The Truth Shall Set You Free

New York TimesEvery single day that we wake up, we can expect the unexpected. However similar our days will be, in every one of them we will see, do or have a new experience. Whether it's meeting someone new, trying new food, or hearing a new song, no one day will repeat itself, and nothing is for certain. Regardless of how structured we try to make our lives, there are very few things we can depend on happening every day, but when one of those rare things, one of the few things in life that we depend on, betrays us, it can leave a person, a city, and even a nation in total darkness.

I will start off by saying yes, by all means, Jayson Blair, the former reporter for the New York Times was doing the wrong thing by fabricating his articles, filling them with exaggerated and fake accounts, and pretending to travel the country to get his stories. Lying in a profession where the basic criterion is to seek out the truth is ridiculous, especially when you are printing those lies in such a prestigious and world-renowned paper. It is for the best that Blair has resigned and ended his career as a journalist.

However, hearing and reading media outlets like Newsweek tear him up and credit his lack of journalistic integrity to being a nutcase and a nervous wreck bothered me a little. Why? Because honestly, I'm very surprised we don't hear about this sort of thing happening more often.

When news of the scandal broke a couple weeks ago, the first question that jumped into everyone's head was, how did this unpopular and awkward intern with all of these personal problems (he was said to be drunk quite frequently and had a passion for cocaine) and a reputation for stealing story ideas climb so high in the ranks of the journalism world?

Blair is black, and some people were quick to credit his ascent to affirmative action and his editors' desire for a more diverse reporting staff. Yes, in some ways, that may have been true, but in my opinion, that is only a small part of the real story.

As it was reported in an article in the May 26, 2003 issue of Newsweek, Blair did a lot of brown-nosing to get to where he was. He did whatever necessary to please those in authoritative positions, and did just enough spotty work to get by. In a sense he didn't prepare for or earn the serious assignments that were suddenly thrust into his lap, so when Jayson Blair was faced with covering some of the heaviest stories in the country in the past two years, he was already neck deep in hot water. And before his young career had even begun, it was taking long strides toward crashing and burning.

But why? Why would such a promising young reporter, a high school news editor from Virginia, with such a passion and a love for journalism, deny himself a chance to develop his craft, and brown-nose his way to a high-stress and chaotic position? It couldn't have been the money since the guy lived in an apartment filled with broken furniture and rotting food, which his landlord labeled "a real filth." It couldn't have been the fame, because despite the constant appearance of your name in print, people hardly ever remember the author of a story no matter how great it is.

Why would someone steal stories and suck up to superiors just to catapult themselves into an extremely high-pressure situation? Simple. For the same reason that students all over the world go online and steal essays, notes, and plagiarize for school: just to get by.

Everyday we see this same thing happening on a lesser scale, and think nothing of it. You can log on to the Internet and find an essay or book report in seconds, change the author's name, print it up and turn it into your teacher with nothing but your guilt to hold you down. It happens all the time in schools across the nation, and no one makes even the tiniest fuss.

The students, like Jayson Blair, are also in a sense denying themselves a chance to learn and develop useful and important skills. But there is a distinct difference between guys like Blair and the average student. Students don't choose to attend school, or take classes, or write essays on subjects they could not care less about; they are forced to do these things. Jayson Blair was doing his dream job.

So in the end, as silly as it sounds, Jayson Blair was a victim of not following his dream. His greatest sin wasn't the betrayal of the national public, but forgetting he was doing what he loved. He wasn't working for himself, for his own pleasure, or for the readers of the world, he was simply at the mercy of a deadline and a demanding job he couldn't handle. And while plenty of people in the world don't like their jobs, you can never stop working for yourself, or you too might end up in the darkness.

Mike Oseroff is a sophomore at Berkeley High School.


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