By: Greg Mitchell
What’s most surprising about the Jayson Blair book, “Burning Down My Masters’ House,” published today, is how little of it dwells on the misdeeds that made him famous (and perhaps, in time, rich).
One has to wade through 264 pages of the book to reach them, starting in January 2003. The book ends 32 pages later, and only about half those pages explore his fabrications.
Still, this is more than enough space for Blair to blame his misbehavior on: toothaches, backaches, his girlfriend not fully committing to their relationship, his obsession with Lee Malvo, the death of a Times colleague, a bipolar disorder, psychosis, not getting enough sleep, lingering psychic pain from 9/11, pressure from editors to get more scoops, feeling unfulfilled, seeing/smelling/hearing things that did not actually exist, dizziness, and being assigned to write too many stories on the road, among other things.
Two problems he does not blame for his troubles are drug and alcohol abuse, since he had allegedly been clean for the past year. But he cites his struggles to stay off drugs and alcohol as reasons for what he did.
If you can believe any of it. The subtitle for this book, of course, should be: “Consider the Source.”
Nowhere in the book does Blair confront a reader’s natural skepticism about the veracity of anything he writes. Instead, he declares his hope “that you will appreciate this memoir for its candor.”
He also asserts: “I have always believed that everyone deserves another chance.” Yet, after chronicling the many explanations for his meltdown, he ultimately admits that he passed up his “one chance to get some help” when it was extended by the Times.
Although Blair does, in the end, recount numerous far-flung stories that he reported from his apartment in Brooklyn, he barely mentions his most famous lie: his non-visit to the home of Jessica Lynch’s parents. Perhaps he is still smarting from criticism of the way he laughed off that incident in a New York Observer interview last May.
In a particularly tortuous and unconvincing paragraph, Blair tries to negate charges that the title of his book is an insult to the memory of the thousands who suffered under real slavery in this country in previous centuries. Observing that the title goes beyond its “obvious” allusion, he explains: “There are many masters to this house, hence the careful placement of the apostrophe after the ‘s’ in the word ‘masters.’ Ultimately, I am the master of my own destiny, and the flames of the fire that I set consumed me.”
He also barely tackles the issue of damage he inflicted on the field of journalism in general, and black journalists in particular. Blair does cover the following:
* On Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd losing their job at the Times: “I was no more responsible for their resignations than Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, was responsible for starting World War I.”
* On Gerald Boyd: Blair claims he was not his protector and promoter at the paper, in fact, he had “watched him devour the careers of more blacks than he saved.”
* On the Times’ mammoth front-page correction: It created in him a “tidal wave of anger,” he claims, by mentioning his personal problems.
* On the Times’ profiles of victims of the 9/11 attacks: “They were called ‘Portraits of Grief,’ an apt description for what I was.”
* On admitting his mistakes: “Apologizing for things I was not responsible for has never been my cup of tea.”
* On what the Times would have done if it had known about 9/11 in advance: “I have no doubt that they would have sent twenty of us to the foot of the towers and then complained as we suffered from third-degree burns that we were not filing on time.”
* On what happens when you snort Alka Selzer thinking it is cocaine: it creates a “tear-flowin, eye burning high.”