Shamed Times Reporter Signs Deal for Memoir

Ex-New York Times (search) reporter Jayson Blair (search) has agreed to write a memoir about his life and the fabrication scandal that forced him to resign from the Gray Lady and ultimately bought down the paper's top two editors, The Post has learned.

Mainstream New York publishers showed little interest in the former Timesman after his May resignation, but Los Angeles-based New Millennium Press has agreed to publish the book, to be called "Burning Down My Master's House: My Life and the New York Times," sources said.

A contract in the six-figure range could be signed as early as today for a book expected to hit newsstands in spring 2004.

New Millennium most recently took a chance with former "Politically Incorrect" talk show host Bill Maher (search), who was forced to resign from ABC after making comments about the war on terrorism. The book - "When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden" - became a bestseller.

The offbeat Beverly Hills publishing house is headed by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin, who also produce audio books and frequently take stakes in movie projects.

Earlier in their careers, they specialized in celebrity scandal books when they headed the now-defunct Dove Entertainment.

The move to give Blair a lucrative six-figure deal is sure to rankle some journalistic purists.

Ultimately, the Blair scandal served as a lightning rod for opposition in the trenches at The Times to then-executive editor Howell Raines (search), who had said he was trying to "speed up the metabolism" of the paper and serve as a "change agent."

Insiders didn't like the changes - and pointed to Blair as an example of a star system run amok.

Ultimately, Raines and his managing editor, Gerald Boyd (search), were forced to resign by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

"I think it is appalling," Lisa Collier Cool, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, said of the Blair book deal.

"The man has no respect for copyrights," she said. "He stole people's words, he stole people's jobs and he stole readers' trust. I for one have no intention of buying this book," Cool said.

One Times insider, alluding to Blair's self-admitted cocaine problem, sounded skeptical about his former colleague's ability to produce the volume. "The question is will he deliver it - or will the advance go up his nose," he said.

But another publishing source who has seen a portion of the manuscript said it gets into what was going on inside Blair's head and tells about his time inside a mental institution, his childhood and the final days before he was caught.

"He talks about things that were going on inside his head that few people would be willing to admit to their closest friends - much less publish in a book," the source said.

"It's something that many people are going to be able to relate to and, in turn, be shocked by. It goes far beyond race and under the skin of humanity."