By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer
(AP) Even though she finds his actions “repugnant,” NBC’s Katie Couric defended giving prime-time exposure to former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, the serial fabricator who brought down the paper’s top editors.
Couric landed the first television interview with Blair, who has written a memoir, for “Dateline NBC” on Friday. Blair will also be on the “Today” show Monday.
“I can understand that this is a highly emotional issue, particularly for people at The New York Times,” Couric told The Associated Press. “I can understand why they would be upset about that. On the other hand, our job is about talking to scoundrels and saints. If we based all of our interviews on people who are doing good in this world, sadly we’d be sorely limited.”
A review by the newspaper found errors and fabrications in three dozen stories by Blair. In his book, Blair admits to making up stories and described his substance abuse.
Couric said she believed she was extremely tough on Blair. “I defy anyone to say after that interview that people are going to run out and want to buy his book,” she said.
In excerpts of the interview released by NBC News, Blair described his first lie at the Times: He told the paper that he lost a relative in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because he couldn’t emotionally handle working on the story.
Later, he interviewed someone who had been trading in the stock market after Sept. 11, and he refused to give Blair his last name.
“I sort of felt that the story wouldn’t make it in without a last name,” Blair said. “And I just came up with one. And I inserted it.”
Blair’s plagiarism scandal set in motion a Times staff revolt that led to the resignations of executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd. Blair told NBC he felt “horrible” about them leaving.
“I’m hopeful that the additional safeguards that they put in after my resignation will make it even harder for something like this to happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t want there ever to be another Jayson Blair.”
He also told Couric that he was through lying. Couric said Blair struck her as contrite, but that she could see how he could be charmingly manipulative.
“The question is, is he being truthful about that?” Couric asked. “Absent of a polygraph, how do I really know?”