One of the key stories we covered and uncovered at Editor & Publisher when I was editing the magazine from about 2001 to 2009 was the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal at The New York Times from 2003. Among other things it led to the exit of top editor Howell Raines, who had just directed the paper to a boatload of Pulitzers.
Now I see the first doc on it, A Fragile Trust, is airing tonight on the Independent Lens series on PBS—via Channel 13 in New York and one hopes elsewhere. It includes interviews with Blair, Raines and others involved. Just to take you back: one of his key made-up stories involved the reaction in Jessica Lynch’s hometown to the daring rescue Iraq. In what one might call a “classic” bit of synergy, the coverage of the rescue itself by the Times and other media outlets also partly based on lies coming from US officials and the military. (For more of Blair’s “work”, go here.)
I remember when Jayson sat for an interview with Joe Strupp in my office when he was promoting his quickie book—which was a complete bomb despite wide publicity. For the following month no one would sit in the “Jayson Blair Chair.” It became kind of a gag, but was no laughing matter.
Still, Judy Miller and Michael Gordon deserved a worse fate, and Raines’s bigger sin was the paper’s coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war just a few months before the Blair scandal broke. Here’s a preview of the new film: