So That’s How You Do It.
“In a racially charged book proposal bristling with anger at the New York Times, Jayson Blair likens himself to teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo and rages at the newspaper he calls ‘my tormentor, my other drug, my slavemaster.’
The proposed book, which some literary agents say could bring the disgraced former reporter a six-figure advance, is titled ‘Burning Down My Master’s House.'” — “Blair Book Proposal Lashes Out at Paper,” Washington Post, 5/27/03
It’s an interesting point in time to ask the question of whether there is any percentage in doing things honestly if one wants to get ahead. Let us stipulate that most excellent journalists, working diligently for decades could not yank a six-figure advance out of a book publisher for a first book (a memoir, no less) regardless of how excellent their book might be. Blair may be richly compensated for nothing more than being a spectacularly bad reporter for a very few years, and will have an opportunity to blame his downfall on an institution that gave him rather more trust and opportunity than he deserved.
And indeed there’s a real chance at the end of this, more people will blame the New York Times for the implosion of Jayson Blair than Jayson Blair himself (check the Blogoverse for confirmation). There is no penalty for Jayson Blair to have screwed up as badly as he has, except the possible deep-seated self-loathing that comes from knowing that you’ve screwed up incredibly badly, and it’s nearly all your own fault. But of course, any misgivings that Blair may have had appear to be gone now in a wave of personal calculus regarding how to make this all work for him.
As for Blair’s book itself, I figure it will sell pretty well, and will have two primary audiences: Conservatives, who are wallowing in the pleasure of seeing a liberal bastion like the Times take a hit, and journalists, who like nothing better than a long deep plunge into schadenfreude, especially as it regards the NYT, which nearly all of them would plunge ice picks into each others’ eyes in order to work at. I don’t expect anything would be able to keep conservatives from buying the book, since as a class they’ve shown time and again that their hatred of liberals outstrips their stated statutes of morality, i.e., they’re willing to reward deception and incompetence so long as it’s the Times that goes down. Indeed, if most of the major publishing houses cames to their sense and chose not to reward Blair for screwing up — which they won’t — I would expect some place like Regnery Publishing (motto: “We’re still making book on Clinton!”) would step in and generously offer its services.
But I do hope journalists will avoid the temptation of rewarding Blair for his actions. Schadenfreude or not, this is not primarily the story of the New York Times betraying the public trust, it’s the story of Jayson Blair imploding and then trying to find a way to make it someone else’s fault but his own. And if journalists can’t look at it that way, they should think of it like this: Every Blair book that gets bought reinforces the message that as far as journalism goes, hard work and effort don’t matter so long as you can cause enough damage to others on your own way down to Hell. I don’t know that a momentary spasm of Schadenfreude is worth that.