A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times tells the shocking story of Jayson Blair, a promising, young, African American reporter who became entangled in a plagiarism scandal that brought The New York Times to what publisher Arthur Sulzburger dubbed "a low-point in the 152 year history of the paper."
In 2003, Blair was caught plagiarizing the work of other reporters and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in more than 70 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 had won a record seven Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of September 11.
It was a spectacular fall from grace 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. The fact 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 New York Times. Accusations of favoritism, lowered standards for minorities, and racism in the newsroom were hotly debated by pundits, while minority journalists everywhere said they felt as if their work was suddenly under the microscope because of Blair's flagrant lies.
Ultimately, the scandal resulted in new management at the Times, some system-wide changes in how newsrooms across the country do business, and a suicide attempt by Blair. But nearly a decade later, lack of diversity in the media is a sustained, and growing problem worthy of close examination. A Fragile Trust unpacks the numerous teachable moments embedded in the Jayson Blair saga, giving viewers a framework with which to think about these sensitive and complicated issues in the context of journalism and beyond.
- Samantha GrantProducer/Director