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'New York Times' reporter resigns under a cloud

New York Times reporter Jayson Blair has resigned after the newspaper found it could not verify he had done any original reporting for an article he wrote about a Texas woman waiting for word on the fate of her son, a missing U.S. serviceman.

Instead, the April 26 article closely followed the structure and wording of an April 18 piece by Macarena Hernandez, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News who was on a Times fellowship with Blair in 1998. Several quotes in the Times story from the soldier's relatives also hewed to those found in the earlier article.

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A former editor-in-chief of the University of Maryland Diamondback, Blair enjoyed a rapid rise in journalism. He rose from internships at the Washington Post and Boston Globe into a prestigious Times fellowship for minority journalists, leaving school in 1998 before earning a degree. He was elevated a year later, to an intermediate reporter's job and subsequently became a full reporter.

Blair, 27, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He offered his resignation Thursday to Times editors. His article from Los Fresnos, Texas, focused on the plight of Juanita Anguiano, who anxiously sought news about her son Edward, a 24-year-old Army mechanic. She later learned he had been killed in Iraq. Though quoted in Blair's article, Anguiano later told The Times that Blair had not visited her or spoken to her.

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In a note to readers announcing Blair's resignation yesterday, The Times apologized for a "breach of journalistic standards." In an interview, executive editor Howell Raines said a team of four Times reporters were re-reporting Blair's work to determine whether other articles are also flawed.

"The trust of our readers is our most important journalistic asset," Raines said yesterday. "We want to be transparent about that." He said he was leaning toward publication of an article chronicling any further problems should they emerge.

The problem of the fabrication or lifting of material has cropped up at many newspapers. In recent years, The Sun fired a classical music critic and reprimanded an art critic for appropriating passages from specialized texts in separate stories. The Globe fired two columnists for pieces that could not be verified. And the Express-News itself experienced two incidents in which writers reproduced information from other publications without attribution.

Raines characterized Blair yesterday as a promising but problematic catch who was cautioned several times to be more careful about factual mistakes. In January 2002, Raines said, Blair received a formal warning letter about his mounting errors. Raines said Blair's articles generated 54 corrections in four years at The Times. "He was warned repeatedly about errors in his stories, and he was also praised repeatedly for his high energy, his talent, his drive," Raines said in the interview.

Some of those corrections occurred for stories that involved several reporters, and others involved seemingly minor details. Some mistakes, however, appear more central to the story. A woman described as shot in the head had actually been strangled. An article about an online publication's finances said it was incurring a $1 million charge when the true figure was $17.6 million.

Colleagues who have worked with Blair at various news jobs described him as a brash, appealing and at times polarizing figure.

"He was what you look for in any young journalist," said Christopher Callahan, associate dean for the University of Maryland's Merrill School of Journalism. He is "an extremely bright guy, with a natural inquisitiveness, and he's passionate about what we do.

"There's no two ways about this - this is terrible. I feel literally sick to my stomach."

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In the last year, he had been assigned to many high-profile stories, including the sniper shootings in the Washington suburbs, the effects of the war in Iraq at home and the arson deaths of the Dawson family in Baltimore.

The Sun, and, to a greater degree, The Washington Post rebutted a front-page story last October by Blair in which he reported that the U.S. attorney for Maryland, Thomas DiBiagio, had ruined the interrogation of the chief suspect in the sniper case by interrupting to have him taken to Baltimore. Blair's response to the Washington City Paper raised hackles at his competitor: "The Post got beat in their own back yard, and I can understand why they would have sore feelings."

The Express-News' editor, Robert Rivard, first raised the question of appropriated passages and quotes to Times editors earlier this week, saying he believed Hernandez's work had been appropriated in the Times story. Yesterday, he said he was satisfied with the Times' response, which included an apologetic telephone call from Raines.

Raines said yesterday that editors had called Anguiano to offer his apologies and that he personally intended to write her a letter stating his regrets for the record.

"This could be a tragedy on several dimensions, if he did [this] terrible, indefensible thing," said David Shribman, who was chief of the Globe's Washington bureau when Blair had an internship there. "A young man is going to go through his life with an asterisk beside his name for what he did at 27, which is also a terrible thing."


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