WASHINGTON — The uproar over the National Security Agency spying scandals revealed in the past week has precipitated a smaller phenomenon: the re-emergence of Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter caught plagiarizing in 2003.
Blair, who resigned after the Times found multiple instances of plagiarism and fabrication in articles he wrote as an up-and-coming reporter there, is now a life coach in Virginia. He has had a Twitter account since 2011 but has recently begun to use it in earnest, jumping into debates with journalists and weighing in on the news of the day — the most public moment, in a way, that Blair has had in a decade.
“Twitter was a great way to silently follow some of my favorite topics, like signals intelligence, civil liberties, torture, drone strikes, journalism and mental health; as well as some of my favorite writers, including Glenn Greenwald, Matthew Aid, David Carr and J.M. Berger,” Blair said in an email to BuzzFeed on Sunday.
“Where else can you get lightning fast news from people like Jim Romenesko and Jim Roberts, who seems a newspaper unto himself, and get a front row seat into the minds of people like Glenn, Oliver Sacks and pick-a-physicist from a TED Talk,” Blair said. “There are also all these arcane subject matter experts, like David Aronson on the Congo, or Howard French, who I’m not going to find in the newspaper on my front doorstep each morning. And then there are these random really smart people you just trip across in the course of conversation.”
Blair said that he was using Twitter mostly these days to keep up with the work of Greenwald, the author of the recent string of Guardian stories which have exposed widespread surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency.
“The catalyst for getting on Twitter was as a way to keep up on mental health news and to find out what Greenwald was writing about,” Blair said, describing Greenwald as “smart and consistent.”
“I occasionally stick my finger into some journalism issue, but I mostly listen to things of interest,” Blair said. “There is an occasional sparring match with a bored journalism student, but I’m mostly just another guy out there enjoying the stream of data that comes from Twitter.”
“So, essentially, it’s just a part of being a regular guy with interests integrated into society,” Blair said. “There is no question I’ve been more talkative on Twitter, and I think that’s just a matter of getting comfortable with the medium.”
Though he’s the perpetrator of one of the biggest plagiarism scandals in journalistic history, Blair tweeted on Sunday that he saw problems with the reporting on the NSA controversy: “As an expert on questionable reporting, I’d say there have been has been some questionable reporting on the NSA stories.”
“When I comment on journalism, it’s usually about the absurd or on journalistic misdeeds,” Blair explained. “I also like being challenged. I got into a heated debate about whether Greenwald was racist a few weeks ago for representing a white supremacist when he was a lawyer. I like that this is a place we can respectfully share thoughts and where Glenn was even able to weigh in.”
Blair also shared his opinion of the recent comeback attempt of Jonah Lehrer, who was caught plagiarizing and fabricating by journalist Michael Moynihan last year and who is already shopping a proposal (which may itself contain plagiarism) for another pop-science book for release next year.
“I think he’s probably taken enough time to reflect on his actions,” Blair said of Lehrer. “I wrote my book way too early and I regret getting on the horse so quickly. But I also get the dilemma of not knowing what else to do. I think it took me about seven years to get a measure of perspective, and even if I was a slow learner, I’d suspect this was a bit too early. I think Slate’s concerns about plagiarism in his book proposal make me worry that his fall from grace has not ended. I hope he gets some time to reflect and, at the same time, finds some way to fulfill himself.”