The firing of Jayson Blair

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue May 13 08:09:13 MDT 2003

The firing of Jayson Blair
Panic and hysteria reign at the New York Times
By Bill Vann and David North
12 May 2003

The New York Times’ extraordinary public denunciation Sunday of one of 
its junior reporters, Jayson Blair, is a serious episode that warrants 
close examination. It is a signal of deep crisis, demoralization, panic 
and cowardice at an institution that has long referred to itself as the 
“newspaper of record”.


Blair’s alleged offenses should be placed in a broader political 
context. To describe his lifting of quotations and false description of 
scenic details as a “low point” in the history of the Times is absurd.

This was the newspaper, after all, that employed Walter Duranty in the 
1930s, the correspondent who deliberately covered up the crimes of 
Stalin and defended the integrity of the Moscow frame-up trials that led 
to the physical liquidation of the leading figures of the October 1917 
revolution and inaugurated a wholesale reign of terror by the Soviet 
Stalinist bureaucracy that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. 
The Times still proudly lists Duranty as one of its Pulitzer Prize winners.

During World War II, the newspaper made an editorial decision to 
suppress coverage of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were 

There are certainly more recent incidents beside which Blair’s alleged 
behavior pales to insignificance. In 1999-2000, the newspaper led a 
full-throated witch hunt against Chinese-American scientist Wen Ho Lee, 
described by the White House as “explosive and near hysterical 
investigative reporting,” that led to Lee’s imprisonment for nine months 
and could have helped bring about his trial and execution.

The newspaper offered only a grudging apology for its reprehensible 
victimization of Lee and did not discipline any of the reporters 
involved. But in contrast to the actions of Blair, which were without 
any obvious malicious intent, the witch hunt of Wen Ho Lee arose out of 
the right-wing agenda of Times reporter Jeff Gerth. This was the same 
man who earlier had initiated the newspaper’s obsessive and unprincipled 
investigation of former President Clinton’s Whitewater investment.

The hysterical campaign against Blair supposed “deception” is unfolding 
in the immediate aftermath of a war that was justified on the basis of 
patent lies by the Bush administration, justified and defended by the 
media as a whole and the Times in particular. Having promoted aggression 
against Iraq on the grounds that it was necessary to eliminate “weapons 
of mass destruction”, the newspaper’s senior foreign affairs columnist 
Thomas Friedman recently wrote, “Bush doesn’t owe the world any 
explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the 
White House hyped this issue).”

Thus, lying—by both the government and the Times—to promote a war in 
which tens of thousands of people die is not a problem, but copying a 
quote from another newspaper is a capital offense. Such are the paper’s 
journalistic standards.

One only has to compare Blair’s conduct to that of one of the 
newspaper’s more senior correspondents, Judith Miller, who has served as 
a willing conduit for misinformation from neo-conservative circles 
promoting war. She has specialized in stories built on not a single 
verifiable fact, repeatedly proclaiming evidence substantiating the 
existence of “weapons of mass destruction”. The Times recently insisted 
that the fact that Ms. Miller is associated with the right-wing, 
pro-Zionist Middle East Forum of Daniel Pipes, which has advocated war 
not only against Iraq but Syria and Lebanon as well, was no violation of 
the paper’s standards of objectivity.



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