A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times
USA, 2013, 76 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: African-American, Biographical, Documentary, Drama
Who: Jayson Blair, intermediate reporter. What: Plagiarism/mass errors. When: Early 2000s. Where: The New York Times. Why: That is what director Samantha Grant tries to get to the bottom of.
The “five W’s” of journalism are pretty clear-cut, yet for Jayson Blair the pressure of being a reporter for the prestigious New York Times was overwhelming. Blair tells his side of the story, including his addiction to alcohol, cocaine, and the high of a front-page byline.
During the early 2000s the Internet changed the way newspapers do business. Demand for quick stories escalated. Coverage of 9/11 kept New York correspondents without sleep and food for days on end. Blair found that covering up for his inability to do the job was easier than doing the basic reporting. He became one of the first “tragedies of the electronic age,” mastering the art of pretending to be where he was not. Blair would cut and paste bits from other people’s work, claiming he was in various locations as he wrote from his Brooklyn apartment. His remote reporting resulted in multiple factual errors that his superiors wrote off as ramifications of his substance abuse.
Without excusing Blair’s journalistically abominable behavior and nonexistent ethics, this documentary raises valid questions. Who is accountable? How could his plagiarism and poor reporting be overlooked, and why was he not fired at the first heinous offense? With the digital era now making information even more instantaneous and readily available, we as media consumers must become more savvy. Just because it’s out there does not necessarily mean it’s true.
In cooperation with MSU Denver - Department of Journalism and Technical Communication
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DIRECTOR: Samantha Grant
Producer: Samantha Grant
Editor: Richard Levien, Samantha Grant
Screenwriter: Samantha Grant, Richard Levien
Cinematographer: Singeli Agnew, Samantha Grant