August 9, 2003
This morning’s paper reports that the editor of Esquire is pulling the plug on the Jayson Blair stunt. (Blair is the former New York Times reporter who faked a bunch of stories, and the resulting scandal shocked the media world. Blair was fired and the two top editors lost their jobs as well.) David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire, is quoted by AP as saying, “It was intended as a joke that readers would see when they picked up the issue. All the news reports took away that element of surprise.”
I have been a huge fan of Esquire since my college days, and when I told Bob Brink, he set up a breakfast with David Granger when we were in New York last week. As we were being seated in the dining room of the New York Athletic Club overlooking Central Park, I told David I thought the Jayson Blair stunt was brilliant (Granger hired Blair to review Shattered Glass, a film about Stephen Glass who also fabricated stories). I had seen the news report on a crawl while watching CNN and remarked to my staff the next day that whoever thought that up is a genius.
But when I praised him, David reacted in an embarrassed, irritated way: “They’ve totally misconstrued what we were trying to do!” he told me. I could tell by his discomfort that someone had gotten to him. I’m guessing, but someone had definitely shamed him. I tried to tell him he is too close to it, that the rest of us in America “get it” but I could tell he was the lightning rod and the heat of the flash was melting his shoes. I made a mental note to remember this when my petty Wyatt Earp critics get to throwing darts at my rear end.
So David Granger pulled the plug on a clever marketing ploy and he got more press doing it. The big question is: would he have gotten even more press (and more readers) if he had not reined in his horse in the middle of a jump? We’ll never know. And that is the question that haunts editors every day of the week.
The kicker to this whole episode is that when Kathy and I had a layover in Cleveland on the way home last Sunday, I went to get some coffee and a young, black guy came in behind me with a young woman who reeked of being a publicity flack-book tour baby sitter (Blair is allegedly fielding book offerings). I have seen oodles of these types in my decade of being on the radio. I instantly recognized him. It was Jayson Blair (his face made the cover of Newsweek during the scandal). Or was it him? I was 95% sure, but the fear factor was pretty strong. Why would he be in Cleveland? Why would he be flying to Phoenix (he rode in our plane in first class) Ultimately I decided it was too much of an insult to ask: “Hey, excuse me, are you Jayson Blair, the ex-New York Times reporter who has zero credibility?” So I will probably never know if it was in fact the Jayson Blair. And, yes, I reined in my own horse in the middle of a jump.
"Enthusiasm is a volcano on whose top never grows the grass of hesitation."
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