NYT: Do you now, or have you ever, existed?

The scandal over fabricated stories by New York Times reporter Jayson Blair continues to develop. Media critics who called for the resignation of Mr. Blair's senior editors were stunned to learn yesterday that the Times has no senior editors.

When reporters from several other New York papers went to the Times's historic headquarters on 43rd Street, they discovered only a Starbucks and a dry cleaner. Apparently, the legendary newspaper was merely an elaborate hoax started by Alexander Rankoff, a Romanian prankster who came to America in 1851.

Although the Times once claimed to have 1.2 million subscribers, federal auditors have so far been able to locate only six, all descendants of Mr. Rankoff.

A reporter with the New York Post said, "I don't understand how we could have missed this. Sure, there have always been suspicions about the Times, but everybody was always claiming to read it, so it seemed like a real newspaper."

Asenior editor with the Boston Globe, which was purchased by the New York Times Co. in 1993, reportedly was "alarmed" by news that the Times does not and, in fact, has never existed. "This is a major blow to the homogeneity of the news business," he said, requesting his name not be used. "Without the Times to tell us what to print, papers around the country might panic. We could have an epidemic of editorial independence on our hands."

New Yorkers are taking the latest revelation in stride. Indeed, many said they weren't surprised. "A 38-page style section but no comics?" scoffed one cab driver. "Come on!"

Leading intellectuals expressed regret at news of the Times's nonexistence and quickly began removing references to the Times from their résumés.

"This is another great loss to American culture," said Gore Vidal. "Now, more than ever, people interested in ideas that matter will have to rely on 'Lingua Franca.' " [Calls to Mr. Gore's home to confirm his comments were not returned, leading to speculation that he does not exist.]

A statement from The Pulitzer Prize Board, which confessed to having awarded 89 prizes to the Times, said the foundation was considering a number of changes to guard against fraudulent or nonexistent entries in the future. "It's now clear," the statement said, "that we should open all the submission envelopes before awarding Pulitzer Prizes."

At a press conference earlier this week, a White House spokesman sounded vindicated: "This administration has always behaved as though the press doesn't exist, and now the American people are starting to see the wisdom of that approach. When they need to know something important, we'll tell them ourselves."

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor and an occasional satirist.

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