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 massive 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 history of the “Old Grey Lady,” which just a year earlier won a record seven Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of 9/11. It was a spectacular fall for both Blair and the paper. 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 again and again as accounts of the “Blair Affair” served up sordid details in a soap-opera style tale of deception, drug abuse, racism, mental illness, hierarchy, white guilt, and power struggles inside the hallowed halls of the Times. Through the course of the film, we follow Blair as he slowly unravels in the face of mounting pressures and distractions after his plagiarized article ultimately leads to his undoing. The Jayson Blair scandal at the most basic level is a character-driven narrative about an important chapter in the history of journalism, but also a complex story about power, ethics, representation, race, and accountability in the mainstream media.
Featuring exclusive interviews with everyone involved, including former Executive Editor Howell Raines and Blair himself, A Fragile Trust tells the whole sordid story of the scandal while exploring these deeper themes. With more and more publications moving to online-only formats and with plagiarism on the rise, this cautionary tale about the slippery slope of ethical transgressions is more relevant than ever.
- Samantha GrantProducer/Director