This blog is coming to life in the midst of the scandal over disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. He made up stories, claimed to be in locales where he wasn't, and lied to his editors to cover up his sins. Though it's not strictly about Los Angeles, L.A. Observed will post on the unfolding scandal. It has the makings of a watershed debacle for the NYT, in my view still the best newspaper in the country, and possibly for American journalism.
Pundits and blogs with anti-NYT agendas are all over it, doing what comes naturally (and predictably). Same for the writers who, if there is a sniff of racial preference, pick that as their default villain in whatever story happens to be in the news. (Blair is black and joined the NYT through a minority intern program.) The NYT editors certainly seem to have fumbled Blair's handling, but for me the villain is clear: Jayson Blair. He's a con without shame who scammed the system. At big serious newspapers like the NYT, editors guard against the small-to-medium errors that can creep in, but they don't expect the Big Lie. Not because they are arrogant, but because it's so rare. I don't know first-hand how things work in TV news or at opinion journals on the right or left, but at serious U.S. newspapers making up stories is a summary firing offense. Boom -- you're out. I've seen LAT reporters fired for fudging the facts within a story, and just this year the LAT axed photographer Brian Walski for doctoring a picture he sent in from Iraq.
Except in blogs and political discourse, not all media errors are "lies." Factual errors are usually just that -- they lack Blair's malicious intent. I suspect that the NYT's top editors did keep giving Blair second chances in part because he was a young black male who seemed to have unusual talent. But I don't think that would have saved him if the editors knew he was making stuff up.