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Former New York Times Reporter Jayson Blair to Address W&L Journalism Ethics Institute

Jayson Blair, who was at the center of a major journalism scandal as a New York Times reporter in 2003, will be the featured speaker at Washington and Lee University’s 48th Journalism Ethics Institute on Friday, Nov. 6.

The title of Blair’s talk is “Lessons Learned.” The public is invited to the presentation at 5:30 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater, Elrod Commons.

Blair resigned from the Times after an investigation found that he had plagiarized and fabricated major portions of stories that he had written during four years with the Times. Some of the stories that he covered in this manner were such major news events as the D.C. sniper case and the rescue of POW Jessica Lynch.

“Inviting Jayson Blair to keynote this institute was definitely a departure for us,” said Edward Wasserman, the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at W&L. “In the past, we’ve brought heroes to Lexington, people of great accomplishment and stature, such as Hodding Carter, Helen Thomas and Lowell Bergman, and people who stood up to pressure in the name of principled journalism, such as Matt Cooper and my W&L faculty colleague Toni Locy, both of whom faced jail time because they refused to give up the names of sources they had promised to protect.

“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,” Wasserman continued. “When I approached him with the invitation, he said that although he has not spoken publicly about the affair that led to his dismissal from the New York Times for five or six years, this might be the right time and right occasion. 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.”

Blair, 33, attended the University of Maryland where he majored in journalism and was editor-in-chief of the Diamondback, the student newspaper, during the 1996-97 academic year. He had a summer internship with the Times in 1998 and was offered an extended internship which eventually turned into a full-time reporting position. For the past two years, Blair has worked as a certified life coach, specializing in attention deficit disorder, pervasive developmental disorders, mood disorders and substance abuse disorders.

The W&L Journalism Ethics Institutes, held twice each year, bring to campus top media professional and academics for two days of seminars with students from the University’s capstone journalism ethics class. The sessions deal with case studies of ethical dilemmas that the practicing journalists present.

In addition to Wasserman, media professionals and academics attending include Caesar Andrews, Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor in Journalism at W&L; Jon Carras, producer, CBS Sunday Morning; Michael Getler, ombudsman, PBS News; Arlene Notoro Morgan, associate dean of prizes and programs at Columbia University School of Journalism; John Watson, associate professor in the American University School of Communication; Reed Williams, reporter with the Richmond Times-Dispatch; and Corinna Zarek, Freedom of Information Director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.