Small World

The Jayson Blair saga continues. There is a staggeringly bizarre interview with him in the New York Observer today. It’s interesting (to me anyway) that he chooses the same sentence from the long Times article on him that I remarked on the other day.

In The Times’ lengthy May 11 account of Mr. Blair’s long trail of deception, it reported that “the porch overlooks no such thing.” Mr. Blair found this funny. “The description was just so far off from reality,” he said. “The way they described it in The Times story—someone read a portion of it for me. I just couldn’t stop laughing.”

We must have noticed the same thing, or perhaps different angles on the same thing. The hint of emotion in that phrase – ‘the porch overlooks no such thing.’ It is such a giveaway, isn’t it. I could tell the reporters were angry, and no doubt Blair could tell that and a great deal besides. So he laughed and laughed…

But in truth Blair is not the only odd thing about this article. The reporter – the one reporting on the reporter – says some fairly peculiar things too. This, for instance:

Why had a promising 27-year-old reporter with a career in high gear at the most respected news organization in the world thrown it all away in a pathological binge of dishonesty?

I’ve read and heard that characterization of the New York Times many times since the Blair story broke. The most respected news organization in the world? Really? Are you quite sure about that? Is it just barely possible that that’s a somewhat parochial and unexamined view of the matter? Is it conceivable that there are one or two other fairly good news organizations somewhere else on the planet? Is it also possible that the New York Times is in fact not all that good in any case? That its reputation is a good deal larger than its merit? That we’ve (we in the US that is) been hypnotized by that reputation into simply assuming that it’s the best not only newspaper but ‘news organization’ in the world? Or that other local newspapers in the US are so bad that the Times in comparison seems like a miraculous shining star? Whatever the explanation, I would submit that the BBC, for example, is rather well thought-of, and that there may be one or two German or French or Australian or Canadian newspapers that aren’t dramatically worse than the New York Times.

And then there’s this:

He was one of those rare people who seemed preordained to be a journalist—a reporter suffused with a kinetic combination of charm, drive and ambition that compelled his co-workers, even in the wake of his scandal, to describe him as “talented.”

Those are the attributes that mark someone out as a preordained journalist? Charm, drive and ambition? Not intelligence, curiosity, dedication, verbal ability, observation? Charm? Charm? What is this, high school? A popularity contest? A presidential election? What’s charm got to do with anything? Journalists are supposed to find out what the truth about a given subject is and then write about it, aren’t they? They’re not supposed to flash a cute smile around the room while they make up the story out of their own adorable heads. No thanks; keep the charm and give us accuracy, attention, evidence, reliable sources, fact-checking, and other charmless staples of good journalism.

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