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Jayson Blair To Address Journalism Ethics Institute (No, Really)

Jayson BlairHard as it may be to believe, one of this decade’s biggest disgraces has been asked to present a speech on the very subject that was his downfall.

No, I’m not referring to George Bush’s speech about leadership. I’m talking about Jayson Blair’s upcoming address to Washington and Lee University. To their Journalism Ethics Institute. (Now that I re-read that first paragraph, I can see how it may have been misleading.)

Blair, you likely recall, rose quickly as a reporter at the New York Times, eventually landing several major assignments, including filing over 50 pieces on the Beltway Sniper (who is also back in the news, but for a different reason). Eventually, another writer identified instances in which Blair had plagiarized her work, and under additional scrutiny other problems surfaced: false quotes, high error rates, more instances of plagiarism. In May of 2003, the paper took to the front page to apologize for Blair’s actions. He, of course, lost his job. (Well, he resigned, but so did Nixon.)

As first mentioned on Slate’s Twitter feed, Blair will travel to Washington and Lee next Friday to give a speech entitled “Lessons Learned.” W&L Journalism and Ethics Professor Edward Wasserman told the Rockbridge Weekly that inviting Blair to speak — as the keynote, no less! — was “a departure for us” from their usual slate of “heroes…of great accomplishment and stature” but they were bringing Blair this time precisely for that reason:

“Jayson Blair, on the other hand, was at the center of one of the signature journalism scandals of this still-new century, and there’s no way to imagine that his role in it was heroic…My expectation is that he’ll talk not just about his own susceptibilities, but about the pressures and temptations that might induce ambitious and talented young journalists elsewhere in the business to do the wrong thing.”

Wasserman also said that Blair has not spoken publicly about the NYT scandal, but that Blair suggested that this “might be the right time and right occasion.” If so, then it differs from the bio on his website, which, though detailed, fails to mention it.

It does, however, mentions his qualifications as a life coach — his new full-time career. His qualifications?

My knowledge base comes from personal experience, working relationships with psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals… organizational development and other areas driven by interest and personal necessity.

Fair enough. Those of you at the event — please tweet about it! And, if you decide not to go, tweet about it anyway. Sometimes the made-up details are the most fun.

With Rachel Sklar

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