Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Review of Jayson Blair's Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times

Blair, as many of you may recall, recently catapulted to infamy with the discovery that he wrote scores of articles for a paper that considers itself our journal of record - The New York Times. His articles included things like interviews that never took place, and long descriptions of places he had never been to. Some times there was research from, say the internet, or an Atlas, or whatever. But they were rarely modeled after actual events.

Seeking to capitalize on his infamy he recently wrote a book, Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times. The book seems to do two things. First, it dishes out lots of gossip about the Times. Second, it serves as a self-serving set of excuses for all the crap he pulled at the times.

There is a lot of weirdness that goes on at the times. First, there are all these things traded for mentions in stories. Reporters get money, gifts, trips, and sex, lots of sex, in exchange for a nice plug in a times articles.

Moreover, articles are not written as they appear. If an article was datelined "Atlanta" it does not mean that the article was really written in Atlanta. But it is supposed to guarantee that the author was in Atlanta sometime between the time the story was written and the time it was published. But Blair was above this. Being there was just a technicality, so why bother?

The other thing that the book does is make excuses for Blair. He is black. Apparently in the world's most liberal paper, this caused him problems. He also attempted to invoke black privilege in the title with a gratuitous reference to his "master". His annoying upbringing, and drug problem also caused trouble, and we are supposed to feel bad for him. I really did not.

Frankly the book was not really worth reading. Blair is a good writer, but it is an attempt to whine his way out of his own embarrassment. It is quite pathetic actually.

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