Steamboat Springs The story of fraud and plagiarism by a young journalist at The New York Times damages not only one of this nation's most respected newspapers but also the industry as a whole.
Jayson Blair, 27, has made news across the country and become the subject of round-table analysis on television for a level of deceit in his reporting that, if true, is nothing short of astonishing. Blair resigned from his post at the Times earlier this month after evidence surfaced that he had committed a number of indiscretions over a period of several months. Among them:
n He routinely plagiarized other newspapers.
n He pretended to report from sites in Maryland, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Texas without ever leaving New York.
n He used unnamed sources to get a scoop on the arrest of suspects in the Washington sniper case. It now appears he fabricated those sources and his scoop was erroneous.
An internal investigation by the Times has uncovered discrepancies in at least 36 of the 73 stories he had written since October. While the incident has been enormously embarrassing, give the Times credit for dissecting the scandal on its front page.
That The New York Times could fall victim to cheating no less brazen or obvious than that of a teenager lifting term papers off the Internet is sure to leave the nation's readers wondering how much they can trust the print media.
This is not the first time such incidents have happened. Janet Cooke of The Washington Post won a Pulitzer for reporting on an 8-year-old heroin addict in 1980. Turns out, no such child existed, and the Post returned the Pulitzer. In more recent years, two Boston Globe columnists resigned after allegations that they fabricated people and quotes in their columns.
Every newspaper -- whether it's The New York Times or the Steamboat Pilot & Today -- strives to inform and entertain in an accurate and honest manner. A newspaper's credibility rests on its ability to find and report truthful information fairly, to quote people correctly and to attribute information appropriately.
No newspaper is without error. Mistakes are an unfortunate reality of this business, and it is every newspaper's obligation to report and correct such mistakes promptly. But in general, such mistakes are the result of simple human error. When the deceit is intentional, as it seems it was in Blair's case, it is disheartening. Such actions hurt the credibility of honest, hard-working journalists everywhere.
Sadly, Blair won't be the last reporter to lose sight of the tenets of good journalism.
Fortunately, the Jayson Blairs and Janet Cookes are the exception, not the rule, of the newspaper business.