By Casey Bukro
Jayson Blair lied, plagiarized and fabricated stories, shaming the New York Times where he worked.
Why would he do that, knowing that the eyes of the world were focused on one of the world’s great newspapers?
Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, seemly comes as close as anyone to an answer in a recent column — Blair simply believed he’d never get caught.
It’s a myth, says Blair, that fear of being caught keeps people from doing unethical things. After getting away with it, “once you cross that barrier where you know the chances are you won’t be caught, it becomes very hard to discipline yourself,” Pitts quotes Blair.
It’s a fantasy. And that could be part of the answer.
Anyone in journalism who believes nobody really pays attention to accuracy and fairness is delusional. The American Journalism Review, in writing about Blair, pointed to other journalists who met their downfalls through dishonesty. It’s usually a matter of time before the distortions that lying create are noticed.
Blair did leave a legacy of sorts. Some journalists contend media are more concerned about fact-checking now. Maybe.
Recently, films and television broadcasts focused on Blair.
“A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at the New York Times” is a 75-minute documentary.
Blair had a record of poor work habits at the New York Times, which should have raised red flags before it was too late to prevent what has been described as “one of the most notorious scandals in the history of American journalism.” Some heads rolled.
Now out of journalism, Blair is described as a “life coach.”
This season of Blair mania comes while several journalism organizations are writing or rewriting codes of ethics, such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Such documents usually list activities that journalists should or should not do.
But rarely do they mention consequences for people like Jayson Blair, who believe there are no consequences for lying, cheating and stealing. They just cross the barrier and set the stage for another scandal.