Thursday, September 23, 2004

Jayson Blair weighs in on Rathergate

I had occasion to refer to Jayson Blair for a piece of writing for my day job, putting Rathergate in context for (what I consider to be) a left-of-center publication.

Now, however, I've read Blair's comments on the mess, and he contributes some insights to the issue.

He makes an observation similar to what others have, but not quite frequently enough, which is that even if the forged documents had been real, the underlying story, which Rather keeps pointing to, amounts to a big "Who cares?":
You really have to step back and look at this from the outside. No. 1, it was not news that George Bush was wild as a young man. He has pretty much said that himself. No. 2, it was not news that George Bush came from a family that had influence. What would be shocking would be if he did not use that influence. He has three-and-one-half years and two wars as President and if can’t make a judgment on that, as opposed to his personal life three decades ago, then there might as well not be elections.

But teven more to the point is the fact that Blair's inventions added color; Rather's fabrications were the essence of the story:
I have a lot of sympathy for Dan Rather and CBS News with its storied history. Despite the comparisons, I see a lot of differences between my situation and the memo flap with Rather. Obviously, the stakes are much higher in this case. I lifted paragraphs and made up color. It is disconcerting that CBS could – best case scenario – was misled on a non-news story that theoretically would be embarrassing to the President in an election year.

In my situation, I was dealing with a serious undiagnosed mental illness – manic depressive illness – and was suffering from paranoid delusions that were divorced from realty. In my case, what I was trying to do was avoid going very far from home. In Rather’s case, I think what’s really unfortunate is that a guy with a tremendous reputation may have been abused by his source and fallen victim to bad staff work. It’s not implausible because often television anchormen do not do the reporting for the stories they front. And probably no one in the television news business has more responsibilities than Dan Rather as managing editor of CBS News and his responsibilities for “60 Minutes” Junior.

I've heard Blair on the radio before and was impressed at his willingness to take responsibility for himself and his decisions. After reading his response, I'm still impressed:
My first reaction when a friend asked about the Dan Rather memo flap was to ponder whether anyone learned anything from the mess I got myself into. Nobody knows the value of credibility better than I do. I’d give up the book royalties if I could get my credibility and career back.

Blair is out of the news business, but there's every reason to give him a chance to show what he's learned. But if Rather doesn't take a similar fall, then the journalism establishment owes an apology to Jayson Blair.

SOURCE: Allah.

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