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Blair Says Media Have Others Sick Like Him

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

N.Y. Times Scandal Figure Meets With Black Journalists

After Speech, Chris Matthews Calls Obama "Postracial"

Polling Firm Says Fox News Is Most Trusted

Haiti Earthquake Was No. 1 Story Last Week, Survey Finds

NBC's Black Web Site to Work With Network News Shows

Short Takes

In November, Jayson Blair spoke at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. On Tuesday, he met for the first time with black journalists. "Much of what he said seemed to indicate that he has made peace with himself and is moving on," one said. (Credit: Washington and Lee University).

N.Y. Times Scandal Figure Meets With Black Journalists

Jayson Blair, arguably the most notorious recent figure in journalism, says there are plenty of people similar to him in newsrooms. The former New York Times reporter wasn't talking about plagiarists or fabricators, but people with mental illness.

"People just go into denial mode," Blair said Tuesday night. It was his first meeting with a group of black journalists since the 2003 scandal that forced his own resignation and that of the Times' top two editors, tarring other black journalists - and public confidence in the news media - in the process.

"People say, 'I couldn't believe you had a mental illness,'" Blair said. "I tell them, 'Look around the room - there are plenty of people who have similar problems.'"

Blair, 33, had dinner in Washington with a group of journalists who meet periodically. Some of the regulars refused to come. "I won't want to fight the urge all evening to insult him. I just don't buy his post-debacle mental health excuses," said one, joining a vigorous e-mail exchange. A former colleague at the Times, Lynette Holloway, wrote privately, "I don't blame them for not wanting to dine with him. He is one of the most practiced dissemblers I've ever met." She listed examples of what she said was Blair's cunning and deceit.

Blair answered questions from 18 others who did join him. He did not attribute his lying and fabrications to the bipolar disorder, exactly, but he said the illness exacerbated them.

"It played a role in some of the positive part of my career," he said, in an apparent reference to the energy boost attributable to the illness. "I wouldn't have been so over the top if I weren't so sick."

It wasn't until his deceits were discovered and his name became infamous that he realized he was ill, he said. "I resisted it until the scandal happened."

One's opinion of the Blair of 2010 depends in large part on whether one believes he really was bipolar. Those who know people who suffer from the illness were more inclined to do so. But they all had other questions, too.

What about Gerald Boyd, the Times' first and only black managing editor, who was portrayed as Blair's mentor? Not true, Blair said. "He took an interest in young reporters, but he certainly didn't mentor us. The person who mentored me was Jerry Gray," who was editor of the continuous news desk. "A lot of people get the Gerald-Jerry thing mixed up."

How did he get away with the plagiarism and fabrications for so long? Blair said he took advantage of internal changes at the Times, and the resulting turmoil. That meant that among the editors, "the communications channel got completely cut off." Moreover, there were the distractions of big news events: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the winter Olympics and the war in Afghanistan. The first fabrication was making up a missing last name. After that, it got easier.

What about the accusations that he made up material even before he got to the Times, at the University of Maryland student paper, the Diamondback, for instance, or at the Boston Globe? Denied. "I'd like to see the examples," Blair said.

Was he aware of the previous scandals involving Janet Cooke and others when he committed his fabrications at the Times? "I was very familiar with Janet Cooke, Patricia Smith, Mike Barnicle . . . I was probably even more judgmental and probably less forgiving than I expect people to be for me now, in retrospect," he said.

Does he bear any responsibility for the fallout that befell black journalists because of his actions? "I do. I bear responsibility for handing an excuse for not hiring black journalists or anything else they wanted to do. This got the ball rolling on maybe some prejudices that were already at play," he said, acknowledging that the results hurt not just black journalists, but the profession.

And finally, how is he coping with the knowledge that he'll never be a journalist again? "I can accept the idea," he said haltingly. "It makes sense. Journalism is a profession that I fell in love with," he continued, and hadn't found any substitute.

One assessment: "Rather than slinking away from scandal, tiptoeing out in his socks, Blair seemed to revel in the attention," said Ronald A. Taylor, a veteran journalist and copy editor at the Bureau of National Affairs. "Much of what he said seemed to indicate that he has made peace with himself and is moving on. All in all, a bright, but sad man whose self-absorption nearly pulled down a significant institution."

Blair now works as a life coach in Northern Virginia, specializing in substance abuse, mood, developmental and attention deficit disorders. How is he doing in his own recovery? Taylor asked. "It starts with defining what you really want," Blair replied. "My recovery isn't happening in my work. It's happening in my personal life," in his medical condition.

He was correct when he said bipolar disorder isn't unknown in newsrooms.

Almost four years ago, this column wrote about Valerie Burgher, a talented New York-based black journalist and writer who was bipolar. She was hit by a train in a Brooklyn subway station and died of her injuries. She was 34.

In 2004, John Head, a veteran of USA Today and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote about his own struggle with depression. In "Standing in the Shadows: Understanding and Overcoming Depression in Black Men," he told readers, "This book is a plea for black men with depression to walk out of the shadows, to stop suffering in silence, and a plea for our people to remove the stigma attached to mental illness."

He told Journal-isms that he does not know Blair and is not qualified to diagnose him, but that what Blair said rings true.

"People can be affected in ways that those who don't experience it don't understand. I would not be surprised if there were many white reporters and reporters from other races suffering," he said, but minority reporters face added pressures in the newsroom to prove themselves "in ways that might not be obvious to other reporters.

"The Jayson Blair incident illustrates the point. It kicked off a debate, 'are we being too easy on minority reporters?'" The case of Stephen Glass at the New Republic didn't prompt a similar discussion about white journalists, Head said. As CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" put it, Glass, who is white, "wrote dozens of high-profile articles for a number of national publications in which he made things up" - before the Blair incident.

Dr. Jeffrey Lyon Speller and Dr. Tanya Korkosirz, who have studied depression in corporate settings, have said that as many as 10 percent of senior executives have at least some symptoms, yet nine out of 10 of their cases go undiagnosed and untreated.

Amy AlexanderWith Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, Amy Alexander co-wrote "Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans" in 2000. At the dinner, Alexander was one of Blair's strongest supporters. "I'm a big believer in second chances, and Second Acts," she told Journal-isms by e-mail the next day. "Jayson Blair is not a demon, he is a guy with issues who screwed up.

"He did not set out to 'take down' the NYTimes, yet, bizarrely, many of my colleagues these many years later still insist on treating him as if he had a master plan to destroy that paper. It is time to get over it - just like everyone seems to have gotten over Mike Barnicle's serial plagiarism and fabrications at The Boston Globe. At least Blair owns up to his past journalistic sins."

Ron NixonRon Nixon, a Times investigative reporter who works in its Washington bureau, was also present. "He bears a tremendous amount of responsibility," Nixon said. "But we can't undo it. I'll take him at his word that he's got this illness."

Warren Leary, who retired in 2008 as a New York Times science writer, was less forgiving. "Certain things cause so much pain and harm that they go beyond forgiveness. Hitler was a schizophrenic and a manic depressive. I ain't forgiving that, either."

Lynne Adrine, a career coach and former ABC News producer, shared Alexander's position:

"Even as his deceptions were being revealed back in 2003, I remember saying to people, 'that boy must be crazy.' And even though I was being somewhat flip, there was a serious sentiment underneath," she said. "Normal, mentally stable people do not make the choices he did. As he responded to the group last night, his deceptions eventually required far more effort than either just doing his assignments or admitting his mistakes.

"And that is the pattern with mental illness. People do illogical things. In our anger for all the repercussions black journalists and journalism suffered, it seems we had taken off our reporters' hats, instead, embellishing Blair to be some Machiavellian evil genius who plotted to 'keep getting away' with his lies, and to damage black journalists and the New York Times as part of the bargain.

"Seriously. How else could he have seen this ending? I mean, how else could a normal, mentally well person see this ending? Any normal person could have seen the coming train wreck from miles away.

"If Blair had exclusively ascribed his problems to drugs or alcohol, would that have been better? Don't we need to acknowledge that many people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol are self-medicating to cope with underlying mental illness?

"And If we, as trained journalists, are so caught up with our own pain that we can't consider the possibility that Blair, overall, is telling the truth about his experience, what does that say about us?"

MSNBC's Chris Matthews said of President Obama's State of the Union speech, "I forgot he was black, for an hour." (Video of speech)

After Speech, Chris Matthews Calls Obama "Postracial"

President Obama included a swipe at television pundits in Wednesday night's State of the Union address. But the Twitterati and the blogosphere took swipes at MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who declared after the speech that the president really was "postracial. I forgot he was black for an hour."

"Chris Matthews has put his foot in his mouth before on live television, and following the State of the Union, he did it again," Michael Calderone reported for Politico.

In the State of the Union speech, Obama said, "Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values," he said.

"Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away."

"No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.

"No wonder there’s so much disappointment."

Matthews told viewers, "You know, he's gone a long way to become a leader of this country, and past so much history, in just a year or two. I mean, it's something we don't even think about. I was watching, I said, wait a minute, he's an African American guy in front of a bunch of other white people.

"And here he is president of the United States and we've completely forgotten that tonight — completely forgotten it. I think it was in the scope of his discussion. It was so broad-ranging, so in tune with so many problems, of aspects, and aspects of American life that you don't think in terms of the old tribalism, the old ethnicity. It was astounding in that regard. A very subtle fact. It's so hard to talk about. Maybe I shouldn't talk about it, but I am. I thought it was profound that way." (Video)

A CNN "flash poll" of those who watched the speech, who admittedly tend to be those of a president's party, found that 48 percent considered it "very positive," with 30 percent "somewhat positive" and 21 percent "negative."

In instant analysis on the Washington Post Web site, columnist Eugene Robinson wrote that the State of the Union "really is a venue where the president is the stage manager, in control of the theatrics. At the beginning of tonight’s speech, President Obama used this authority to his advantage.

"He opened his discussion of the economy by reciting his administration’s record. He mentioned the bank bailout, which he admitted was as popular 'as a root canal.' But he went on to talk about having cut taxes for first-time homebuyers, for 'parents trying to take care of their children,' for millions of Americans paying for college. These were calculated applause lines, and they brought Democrats to their feet. Republicans — the party of tax cuts — mostly sat stone-faced."

Editorial writer Jonathan Capehart, Robinson's Post colleague, wrote, "That Obama will renew his call for Congress to end of don't ask don't tell before the nation is a remarkable moment gays and lesbians should savor."

BET showed the speech live and had promised "a roundtable discussion and a series of original taped packages featuring a wide range of celebrity and political voices." But when the speech was over, the network cut to a commercial and in short order, an episode of "The Game" was airing.

[BET spokeswoman Tricia N. Newell explained on Thursday, "This was a 90 minute special that included the president’s speech. The show opened @ 9 p.m. We provided 10 minutes of pre speech commentary. The President took the podium @ 9:10 and the speech ended at 10:21. We followed with analysis and a taped spot and ended at 10:30 p.m.  The entire special along with the Republican response is available on BET.com."]

Fox News commentators appeared unmoved. Sean Hannity opened his show saying the nation had heard from "the anointed one."

Polling Firm Says Fox News Is Most Trusted

"Americans do not trust the major tv news operations in the country,  except for Fox News," according to the polling firm Public Policy Polling.

"Our newest survey looking at perceptions of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News finds Fox as the only one that more people say they trust than distrust. 49% say they trust it to 37% who do not.

"CNN does next best at a 39/41 spread, followed by NBC at 35/44, CBS at 32/46, and ABC at 31/46.

"Predictably there is a lot of political polarization in which outlets people trust. 74% of Republicans trust Fox News, but no more than 23% trust any of the other four sources. We already knew that conservatives don't trust the mainstream media but this data is a good prism into just how deep that distrust runs."

". . . These numbers suggest quite a shift in what Americans want from their news. A generation ago Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in the country because of his neutrality. Now people trust Fox the most precisely because of its lack of neutrality. It says a lot about where journalism is headed."

Haiti Quake Was No. 1 Story Last Week, Survey Finds

"Two stories combined to account for about half of the last week’s overall news coverage" (PDF), Mark Jurkowitz reported for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, "the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and the political aftershocks from a Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts.

"Filling 27% of the newshole, the situation in Haiti — from chaos on the streets to the expanding U.S. role — was the No. 1 story from January 18-24, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. It was the leading subject on newspaper front pages (19%), online (30%) and in network television (35%), as measured in PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index, which examines coverage in the most relied on mainstream outlets."

Meanwhile, "SOS Journalistes, a press advocacy group led by the prominent Haitian journalist Guyler Delva, reports that at least 11 journalists died in the January 12 earthquake outside Port-au-Prince," Carlos Laur??a reported for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "CPJ continues to investigate their identities and the circumstances in which they died."

Separately, CPJ's Jean Roland Chery reported, "More than two weeks after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, several community radio stations are still off the air. In the western and southeastern parts of the country, at least 16 stations are facing serious problems that have suspended their broadcasts, Sony Esteus, executive director of SAKS, a local organization of community radio stations, told CPJ. The earthquake obliterated SAKS’ office in the Bourdon neighborhood, east of Port-au-Prince."

In addition, Felix Gillette of the New York Observer reported that, "as NBC News employees return from the disaster zone, they will get the opportunity to relate their experiences to work-sanctioned therapists.

" 'There is an impact on reporters from seeing all these things,' Alexandra Wallace, a senior vice president at NBC News, told The Observer.

"According to Ms. Wallace, for years NBC News has offered counseling to staffers returning from such places as war zones. But in the wake of Haiti’s particular horrors, managers back in New York have stepped up efforts to remind staff members of the service."

NBC's Black Web Site to Work With Network Shows

TheGrio.com, the African American-oriented Web site from NBC, plans to take advantage of its NBC connection by naming 100 "History Makers in the Making" and spotlighting them on NBC News shows during Black History Month.

"Kicking off on 'Meet the Press' on Sunday, January 31 and running through February 6, individuals from 'TheGrio's 100' will be featured on all platforms of NBC News, including 'Today' and 'NBC Nightly News," an announcement said.

"In partnership with NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, and msnbc.com, TheGrio.com will present what will be the most robust offering of multi-media Black History content anywhere on the web.

"TheGrio's new 'Our History' section will feature news stories, commentary, and hundreds of video clips, including footage from NBC News' rich archives. Because Black History is made every day, the 'Our History' section will be a permanent fixture on the site and will consistently feature new content year round."

Spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski told Journal-isms that, "Meet the Press and Today's plans are still fluid, but Nightly will be running profiles of select individuals from TheGrio's 100 starting on Feb. 1."

Short Takes

  • Howard Zinn"Noted author and social activist Howard Zinn died of a heart attack Wednesday while traveling, his daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn, said," CNN reported Wednesday. "Zinn, author of 'A People's History of the United States,' was 89. "'A People's History of the United States,' first published in 1980, tells a history not often in seen in other books ‚Äî from the perspective of those not in a seat of power." Zinn discussed his legacy in this video.

  • Lou Dobbs, the former CNN anchor who is considering a run for public office, told ABC's "Nightline" Tuesday that "I'm trying" to become popular with Hispanics. "I might need their votes. And besides, I'm a hell of a nice guy. Why not?" Dobbs said. "Hell yes, I'm changing my tune." Anchor Terry Moran noted, "Dobbs told the Spanish language network Telemundo that now he actually supports a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants." Hispanic groups helped force Dobbs, who railed against illegal immigration, from his CNN show.

  • "Deseret Management Corp., which includes several media entities, including the Deseret News, is preparing to launch a Spanish-language newspaper that will focus on issues pertinent to the state's fastest-growing population segment," Jasen Lee reported Sunday in the Salt Lake City newspaper. "El Observador, scheduled to begin publication Feb. 9, will run three times a week, with editions published on Tuesdays, Thursdays and on weekends. The weekday editions will focus on hard news, while the weekend editions will include more features and family-oriented content."

  • Manny MedranoManny Medrano, former Supreme Court correspondent for ABC News in Washington, is leaving his latest job as a reporter at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles to return to practicing law. Medrano and John Carlton, federal narcotics prosecutors in Southern California at the height of the Mexican drug cartel's trafficking activities, have formed their own firm, Medrano & Carlton, the two announced on Tuesday. "I'll be wearing two hats ‚trial lawyer, and media dude. I'll continue to do a weekly legal segment for the KTLA newscast. My law practice will specialize in white collar criminal defense, complex business litigation, and crisis management," Medrano told Journal-isms.

  • "International press freedom groups, including CPJ, have released a new, in-depth report into the November massacre of 30 journalists and two media support workers in Maguindanao province, Philippines," Shawn W. Crispin reported for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "The 32-page document questions why roughly 100 gunmen believed to be involved in the election-related killings have yet to be arrested, and it emphasizes the need for international groups to closely monitor the investigation and court proceedings."

  • Harris Publications, publisher of XXL and other magazines, "is marking the beginning of 2010 with the release of Juicy, a magazine that according to Harris' XXL magazine's Web site, will be the 'first celebrity and lifestyle magazine for African-American women to sit on national newsstands alongside People, US Weekly, In Touch, Life & Style and OK,'" Drew Grant reported Tuesday for MediaBistro. "The first issue will launch in May and will join XXL as part of the Harris empire."

  • "Carlos Ferreyra, Programming Director at AOL Latino, was among the 1500 AOL employees laid off this month," Veronica Villafañe reported Tuesday on her Media Moves site. "He had been with the company over 6 years. Carlos previously worked for Univision online and before that was Latin American Editor at La Opinión."

  • "Racing Toward Diversity, a quarterly niche publication launched in 2009 by the South Bend Tribune, is profitable and growing, according to Director Michael Pozzi," Adolfo Mendez reported Tuesday for the Inland Press Association. "About 20,000 copies of the publication are printed each quarter by a local printer. It is then distributed mostly for free to Fortune 500 companies, members of the New York Stock Exchange and other venues. There are some paid subscriptions (a one-year subscription for four quarterly issues costs $14.95). It[s available online at RacingTowardDiversity.com."

  • The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication joined other journalism associations Tuesday in urging the Federal Communications Commission "to adopt rules preserving open and nondiscriminatory access to the internet." The association called a "myth" an argument advanced by some civil rights groups "that this regulation would stifle innovation and create disincentives for investment in next-generation broadband networks."

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Comments

Jayson Blair

Thanks for the story on Jayson Blair. Several years ago, a faculty member at the University of Maryland (my alma mater) shared with me that Mr. Blair suffered from a mental health disorder which required medication. I kept thinking that someone should set the record straight, so that others will know what really happened. We must discuss this disease particularly in the black community. We do not like to face its reality. It is a shame that journalists are unwilling to accept the truth of Blair's statements. It is reprehensible that the New York Times could use Mr. Blair's situation as a reason not to hire other black interns and reporters. At the time it all happened that was the big concern amongst black reporters. A bigger issue for newsrooms and employers generally are the legal ramifications of not understanding that bipolar disorder is a covered disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, one may not refuse to hire a person soley because of the disability. It also means that co-workers and supervisors may not create a hostile work environment for the employee based upon the disability. So, people might want to think twice before denigrating Mr. Blair and others because of this medical condition. The late Bebe Moore Campbell dealt with bipolar disorder in her last book, 72 Hold, a book most deserving of becoming a movie. As I read it, I recalled my father's two brothers' life-long struggle wtih bipolar disorder. The parallels between the book and my family's reality was eerily close. My family would rather have considered my uncles irresponsible drug addicts. In fact, they were very, very ill. One of them had schizophrenia mixed with bipolar. But, it is easier for us to call mental illness anything but what it is. I hope Mr. Blair uses his notoriety to become a powerful spokesperson for opening dialogue on this issue in our communities. Thanks, Karen P. Moody, Esq.

On Jayson Blair (by David Cay Johnston)

Lynette Holloway, a fine reporter, got it right in her observations on Jayson Blair's latest exercise in dissembling and narcissism. Blair created the impression at the NYT that he was under Gerald Boyd's wing, watching to see when Boyd went out to smoke and tagging along. Boyd did not appear, from his body language, to have much regard for Blair. However, for those who merely walked by and did not take time to observe the two of them closely and skeptically, their frequent joint appearances consuming nicotine on the 43rd Street sidewalk left an impression that was both false and damaging to Boyd. Blair has never seemed to grasp that he not only defiled the newspaper, he also reinforced stereotypes about non-white reporters, stereotypes so deeply ingrained that many white editors are oblivious to the difference between what they say and how they manage minority journalists. As journalists we would better spend our time listening to people who have worked hard to dig out facts rather than making them up; learning from people who act honorably instead of without regard for facts or readers-listeners-viewers. To paraphrase an ignored NYT memo: Stop listening to Blair right now. -- David Cay Johnston

On Jayson Blair

I don't find Jayson Blair believable because he remains in extreme denial over his overall actions at the New York Times. There are some people in the media with mental illnesses who are not their using their medical conditions as covers for negative professional behaviors. Mental illness should not be discounted under any circumstances because it could happen to anyone. Mr. Blair is using his bipolar disorder as a cop out for causing his own implosion.

On Jayson Blair

Thank you, Adrian DeVore, Lynette Holloway and David Cay Johnston. Couldn't have said it better myself. -- Todd Beamon

Matter of Trust

It's a matter of trust in Jayson that puzzles me.  We all trust journalists to be truthful and Mr. Blair just blatantly deceited the public and fabricated articles and lying to his editors.  It took time to uncover the truth but finally someone caught on to this troubled man.

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