By: Jim Killam
Say what you will about Jayson Blair and the carnage he’s inflicted on American journalism: Of all the journalism books I’ve seen at Barnes & Noble lately, this one has the coolest-looking cover.
For this review, we’ll skip the boring parts about Blair’s childhood and skip ahead to his newspaper antics — which probably consume several chapters of “Burning Down My Masters’ House” (2004, Good Housekeeping Books). Blair pulls no punches in describing what led to his downfall at The New York Times and the credibility crisis in American journalism. Basically, he made stuff up. The book goes into great detail about this, according to the jacket and Blair’s TV interview with Katie Couric.
Blair also reportedly takes a “no holds barred” look at how his brand of creative writing destroyed the careers of Tim Raines and Gerald Ford, his editors at the Times.
Race played a part in all this, too. Were it not for race, Blair wouldn’t have been an African-American reporter. The book probably goes into great detail about this. Lying may have been involved as well. Also cocaine.
All of which is to say, Blair had many reasons for doing what he did. And he has a lot to say — some of it more or less true. After all, his publisher paid him a $150,000 advance.
This is the kind of book that moralizing journalists will say they’re not going to buy. “Why give my money to a liar?” they’ll say. People already are saying Blair should have taken the ethical high road and not written it. I say, ethics schmethics. Haven’t all revolutionary writers been dismissed by their peers as pretentious showboats who made stuff up? Let’s give Blair his due. He wrote a book that costs $24.95. Doesn’t that give him “cred”?
According to some Web site, Blair’s book has 288 pages and measures, in inches, 1.08 x 9.42 x 6.22. That’s substantial. Buy it and display it proudly on your shelf, next to books by such liars as Tom Clancy, Dav Pilkey (author of the historically misunderstood “Captain Underpants” series) and the editors of The Onion.
In the meantime, let’s all cut Blair some slack. In the immortal words of Evel Knievel, “Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to tell a lie well.”