Blair was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Diamondback, for the 1996-97 school year. According to a letter later signed by 30 staffers, Blair made four serious errors as a reporter and editor that brought his integrity into question. The letter-signers alleged that questions about those errors were ignored by the board that owned the paper. Among the mistakes, they cited an award-winning story about a student who died of a cocaine overdose, who was subsequently found to have actually died of a heart ailment.
Blair became a summer intern at The New York Times in 1998, and at the conclusion was offered an extended internship. He indicated that he had to complete some coursework in order to graduate, and The Times agreed to defer it. He returned to The Times in January 1999, claiming he had received his degree, when in fact he had not. That November, he became an "intermediate reporter."
By 2000, his editors were castigating Blair for the high error rate in his articles and his sloppy work habits. In January 2001, despite making more mistakes than any other writer in the paper's Metro section, Blair, who also wrote one-third more stories than any reporter in that section, was made a full-time staff reporter.
Continued mistakes caused Blair's editor, Jonathan Landman, to send a memo to the Times' management asking them "to stop Jayson from writing for The New York Times. Right now." Instead, in 2002, Blair was promoted to the national desk.
Despite recurring criticism of his performance, he was assigned to the Beltway sniper attacks, in particular because he knew the area and seemed "hungry." Blair wrote 52 stories during the sniper attacks. His reporting errors were so serious that one led a prosecutor to hold a press conference to denounce the claim that "all the evidence" pointed to Lee Boyd Malvo being the shooter. The error rate of Blair's material again became an issue internally. In another instance, Fairfax County, Virginia prosecutor Bob Horan claimed that 60 percent of a story written by Blair, in which he was quoted, was inaccurate.
Despite such accusations and many corrections the paper was forced to make in the wake of his reporting, Blair continued to cover critical stories for The New York Times, moving from the sniper attacks to national coverage of the war in Iraq. In his four years at The Times, Blair wrote more than 600 articles.
On April 28, 2003, Blair received a call from Times national editor Jim Roberts, asking him about similarities between a story he had written two days earlier and one written by San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez on April 18. Hernandez had a summer internship at The Times years earlier, and had worked alongside Blair. She contacted The Times after details and quotes in Blair's story appeared exactly the same as in hers.
Blair's plagiarism of Hernandez’s article was so flagrant that it led to further pressing by Times editors, who asked him to prove that he had, in fact, traveled to Texas and interviewed the woman in his article. After being unable to provide proof, Blair resigned from The Times on May 2, 2003. Following the resignation, a full investigation of all of Blair’s articles began.
An internal report was commissioned by Times editors, with a committee consisting of 25 staffers and three outside journalists, led by assistant managing editor Allan Siegal. The Siegal committee discovered that 36 of the 73 national news stories Blair had written since October 2002 were suspect, ranging from fabrications to copying stories from other sources.
A small sample of the suspect articles:
The Times reported on Blair's journalistic misdeeds in an unprecedented 7,239-word front-page story that ran on May 11, 2003, headlined "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception." The story called the Blair scandal "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."
Both Raines and managing editor Gerald M. Boyd, considered partially culpable for Blair's indiscretions, resigned a month after Blair's departure.
The Siegal committee made several recommendations, many of which have since been instituted at the paper, including the appointment of a public editor to encourage access to the paper and to monitor readers' complaints about the paper's performance.
The Blair scandal also stoked much controversy and debate over affirmative action hiring. Blair's editor, Jonathan Landman, told the Siegal committee he felt the fact that Blair was African-American played a large part in his initial promotion to full-time staffer. "I think race was the decisive factor in his promotion," he said. "I thought then and I think now that it was the wrong decision." Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin similarly believes that Blair was fast-tracked because of the Times's desire for a more diverse workforce.
On May 14, 2003, while he was still Times executive editor, Raines (who is white) acknowledged at a massive meeting of Times news staffers, managers, and its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., that Blair had gotten the breaks he had enjoyed because of his race. Five days later, however, black Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert asserted in his column that race had nothing to do with the Blair case: "Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting.
Blair wrote the memoir Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times (ISBN 1-932407-26-X), published on March 6, 2004. In the book, he accused The Times of racism, and described his ethical lapses as the result of previous drug problems and bipolar disorder.
After resigning from The Times, Blair returned to college and said he planned to go into human resources. Though he remains a controversial figure, Blair has gained some public acceptance as an advocate for the mentally ill. Blair has made efforts to start support groups, counsel families and those with mental illnesses, and has spoken to college and business audiences about mental health and substance abuse issues.
Season 5 of the HBO series *The Wire, which is set in Baltimore, dealt with this subject and others realating to jounalism and the print media business.
A scene in Gilmore Girls episode "The Reigning Lorelai" (4.16) shows Rory's editor, Doyle, becoming frustrated with the way Yale Daily News staffers act in the newsroom calling it "the breeding ground for the next Jayson Blair."