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New York Times: Reporter routinely faked articles

Probe alleges made-up quotes, plagiarism in at least 36 stories

Jayson Blair
Jayson Blair

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The New York Times has concluded, after an extensive internal investigation, that one of its former reporters committed "frequent acts of journalistic fraud."

In a 7,500 word article published Saturday on its Web site, the prestigious newspaper accuses the reporter of making up reports from other cities while writing from his apartment in Brooklyn. The paper says the reporter invented quotes, wrote about scenery from published photographs and stole material from other news organizations.

The article, to be published in Sunday's print editions, details how reporter Jayson Blair, 27, was quickly promoted through the ranks from intern to the national desk despite a history of corrections, sloppy reporting and lectures from his editors.

Blair did not comment on the paper's investigation, though he was given numerous opportunities to defend himself or provide accurate information, the newspaper reported.

Blair started as an intern who was promoted to a full-time job covering police and eventually covered such high-profile stories as the Washington-area sniper investigation and the homecoming of rescued prisoner of war Pfc. Jessica Lynch. The Times articles calls Blair's career a "profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."

Blair resigned this month after the San Antonio Express-News raised questions about whether he had plagiarized its story about the family of a soldier missing in Iraq.

The Times said its own investigation showed Blair's deceptions to be much more widespread, with problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles Blair had written since transferring to the national desk in October. The investigation is continuing into more than 600 articles he wrote, and the paper is urging readers who know of additional discrepancies to come forward.

Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. called the revelations "a huge black eye.

"It's an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers," he said.

The paper said its investigation showed that Blair, while assigned as a roving national reporter, was actually spending much of his time in New York when his editors thought he was covering stories in remote locations. Blair turned in receipts from New York restaurants and stores that he portrayed as receipts from his travels. He never asked to be reimbursed for flights, hotels or rental cars, the newspaper reported.

To create the illusion that he was on the scene, the Times alleged, Blair peppered his stories with details obtained from photographs of the events and material from other news organizations.

He used his cell phone and computer to communicate with editors, pretending to be on assignment in another city.

Quotes in stories were attributed to people who have subsequently told the Times they never spoke to Blair, the Times reported. One of those instances involved Lynch's family.

According to the Times, no one in Lynch's family remembers speaking to Blair, even though he filed five articles, datelined from their hometown of Palestine, West Virginia, that vividly described them and their home. The article described the home as overlooking tobacco fields and cattle pastures, when it, in fact, does not.

Probe also faults reporter's supervisors

The investigation also raised questions about the editorial supervision of Blair, who came to the paper in June 1999 after having worked as an intern there the previous summer while a student at the University of Maryland. When he was hired, Times officials assumed he had graduated, but college officials say he has a year of course work left to complete, the Times reported.

By January 2001, Blair had worked his way from police reporter to staff reporter on the metropolitan desk, even though some of the editors with whom he worked expressed concerns about his work, according to the Times investigation.

In April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, was so concerned about the quality of Blair's work and the number of errors he was making that he sent an e-mail to newsroom administrators saying, "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."

Blair was eventually promoted.

Blair was reprimanded and took the first of two brief leaves. He was watched closely for a short time, and the accuracy of his work improved, the newspaper reported. Soon he was transferred to the national desk, where he was sent to cover the Washington-area sniper shootings last fall.

Shortly after receiving the assignment, Blair wrote a front-page exclusive that reported that the U.S. attorney had forced investigators to end their interrogation of suspect John Muhammad just as he was ready to confess. He attributed the information to five unnamed law enforcement sources.

Blair's editors never asked him to identify the sources, the Times reported, and the paper concedes that the article, which drew fire from federal officials at the time, was flawed.

National editors said they were unaware of Blair's accuracy problems and said they would have asked more questions if they had known of previous editors' concerns. The newspaper conceded that poor communication among senior editors, as well as a lack of complaints from the subjects of his articles, allowed Blair to escape detection.

Blair's expense reports also did not raise a red flag at the Times, despite the fact that he did not submit a single receipt for a hotel room, rental car or airplane ticket during a five-month period when he purportedly filed stories from 20 cities in six states, the Times reported.

Blair, who is black, came to the Times as part of an internship program designed to help the paper attract more minority reporters. Times officials insisted that fact had nothing to do with his subsequent hiring and quick rise to full reporter status, despite editors' concerns about his work.

"He was a young, promising reporter who had done a job that warranted promotion," said Gerald Boyd, the paper's managing editor.

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