WHEN IT RAINES IS POURS
Of all the Jayson Blair stories this one gets me the most. I was actually feeling sorry for the Times. I know a lot of writers are mad at Howell Raines and his politics and I thought they were using this to get back at him.
Lisa Suhay, a contract writer for the New York Times, was stunned when she saw what Jayson Blair had done with her work.
It was the summer of 2000, and Blair had asked her to interview some people about the recently announced Firestone tire recall. Suhay discovered a neighborhood man named Michael Matha in his New Jersey driveway who said he had just gotten replacement tires from Firestone for his Ford Explorer. She e-mailed his comments to Blair.
The next day's story opened with Matha having been transported to "a Firestone tire and service center." In Blair's version, the man had not yet gotten his tires. "I've heard that they're putting people off because there's a shortage of replacement tires, but I'm not taking no for an answer," Matha was quoted as saying.
"I was livid," Suhay said yesterday. "I was beyond livid." She said she complained to editors on the Times metro desk, and clerks on the business desk, but they brushed her off. Blair refused to run a correction, she said, and at one point threatened her.
"Jayson told me that if I was tired of working for the Times, he would make sure my name was taken off the assignment list," Suhay said. "He made it clear that he was in the office every day while I was just a voice on the phone. Who would editorial listen to if he told them not to use me because I was difficult to work with? I backed off."
This is where the whole paper comes into question. Blair uses his power to threaten a contract employee and the Editors ignore her complaints. They weren't doing their job, which shows that the problem at the Times is much more than one rogue reporter. Blair’s act demonstrated their already flawed methods, but the right methods would have left Blair impotent. We’ll hear a lot about how they are cleaning up their messes, but until some of those editors take the fall, it will all be public relations.