Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Disgraced reporter boasts of deception at US newspaper

THE GUARDIAN , NEW YORK

Jayson Blair, The New York Times reporter whose fabricated and plagiarized stories continue to send shock waves through one of the most influential newspapers in the US, has boasted of his deceptions and branded the paper a racist "snake pit."

In an interview with the weekly New York Observer which was published on Wednesday, Blair, 27, said he "couldn't stop laughing" at one part of the recent four-page correction that detailed his deceit. He said he hoped the incident would make the paper's editor "a little mature."

"I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism," he said, explaining that he was addicted to cocaine and alcohol and describing how race and racism had an effect on his career at the paper.

"I was drunk on assignment," he said, describing himself as a "former total cokehead."

"Drugs and alcohol were definitely part of my self-medication," Blair said.

"I was young at the New York Times," he said. "I was under a lot of pressure.

"I was black at the New York Times, which is something that hurts you as much as it helps you. I certainly have health problems, which probably led to me having to kill Jayson Blair, the journalist. I was either going to kill myself or I was going to kill the journalist persona ... Was I too young for a snake pit like that? Maybe."

Blair's agent, David Vigliano, plans to pitch his story to Hollywood executives and publishers by tomorrow with suggestions of a US$1 million advance.

Vigliano told The New York Observer, "It's a very deep and very textured and layered story, and he's a gifted writer. And no, those figures don't seem unreasonable at all, by any means."

Blair -- who wrote stories from places he had never been, concocted scenes he had never seen and plagiarized chunks of text from other sources -- said he laughed out loud when he read the correction of his description of the view from the family home of prisoner-of-war Private Jessica Lynch -- just freed by American forces in Iraq -- in Palestine, West Virginia.

Blair, who wrote the piece from Brooklyn, described how Lynch's father "had choked up as he stood on the porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures."

"The description was just so far off from reality," Blair said. "The way they described it in the Times story -- someone read a portion of it for me. I just couldn't stop laughing."

Blair, who had previously expressed regret for the trouble he caused, said he had been angered by suggestions that he had been allowed to get away with his wrongdoings because he was black and suggestions that affirmative action had led to his over-promotion.

"Anyone who tells you that my race didn't play a role in my career at the New York Times is lying to you," he said.

"Both racial preferences and racism played a role. And I would argue that they didn't balance each other out. Racism had more of an impact," he said.

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