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

A Fragile Trust

Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times

About the Film

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

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 ofHard News; New York Times journalist and newspaper guild representative Lena Williams; and Washington Postmedia 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)

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. LESS

Film Credits

A Film by
Samantha Grant

Co-Produced by
Brittney Shepherd

Edited by
Richard Levien

Music by
Justin Melland

Samantha Grant

Associate Producer
Jessica Jones

Cinematography by
Singeli Agnew
Jason Blalock
Charlotte Buchen
Julie Caine
Joshua Fisher
Joelle Jaffe
Stephanie Johnes
Mark Rublee
Austin De Besche

Additional Camera
Todd Dayton
Brian Pollack
Winnie Wong
Alexandra Cummings

Title Design and Motion Graphics
Mike Nicholson

Hand Drawn Animations by
Stuart Langfield

Assistant Editor
Jason Sussberg

Additional Graphics
Ryan Padgett Jake Mendez

Color Finishing by
Gary Coates

Sound Edit and Mix
Philip Perkins

Online Editor
Heather Weaver

Production Assistants
Savanna Salter

Creative Advisors
Jon Else
Deborah Hoffman

Story Consultants
Karen Everett
New Doc Editing
Ezra Edelman
Suze Allen
Jean-Philippe Boucicaut
Adam Keker
Jamie Meltzer

Sinclair Swan

Sophia Emigh
Jayesh Parmar

Paige Bierma
Mia Figueroa
Laurel Moorhead
Rachel Quach
Kristine Stolakis
Josh Wolf
Ellie Loarca
Jamie Goldberg
Daphne Matziaraki

Justine Jacob
Richard J. Lee

Juliet Mason
Carol Wallace

Audio Book Excerpts
“Burning Down My Masters House”
by Jayson Blair/Publisher New Millennium Entertainment

Archival Material
Juanita Anguiano
Associated Press
Jayson Blair
Centerville High School 1994 Year Book
Deb Peterson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
David Butow/Corbis
East Cobb Middle School 1990 Year Book
Edward Keating Contact Press Image
Getty Images
David S. Holloway
Ron Agam
Spencer Platt
Mary Ellen Mark
My Times in Black and White: Race and Power at the New York Times
NBC Universal Archives
New York 1 Anchor – John Schiumo
New York Daily News Archive
New York Observer
PBS Newshour
Pulitzer Prize Archives
Redux Pictures LLC
Robin Stone
San Antonio Express News
The Charlie Rose Show
The New York Times
The Washington Post
University of Maryland
Vanderbilt Television News Archive
Washington and Lee University

Special Thanks
JJ Wiesler
Silver Wiesler
Evening Wiesler
Pamela Grant
James Grant
Joaquin Alvarado
Jonathan Archer
Orlando Bagwell
Hattie Rose Bellino-Allen
Michael Bellino
Zeke Bellino-Allen
Jackie Bamaca
Lowell Bergman
Alex Von Bidder
Fran Blair
Thomas Blair
Thomas Burke
S. Leo Chiang
Carrie Ching
Julie Bjoern Christensen
Rebecca Richman Cohen
Sachi Cunningham
Dallas Morning News
Toni DeAtzlan
Priya Desai
Kelley Duane DeLaVega
Tim Dickinson
Serene Fang
Meghann Farnsworth
Chantal Forfota
Devon Fuller
Katie Galloway
Dawn Garcia
Megan Gelstein
Jennifer Gilomen
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Buzz Guroff
Marlene Guroff
Nick Guroff
Jeff Hanna
Pam Harris
Barry Jenkins
Katya Kumkova
Sharon LaCruise
Monica Lam
Wendy Levy
Lawrence Lerew
Asu Licona
Carrie Lozano
Sara Maamouri
Jennifer MacArthur
Pam Maples
Libby Marsh
Mike Massey
Catherine Mathis
Patricia Maul
Vivek Mohan
Karrie Myers Taylor
Leeor Neta
Melissa Neta
Pete Nicks
Jackie Olive
Amanda Pike
Andrew Rossi
Sally Rubin
Tupac Saavedra
Nadia Shahib
Ricardo Sandoval Palos
Calvin Sims
Zachary Slobig
Jonny Symons
Arthur Sulzberger
Steve Talbot
Marlena Telvick
Tyler Teass
Wayne Taylor
Rosadel Varela
Edward Wasserman
Josh Williams
Chihiro Wimbush
Leah Wolchock
Sasa Woodruff
Aaron Ximm
Bronwyn Ximm

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding Provided By
Berkeley Film Foundation
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Will and Margaret Hearst

A Fragile Trust is a co-production of Gush Productions, LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

A Fragile Trust is produced by Gush Productions, LLC which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2013 Gush Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Have you ever been tempted to plagiarize another’s work? Do you feel any empathy for Jayson Blair or think this was all of his own doing?


  • National Press Club
    2015 Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism, Broadcast
  • Society of Professional Journalists
    Ethics in Journalism Award
Please review our comment guidelines.
Have you ever been tempted to plagiarize another’s work? Do you feel any empathy for Jayson Blair or think this was all of his own doing?