N.Y. Times' Blair to publish controversial memoirs

Jayson Blair, whose tenure as a New York Times reporter ended in a plagiarism scandal that brought down executive editor Howell Raines, has sold his memoirs to L.A. publishing house New Millennium Press.

Tentatively titled “Burning Down My Masters’ House,” the book “tells the arc of a life,” said Blair, who spoke with Daily Variety from New York. Half of the book has already been written, Blair said, in anticipation of a publication date next March.

Blair resigned from the Times May 1 after an internal investigation revealed fabrications in dozens of his articles. Those revelations embroiled the paper in a scandal that led to the resignations of Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd.

The Times published a 14,000-word report on Blair’s fabrications and called the affair a low point in its 152-year history.

The book will follow Blair’s career in journalism and his struggles with mental illness and drugs in the wake of his resignation.

Woven through the book, Blair said, is a detailed account of his stint at the Times and his interaction with colleagues, including Raines and Boyd.

“It’s going to be the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “You’ll have a hard time finding a purely bad guy or a purely good guy in the story — including me.”

Blair described the book as “therapy” and said he hoped some good would come of its publication.

“Often when people find themselves in trouble, they take their shame and they hide in a corner, and rob us of the opportunity to learn from their experience,” Blair said. “While I feel a tremendous amount of shame, I think that it would be a disservice for me to take what I’ve learned from this experience and hide it from people.”

As the book’s racially charged title implies, race will be a theme of the book, Blair said. “It is more John Nash than it is angry black man. At times there’s a very angry young black man, at times a very idealistic young black man.”

Publisher search

The book also will cover the efforts by Blair and agent David Vigliano to place his book with a New York publishing house. Blair had become such a radioactive figure following the scandal that a number of publishers declined to consider his book proposal.

New Millennium publisher Michael Viner suggested New York publishers faced pressure from the New York Times not to publish the book. “As a California publisher, that’s one of those things we don’t have to consider as much as the next guy,” he said.

Viner said the book offered “a look at an institution that isn’t seen very often, from a unique insider’s view.”

Blair, who recently published an article in Jane magazine, said he will continue to write. “I still consider it my occupation,” he said. “The game plan after this is to move to fiction.”

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