NYTimes Review: 'CQ/CX'

 Arliss Howard in 'CQ/CX'

Arliss Howard in 'CQ/CX'

“CQ/CX,” a new play by Gabe McKinley depicting the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times, is less “Front Page” than “Front Page Correction” — a straightforward dramatization and a cautionary tale of ambition, deception and hubris.

In an unprecedented front-page article in 2003, The Times reported that Mr. Blair, a young reporter on its staff, had committed journalistic fraud. In more than 7,000 words, the paper described how Mr. Blair had made up events and had plagiarized in his reporting on national news events. It called the widespread fabrications “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

Mr. McKinley’s play, an Atlantic Theater Company production that opened Wednesday night at the Peter Norton Space, begins with Mr. Blair as an intern, then follows his career as a struggling reporter and finally a fast-rising star and opportunist in a turbulent journalistic landscape. The character, here named Jay Bennett, is an African-American who uses his minority status, his Internet skills and an adeptness at office politics to advance at a volatile time in the newspaper’s history.

It’s a world Mr. McKinley knows firsthand; for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008, he worked off and on as a news assistant at The Times, where his two brothers are still reporters.

Neatly but all too obviously he shows the newspaper world in an age of anxiety, struggling with new technology, shifting markets and conflicts between old and new media in a time of terrorism threats, wars and political upheaval.

The play’s title refers to editors’ shorthand for “fact has been checked and it is correct/correction,” as in, “fact is wrong and needs a correction.”