Saturday, January 10, 2004

Jayson Blair & Me

The following is a transcription of an interview that occurred on a Wednesday afternoon in late October at a Flatbush Avenue coffeehouse in Brooklyn, New York. The product of a chance encounter between the notorious ex-Timesman, Jayson Blair, and the author of a controversial new play about the Media's role in the ongoing war in Iraq, first-time playwright - Ron Brynaert. Prior to the interview, Mr. Brynaert insisted on purchasing a tape recorder at a nearby Radio Shack. After the interview was concluded Mr. Blair gave Mr. Brynaert an hour to transcribe the conversation. As a result, the following may not be word-for-word. It is the belief of Mr. Brynaert that Mr. Blair is still in possession of the tape recording and so should be the object of any future scrutinizing as well as the projection of any conceivable skepticism. Jayson Blair - So...let's start the interview. Ron Brynaert - I'm good to go. Let's roll. JB - Bare with me, it's been a while since I last did this. Tell me again the title of your play... RB - "The Rules of Embedment or Why are we back in Iraq?" JB - Can you explain the title? RB - The first half alludes to the conditions that all journalists had to agree to in order to embed with the [cough] Coalition forces during the spring invasion of Iraq. The latter is a nod to a Norman Mailer novel entitled 'Why are we in Vietnam?' It was about a father-and-son-hunting trip in Alaska that served as an allegory for the Vietnam confli-...war that dealt with big business, patriotic Americanism, the counter-culture and masculinity. JB - Why two titles? RB - Stanley Kubrick is another big influence. It's a reference to "Dr. Strangelove or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.' I liked the idea of posing a question and offering an answer at the same time in the title. It's like a response by a contestant on Jeopardy. JB - Then shouldn't it be 'What is the Rules of Embedment?' RB - I said it was like it was on Jeopardy...metaphorically speaking...there's no need to be that precise. What's the difference to you anyway? JB - There's no need to go there. RB - I'm sorry if I've misspoken. You can understand I'm under a lot of stress. JB - I hear you. So tell me why you chose to write this play. RB - Mostly its because of you people. JB - Excuse me! What did you just say? RB - No, excuse me. I'm not pulling a Ross Perot. I didn't mean to imply anything racial. By you people, I meant the Media. JB - Understood. Although I'm not sure they still qualify as my people. RB - You were there when it counted. The Times led the rush to war. JB - Most people see it differently. That The Times was against the war and aggressively against George Bush. RB - Of course, there are a few liberals there - like Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd - who aggressively attacked the credibility of the litany of pre-war excuses. But the Times' true guilt lies in printing off-the-record comments by unnamed Administration if they were whistle-blowers and in need of protection. Those off-the-record comments were treated as news and policy. Countless times on the front page, Judith Miller wrote about different weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was alleged to possess without any real proof, evidence or a hint of disbelief...and so it became a part of the public record. Many of her sources were exiles from Iraq that hadn't lived there for decades. She was also one of the last people to correspond with David Kelly before he [cough] killed himself. JB - So are you saying The New York Times is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy? RB - No...well...William Safire and Judith Miller are definitely card-holding members...but no...The Times is firmly centrist rather than liberal. If they were truly liberal they would have embraced the antiwar movement, not just local but international. The Times had a daily war in Iraq section...there should have been a separate one for dissent. The huge protest in NYC on February 15th that attracted nearly half a million people was barely even covered. JB - That's the first scene in your play. RB - Yes, I think it was a pivotal moment in our history...and it will be treated as such...there were too many of us.... JB - You were there. RB - Yes, and many other marches and demonstrations. The New York Post even ran a picture of me at one rally...under the headline - 'Flocking Sheep'. JB - Ha! RB - it took me a while to get the dream is that The NY Post prints a picture of me with the head of a weasel.
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