A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times

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About the Film

Former NY Times Executive Editor Howell Raines San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez NY Times Correspondent Lena Williams NY Times Political Editor Jerry Gray

A Fragile Trust tells the shocking story of Jayson Blair, the most infamous serial plagiarist of our time, and how he unleashed the scandal that rocked The New York Times and the entire world of journalism.

In 2003, Blair was caught plagiarizing the work of other reporters and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in dozens of different stories published in the Times. The ensuing media frenzy left a major blemish on the reputation of the “Old Grey Lady,” which just a year earlier won a record seven Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of 9/11. The daily operations of the Times newsroom became a public spectacle as every major news outlet picked up the story and ran with it. The fact that Blair is African American was emphasized repeatedly, used by some to question affirmative action hiring programs in general. Accounts of the “Blair Affair” served up sordid details in a soap opera-style tale of deception, drug abuse, mental illness, hierarchy, white guilt, and power struggles inside the hallowed halls of The New York Times.

Through the course of the film, we follow Blair himself as he takes us through his version of the events, in which he slowly unraveled in the face of mounting pressures and distractions. Starting with his “reporting” of the plagiarized article that ultimately lead to his undoing, we trace the rise and fall of this fascinating young reporter as he clings to his career at the Times even while having a psychological breakdown.

Samantha Grant’s film features exclusive interviews with all the major players in the story, including Macarena Hernandez, the young journalist and former colleague whose work was lifted by Blair; former Times Executive Editor Howell Raines; journalist Seth Mnookin, author of Hard News; New York Times journalist and newspaper guild representative Lena Williams; and Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz. With more and more publications moving to online-only formats and with plagiarism seemingly on the rise, this cautionary tale about the slippery slope of ethical transgressions is more relevant than ever.

The Filmmaker

Samantha Grant (Director/Producer/Editor)

Filmmaker Samantha Grant

Samantha Grant is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and educator. Her approach to storytelling is influenced by both her undergraduate degree in American Studies/Literature from Yale University and her Master’s of Journalism degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Through her San Francisco-based production company GUSH productions, Grant has created work for clients including MTV, ABC, PBS, CNN, NPR, FRONTLINE, and Al Jazeera International. In 2007, she was named a Carnegie/Knight fellow as part of the News 21 Initiative on the Future of Journalism and in 2011 was named a BAVC MediaMaker Fellow. Sam is also the Director/Producer of the upcoming feature documentary Girls in the Forest, which tells the story of a revolutionary girls high school being built in one of the last pristine forests in South America. When she’s not shooting or producing independent documentaries, you can find Grant lecturing at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford’s Knight Fellowship program.