Dis­graced jour­nal­ist Blair apol­o­gizes for pla­gia­rism that ‘dam­aged the pro­fes­sion’

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - By ALANA PEDALINO Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

COL­LEGE PARK — Jayson Blair re­turned to the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s jour­nal­ism school to dis­cuss ethics April 6 for the first time since his 2003 pla­gia­rism and fab­ri­ca­tion scan­dal rocked the na­tion, re­sult­ing in his res­ig­na­tion from The New York Times.

“It kills me per­son­ally that [my pla­gia­rism and fab­ri­ca­tion] dam­aged the pro­fes­sion,” Blair said when prompted by univer­sity lec­turer Sharon O’Mal­ley. “The part that re­ally kills me are the peo­ple that I hurt in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life who had done ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong. I’m def­i­nitely sorry about it.”

Blair was in­vited by se­nior Amer­i­can stud­ies and jour­nal­ism ma­jor Shan­non Gal­lagher as part of a project for her jour­nal­ism ethics class.

“I was as­signed pla­gia­rism as my [pre­sen­ta­tion] topic, and I think that’s one of those top­ics that as jour­nal­ists we take for granted, like ‘yeah, yeah, of course I’m not go­ing to pla­gia­rize,’” Gal­lagher said.

“Jayson Blair, who went [to the jour­nal­ism school], ob­vi­ously had the con­nec­tion and [I thought] it would be a re­ally good ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence to bring in some­one who’s done that,” she ex­plained. “He was in our shoes one time and of course he told him­self ‘I’ll never break th­ese eth­i­cal rules,’ and ended up [do­ing that].”

Through­out the ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with stu­dents and fac­ulty, Blair an­swered ques­tions about his mo­tives for pla­gia­riz­ing, his tur­bu­lent time as ed­i­tor in chief of the in­de­pen­dent stu­dent news­pa­per, The Di­a­mond­back, dur­ing his col­lege years and how his life changed post-scan­dal.

Blair also worked for Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice in its An­napo­lis bureau in the fall of 1995. CNS is op­er­ated by Mary­land’s Philip Mer­rill Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism and also has stu­dent-staffed bu­reaus in Col­lege Park and Wash­ing­ton.

Cur­rently work­ing as a life coach in Cen­tre­ville, Va., Blair said he ini­tially got into jour­nal­ism be­cause he saw its heal­ing power and abil­ity to ed­u­cate, en­ter­tain and add value to peo­ple’s lives. He also said he be­came con­scious of his pla­gia­rism at The New York Times when pres­sure and ex­haus­tion on the job led him to take a quote from the As­so­ci­ated Press and pass it off as his own.

“Once you cross that eth­i­cal line again and again … it be­comes a lot eas­ier to do it,” Blair said.

He added that he al­ways felt a sense of panic the mo­ment he sub­mit­ted his story to his ed­i­tor, wor­ry­ing he would be caught each time.

But he said there’s prob­a­bly noth­ing his ed­i­tors could have done.

“Jour­nal­ism re­lies on im­plicit trust,” Blair said. “Ed­i­tors can only get so far.”

“Peo­ple would love to have a bul­let­proof way to fer­ret out what I did … but peo­ple who do what I did are just like ev­ery­one else,” he said.

Blair also de­nied fab­ri­cat­ing or pla­gia­riz­ing dur­ing his time at The Di­a­mond­back, but ac­knowl­edged that his man­age­ment style “left much to be de­sired.” He said he did not con­sciously pla­gia­rize un­til he was at The New York Times.

At The Di­a­mond­back, he said his co-work­ers no­ticed his self-de­struc­tive ten­den­cies dur­ing his ten­ure as ed­i­tor in chief.

“I have a spe­cial gift for rub­bing peo­ple the wrong way some­times,” he said.

In 2013, The Di­a­mond­back pub­lished a three-part se­ries that chron­i­cled Blair’s stormy ten­ure as ed­i­tor in chief, punc­tu­ated by what the pa­per said was slop­pi­ness, care­less­ness, missed deadlines, “ques­tion­able ethics” and lying. He left the pa­per be­fore his term was up af­ter he pub­lished an er­ro­neous story spec­u­lat­ing about the cause of a stu­dent’s death. Blair never grad­u­ated from Mary­land.

Carl Ses­sions Stepp, a pro­fes­sor at the jour­nal­ism school who knew Blair, lis­tened to his re­marks Wed­nes­day.

“I thought he did a good job of show­ing that he un­der­stood how much dam­age he had done and show­ing con­tri­tion for the peo­ple he had hurt and show­ing con­cern for try­ing to turn his life around and I re­spected him for com­ing, for tak­ing ev­ery­one’s ques­tions and an­swer­ing tough ques­tions,” Stepp said. “As to whether he was be­ing truth­ful or not, I don’t know what’s in­side his head, but I ap­pre­ci­ate him be­ing there and say­ing what he had to say.”

In spite of his failed jour­nal­ism ca­reer and eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tions, Blair said he has no prob­lem find­ing clients in his cur­rent field and that he “look(s) at the good things that came out of it,” in­clud­ing be­ing di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der and gain­ing senses of em­pa­thy and hu­mil­ity.

“It’s kind of easy to just see this whole thing as he was a bad per­son,” se­nior jour­nal­ism ma­jor and dis­cus­sion at­tendee Elaine Hunt said. “I thought it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing how he was able to come to terms with it and sep­a­rate it from him­self as a per­son … like ‘this is where I am now in my life and it’s ok, it hap­pens and that’s life.’”

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