A Blair-ing Fraud

Jayson Blair (search) wanted to be famous. He did not want to be this famous.

He did not want hundreds of articles to be written about his deceptions as a New York Times reporter. He did not want hundreds of segments on radio and TV shows to be devoted to his audacity, his duplicity, his fraudulent practice of journalism.

Jayson Blair wanted people to know his name. He did not want them to know he made up other peoples' names, as well as their ages and hometowns and job titles and military ranks and events in which they participated and words which they spoke. He did not want people to know that, on some of the occasions when he did get his facts straight, the reason was that he had plagiarized the reporting of others. And he did not want his employers to know that he did not even show up for many of the stories to which he had been assigned.

Jayson Blair was, apparently, a master of office politics. He will have a hard time finding another office to admit him.

Last Sunday, the Times called Blair's misdeeds "a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." These, actually, are but 17 of the 7,200 words the Times published that day on the matter, for which it must be heartily commended.

Too often, the media offer their apologies and corrections in but a line or two; the Times provided a dissertation. Too often, the media offer their apologies and corrections on the back pages; the Times started its mea culpa on page one and ran through two more entire pages in the first section.

But there is more to the matter than this.

Blair started betraying trust more than three-and-a-half years ago. His job performance was a low point almost since the first day he held the job. Why was he not punished earlier? Why did it take until now to accuse him of violating the standards which the New York Times so ardently professes?

The reason is simple. It is also appalling.

Standards do not matter. Standards are out of fashion. Standards are high-button shoes and whalebone corsets and horse-drawn carriages or possibly even dinosaur eggs. Ours is a society which does not believe in standards, a society that cringes at the prospect of imposing standards because, if it does, it will hurt the feelings of those who cannot meet them.

That is why our schools give A's to B students and B's to C students and passing marks to boys and girls who have not only failed to master their subjects, but who don't even know the numbers of the rooms in which they are taught.

That is why our athletic teams, especially those for younger boys and girls, insist all participants receive awards, as a result of which, at my daughter's gymnastic meets, it is possible to fall off the beam and stumble getting back up and fail to dismount with even a modicum of grace and still win a medal in the event for finishing in a three-way tie for 17th place among 10-year-olds.

That is why so much relevant information about a defendant's background is not admissible in a court of law and why so much relevant information about a potential employee's background does not have to be provided to an employer.

That is why the New York Times let Jayson Blair make a mockery of journalism until it was the Times itself that became an object not just of mockery, but, even worse, of disbelief.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .

Respond to the Writer