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New York Times executives apologize for mistakes in Blair scandal

From From Francois Bringer and Rose Arce
CNN Producers


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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Top executives of The New York Times met Wednesday with staffers to apologize for mistakes they made regarding the handling of former reporter Jayson Blair, who fabricated and plagiarized portions of his stories over a period of years.

Howell Raines, the Times' executive editor, told the staff he would not resign as the result of the scandal, and would "serve as head of the paper until Arthur (publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.) said he wasn't," according to staff members who attended.

Raines said he knew the paper had been hurt by the situation.

"I know our institution has been damaged ... I accept my responsibility for that, and I intend to fix it," a Times statement quoted Raines as saying.

Editors promised staff members an internal committee will review their handling of Blair, who worked at the paper for five years, starting there as an intern.

In the two-hour meeting, Raines, Sulzberger and managing editor Gerald Boyd said they were sorry for their mistakes and apologized for "the pain caused by their oversights," the Times statement said.

Blair, meanwhile, released a statement Wednesday to several New York newspapers and The Associated Press, apologizing once again.

"I remain truly sorry for my lapses in journalistic integrity," his statement said. "I continue to struggle with recurring issues that have caused me great pain."

Blair added that "no Times employee assisted me in any of my deceptions."

Some Times staffers said the paper will recover from the incident.

"I think that people are very discouraged by this, but not downhearted. I've been at this paper for 40 years ... and I've seen some bad patches," veteran reporter R.W. Apple said outside the meeting. "This is a bad patch. They'll be brighter lights later."

One unidentified staffer leaving the meeting said the mood was "upbeat" inside.

"They were trying to fix the problem."

But another staffer said employees were angry and emotional as they questioned why top editors had been duped by Blair and whether his race had played a role. Blair is 27 and black.

That staffer, who asked not to be identified, said many were not satisfied that top management is taking responsibility for the incident.

The meeting was called one day after the newspaper acknowledged Blair was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in connection with allegations that "his reporting conduct violated the law."

The newspaper would not elaborate on what the investigation encompasses, but it has been detailing in its pages instances of "journalistic fraud" by Blair, in which he fabricated stories and quotes, plagiarized other publications and filed fake expense reports to make it appear he was traveling on assignment when he was actually at home.

The Times said it did not request the criminal investigation but would cooperate.

The meeting Wednesday turned top Times editors and the publisher into their own news story, as they navigated a crowd of reporters on their way inside the Loews Astor Theater to meet their staff. None of the Times hierarchy commented on the meeting.

A demonstrator outside carried a sign: "Out of Work NY Times Reporter - Will Lie for Food." The newspaper's own reporter on the Blair story scrambled to get interviews outside the meeting.


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