No one knows better than Worm that you can keep a championship-caliber bullshit artist down in the world of journalism, but you can't keep him out. The Riverfront Times has hired ex-New York Times staff writer Jayson Blair, who resigned from the Gray Lady after getting busted for fabricating stories.
"It's an open secret in our profession that you don't let the facts get in the way of a great story," says RFT editor Tom Finkel. "Usually we have to teach our writers that. But with Jayson, we've got a rare natural talent -- a writer who's more than ready to hit the ground running when it comes to writing complete and utter balderdash."
Finkel -- who grew up in St. Louis but left the River City in the mid-'80s -- says that since coming to the RFT in March, he's been struck by how little the city has changed.
And that's not a good thing, he adds.
"We were looking for a writer who can get unbelievable scoops, and when the New York Times busted Jayson, well, it was like some killer-tasting barbecue sauce fell out of the sky and landed right on our plate of ribs."
Included among Blair's early assignments will be reporting on a twenty-foot woolly mammoth that has been throwing cars off the Poplar Street Bridge, Nelson Mandela's intent to file for Dick Gephardt's soon-to-be-vacated congressional seat and Leonardo DiCaprio's recent residential relocation from Beverly Hills, California to the North County suburb of Beverly Hills, Missouri.
"I've spoken extensively with Jayson, and he says he's been to St. Louis once or twice," says Finkel. "I'm not sure I believe him, but I figure he's got a good seven or eight years' worth of fake stories in him, in any case."
Sources at the paper tell Worm that the RFT also put in a bid to hire liar-turned-novelist Stephen Glass. Glass, who cut his teeth faking stories at the New Republic in the late '90s, purportedly balked at the prospect of St. Louis' legendarily hellish summers.
Finkel would not confirm or deny the paper's pursuit of Glass. But he notes of the Blair hire, "One of the things we're trying to do around here is to challenge readers. And what better way to challenge people than to constantly make them decide what's real and what's not? We may even have Jayson write a real story every once in a while, just to keep everybody on their toes."
Blair, who had resigned himself to the idea that he'd be spending the rest of his working days hawking chicken fingers and Mr. Pibb, says he's thrilled to be coming to the award-winning St. Louis publication.
"I knew having the New York Times on my résumé would pay off one day," says Blair. "Of course, my résumé also says I was CEO of Hitachi and founder of the Chrysler Corporation."