13 September update: Well, news of Jayson Blair's book has finally come out and the reported facts look as dodgy as his own stories. First of all we hear that he's been paid a "mid-six figure" advance. The print run will be between 200,000 and 250,000. And it will be out on 9 March 2004. Which is all fine except it has come out the mouth of his publisher, one Michael Viner, who is as much a black sheep in the publishing world as Blair is in the newspaper world (no pun intended).
Viner owns and runs New Millenium Entertainment, known for producing scandal books including one covering the perspective of a juror in the OJ Simpson trial. What's more interesting though is that he has been sued by Stephen Hawking, who was furious at his rip-off The Theory of Everything. Hawking tried to get it stopped saying it would "constitute a fraud on the public" because it was just rehashed material. Hawking lost.
However, best-selling author David Baldacci was more successful and won a court case against Viner in which the front cover had to be redesigned after it prominently featured his name in big shiny writing on a collection of stories. Baldacci said that his name was so big that people would mistake it for one of his books and be sorely disappointed with the result. The court agreed. The same book also saw Viner fined $2.8 million in another court case which bookstore owner Otto Penzler brought for breaching a contract. Viner had refused to give him a look at the final version of the book. He wasn't impressed. That was last month and now Viner is seeking bankruptcy to get out of paying the fine.
So none of this is looking good for our Jayson. But why hasn't one of the big book publishers picked him up? Several reasons. First, they don't approve of promoting and rewarding a man whose claim to fame was that he misled, plagiarised and lied in one of the US' biggest newspapers. Second, there is an almost inevitable slew of court actions that will be brought against it. But thirdly and most importantly, there is the very real risk that any publishing house that publishes Blair's book will find its other books boycotted by not only The New York Times but possibly also arch-rival The Washington Post. Not getting reviews in such big publications could be commerical suicide. And none of them are willing to take the risk. And so Jayson has ended up with Michael Viner.
Jayson isn't exactly having an easy time of it. He's given a few interviews recently and not exactly shone. Plus the smallest details are then seized on and published by a vicious press eager to keep him down. What may be a sense of humour is easily translated in crazed bitterness with just a few carefully chosen words. Did he go a bit nuts? Well, clearly a little, but every detail of out-of-the-ordinary behaviour is held up as some kind of proof. "Look, he's crazy, that's how he got away with it." It makes it more comfortable than realising newspapers will print anything as long as they think it's engrossing - which is actually what they do.
Jayson isn't helping himself by playing up to the role. He didn't hide his crazy side, he wrote in Jane earlier this month. And he may have been "going too far" when he turned up at work with a fur coat and Kermit the frog on his head. He then, bizarrely, goes on to blame junk food for his behaviour. Oh dear. Anyway, the book will tell all, apparently. We shall see. He has also promised to tackle the huge underlying issue of race in this whole saga. You can guarantee he'll make a pig's ear of it.
But if a book wasn't enough, some filmmaker called John Maas is threatening to do a TV movie on the whole saga. He's bought the rights to some Newsweek article and reckons it will be a "great human-interest story".
While the quality of all of this looks extremely dubious it hardly seems to matter though because if it is marketed right, people will buy into it in their droves. And the best Blair can hope for from those that do review his book will be feint praise. He will definitely be slated as "not much of a writer". Still, he will make a load of money out of it and gain a certain degree of fame and that seems to be worth more than integrity and respect these days.
Meanwhile, the transformation of Jayson Blair from an unknown reporter into shorthand for deception and lying continues apace - not least of the Internet. There is a fake Jayson Blair blog at http://jaysonb.blogspot.com and the unimaginative comedy writers have started using him as a template. Just one webpage is called "Top Ten: Unpublished Jayson Blair headlines". Everywhere you look (in the US at least) articles are using his name in the same way that Walter Mitty or Don Quixote is used to sum up a fantasist. The only difference being that they were both fictional characters and Jayson Blair is real. Or at least he was.
1 Jun 2004: A belated update on the ongoing NYT woes