagiarism, The Times apologizes to its readers in the first instance, and to those who have figured in improper coverage. It apologizes, too, to those whose work was purloined and to all conscientious journalists whose professional trust has been betrayed by this episode.
May 12, 2003
'Huge Black Eye'
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
Just about everyone at this newspaper is sick at heart at the way one Times reporter betrayed our readers and all of us with his sustained deceit and plagiarism.
The Times team investigating the lies of Jayson Blair grimly front-paged and spread over four inside pages of yesterday's paper found his phony interviews and faked articles "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." The publisher called it "a huge black eye."
How could this happen at the most rigorously edited newspaper in the world? We had plenty of warning: his 50-plus corrections in less than four years as a reporter, his evasion of questions about his whereabouts, complaints from colleagues.
Apparently this 27-year-old was given too many second chances by editors eager for this ambitious black journalist to succeed. As he moved to more responsible assignments, some editors failed to pass along assessments of his past shortcomings while others felt the need to protect the confidentiality of his troubles. Result: the con artist gamed a system that celebrates diversity and opportunity.
The Times's executive editor, Howell Raines, is determined to get right with readers by letting the "terrible mistake" be examined in excruciating detail. In addition to this opposite of cover-up, he assigned another newsroom group to come up with ways to prevent another failure of communication among our editors, the most expert of communicators.
What's the reaction in Washington, where we now know the fraudulent reporter came down to stain The Times's coverage of last year's attacks by snipers?
Liberals down here, who only last week had been gleeful at the revelation of conservative Bill Bennett's high-rolling gambling habit, are rendered glum by this embarrassment of the newspaper whose editorial policy they favor. But now my right-wing friends are suddenly up to their hips in their own Schadenfreude. (That's the German word for "the guilty pleasure one secretly takes in another's suffering.")
First comes the culture war. Some of my ideological soulmates say: See? There goes the prestigious New York Times, world paragon of accuracy, newspaper of record, winner of far more Pulitzer prizes than anybody suckered for years by one cunning kid. About time those snobby Eastern elitists, twisting the news to fit their prejudices, got their comeuppance.
Then to the affirmative-action angle: See what happens, they taunt, when you treat a minority employee with kid gloves, promoting him when he deserves to be fired? Oh, we know your editors insist that "diversity" had nothing to do with it. But remember what Senator Dale Bumpers said about our impeachment of Clinton: "When you hear somebody say, `This is not about sex' it's about sex." This is about diversity backfiring.
Here's my reply to their Kulturkampf: For exactly 30 years, I have been supported handsomely for disagreeing with The Times's editorial page, which is dovish on defense, leftist on economics and (with the exception of civil liberties) resolutely wrongheaded. Never have I been silenced, and conservative thinkers have an ever-fairer shake on the Op-Ed page.
As for news coverage being influenced by editorial policy, I evoke the name of my predecessor: that's a Krock. On occasion, a leftist slant on a story slips through the backfield, but with conservatives boring from within and fulminating from without, the news side soon straightens itself out. What is "fit to print" is the truth as straight as we can tell it, which is why Times people are so furious at this galling breach.
Now about the supposed cost of diversity: A newspaper is free to come down on the side of giving black journalists a break if its owners and editors so choose. What's more, this media world would also benefit from more Hispanics and Asians coming up faster.
To the 375 Times reporters who make up the greatest assemblage of talent and enterprise in the field of gathering and writing the news, I submit this hard line:
Self-examination is healthy but self-absorption is not; self-correction is a winner but self-flagellation is a sure loser. Let us slap a metaphoric cold steak over our huge black eye and learn from this dismaying example so that other journalists in the nation and around the world can continue to learn from ours.
Subjects Seem Unfazed by a Reporter's Misdeeds
Many people quoted by a New York Times writer accepted his fiction as a fact of life.
By Stephanie Simon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 19, 2003
Carol Klingel had to chuckle. The New York Times was reporting on the front page, no less that her son, a Marine scout who had been wounded in Iraq, struggled with flashbacks, "his mind wandering from images of his girlfriend back in Ohio to the sight of an exploding fireball."
The story was wrenching. It was also wrong. For starters, Lance Cpl. James Klingel didn't have a girlfriend. He had broken up with his most recent sweetheart before he was deployed to the Gulf.
"We were laughing about it. I kept asking him, which girl would be thinking that she was the girl mentioned in the story," his mom said.
The Klingels knew that reporter Jayson Blair had gotten the facts wrong.
But they didn't call the New York Times to complain. They didn't write to demand a correction.
In a telling sign of how little Americans seem to trust the press, many of the people Blair wrote falsely about in the last seven months shrugged off his mistakes as more examples of sloppy, melodramatic reporting.
Some protested strenuously, demanding corrections, only to give up in frustration. Others never knew about the errors because they did not read the articles that put their voices in front of millions of newspaper readers across the nation.
For the Klingels and others like them, however, the embellishments and even the outright fiction they saw in Blair's work seemed hardly worth squawking about. It was more or less what they anticipated.
"You expect people are going to get misquoted, or quoted out of context," said Carol Klingel, a high school art teacher.
Blair's article wrongly described her son as permanently disabled from his combat injuries. It exaggerated his emotional distress. And it attributed comments to the wounded Marine that he did not remember making including the dramatic ending to the story, which quoted Klingel as saying he was still looking over his shoulder, worried "about who might come shooting at me out of the bush."
Her son was upset, Carol Klingel recalled. But she figured that the story "wasn't all that wrong" nothing "earth-shatteringly false," as she put it so it wouldn't be worth pursuing a correction.
Many Americans share Klingel's low expectations for journalistic accuracy.
Except for a surge of support for reporters after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "positive evaluations of news organizations on issues like trust, credibility and arrogance have all been declining steadily" for more than a decade, said Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.
Just 21% of Americans believe all or most of what they read in their local papers, according to a poll last year by the Pew Center. In another survey, the center found that 45% believe news stories are "often inaccurate."
Asked to rate the ethical standards of various professions, Americans place journalists side by side with members of Congress near the bottom of the list. Only lawyers, advertising practitioners and car salesmen ranked lower, a 2000 Gallup poll found.
"There's a general undercurrent out there that we have an uncaring press, not particularly interested in getting everything right and not particularly interested in hearing from people who want to complain," said Bob Haiman, a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit foundation that advocates for 1st Amendment rights.
If Americans perceive the press as aloof, they also recognize its power. And power is intimidating.
When Robert F. Horan, the chief prosecutor in Fairfax County, Va., held a news conference late last year to denounce one of Blair's articles on the sniper shootings as "dead wrong," he stepped to the microphone with a sense of wariness.
"My opening line to the press conference was that I was doing this against my better judgment, because you should never take on anyone who buys ink by the gallon," Horan later said. Because he did not want to discuss evidence in public, Horan refused to disclose even to Blair's editors exactly which parts of the article were inaccurate. The New York Times stood by its story.
Horan did not bother to complain the next time Blair wrote about "evidence" that Horan knew did not exist.
"An outfit like the New York Times carries almost an aura of being the gospel," he said.
A few months earlier, Pete Mahoney, the associate athletic director at Kent State University, had come to a similar conclusion.
Mahoney was furious about an article in which Blair wrote that Kent State was scrambling to meet NCAA standards for football-game attendance and that it sponsored tailgate parties and counted everyone in the parking lot as "in attendance." Blair quoted Mahoney as saying: "We are going to try it until someone tells us to stop."
The trouble was, Blair and Mahoney had only exchanged voice mails. "How can you make up that stuff? He was setting me up for a punch in the belly," Mahoney said.
But Mahoney felt it would be futile to seek a retraction.
"I've always felt there's no sense in arguing with the press," Mahoney said. "They hold the pen, so they're going to win if you take it to a public debate."
Mahoney's boss, athletic director Laing Kennedy, did press the issue with the New York Times, making more than a dozen phone calls to Blair and to the sports department. He spoke briefly with Blair once. No one else, he said, ever called back. "After a while, we just dropped it," Kennedy said. "It was very disappointing."
A New York Times spokesman said last week that the paper is investigating that incident and has formed a committee to review its policy for taking complaints and printing corrections.
The truth is, though, that many of Blair's most misleading stories did not generate complaints.
An article about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, for instance, described family friends Donald and Glenda Nelson sitting at their kitchen table reading a letter the young soldier had written before she was taken captive in Iraq. The scene was entirely invented or else, stolen from another source. But the Nelsons did not request a retraction. They didn't even know the New York Times had printed the story.
"I never interviewed with the New York Times, so why would I be looking through it?" said Donald Nelson, a coal miner.
Federal officials who do read the New York Times regularly noted some gross inaccuracies in Blair's sniper coverage. The U.S. attorney in Maryland fired off a letter of protest. But Barbara Comstock, the director of public affairs for the U.S. Justice Department, never followed up with calls to Blair's editors or demands for corrections. She focused her energy instead on making sure other reporters covering the story got it right.
"I felt if they were going to be stupid enough to put someone this unprofessional on the beat, that's not my problem," Comstock said.
Others who appeared in Blair's stories praised his work, even as they noted a few oddities.
Michael and Martha Gardner spoke with Blair several times by phone for a story about the anguish of waiting for news of their son, a Marine scout serving in Iraq. The reporter apparently never left New York, but he wrote the story as though he had spent a day with the Gardners in Hunt Valley, Md.; he described what they ate, how they gestured, how they reacted as they watched TV news. (He also misspelled their daughter's name.)
"It wasn't totally, totally accurate," Michael Gardner said, "but it wasn't so glaringly wrong you got upset about it."
The Gardners wrote a letter to the editor, thanking Blair.
In the South Texas town of Los Fresnos, the mother of the last soldier missing in action in Iraq also found herself feeling grateful for Blair's fraudulent coverage. She did not know, until the New York Times contacted her recently, that he had written a front-page story about her without interviewing her by lifting passages from the San Antonio Express-News.
All she knew was she was suddenly getting letters from strangers in New York, Boston, even Canada, promising prayers. "That was a big support," San Juanita Anguiano said.
The plagiarism in that article caught the attention of the Express-News, and the editor complained to the New York Times, touching off the inquiry that led to Blair's May 1 resignation.
Still, Anguiano doesn't feel betrayed; she invites journalists to her house for interviews.
Nelson, the coal miner, feels less charitable. "To be honest," he said in a phone interview last week, "you're the first reporter I've talked to. I told my wife we'd stay away from them."
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© 2003 by Neil Mishalov