A Fragile Trust
Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times
Tells the shocking story of New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, the most infamous plagiarist of our time.
Directed by Samantha Grant
Produced by Samantha Grant, Brittney Shepherd
Cinematographers: Singeli Agnew, Samantha Grant
Editors: Richard Levien, Samantha Grant
Associate Producer/Assistant Editor: Jessica Jones
Composer: Justin Melland
Motion Graphics: Mike Nicholson
Illustrated Animations: Stuart Langfield
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 75-minutes and 57-minutes.
"Great journalism and superb documentary film making." Carole Di Tosti, BlogCritics
A FRAGILE TRUST 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 and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in dozens of stories published in the Times. 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 New York Times.
Through the course of the film, we follow Blair as he slowly unravels 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 as he is losing his mind.
Featuring exclusive interviews with everyone involved, including former Executive Editor Howell Raines and Blair himself, A FRAGILE TRUST is the first film to tell the whole sordid story of the scandal while exploring deeper themes of power, ethics, and responsibility in the mainstream media.
Grade Level: 9 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2014
Copyright Date: 2013
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-515-7
"A Fragile Trust is a riveting cinematic achievement that's the closest we're likely to get to penetrating the core mystery of why this gifted young journalist destroyed his career in such a spectacular way. Samantha Grant steers well clear of preaching, but the lessons the film holds for journalists today--with audience trust in ever shorter supply--are vital and unmistakable."
Edward Wasserman, Dean and Professor of Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California-Berkeley
"Informative and engaging documentary that will interest media scholars as well as their students...A valuable resource for instructors particularly because of the power of its interviews and the clarity of its storytelling."
Jon Marshall, H-Net reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences
"A Fragile Trust exposes the flaws in the system and some of the people involved in one of the biggest journalistic scandals ever. With unprecedented access, candid interviews and a decade of perspective, this film unravels and then pieces together the story behind the story."
Roy S. Gutterman, Director, Tully Center for Free Speech, Associate Professor, Communications Law and Journalism, Syracuse University
"A Fragile Trust quietly undermines the myth that this was a case of Affirmative Action gone wrong, and serves as an important reminder that personal ethics must hold at the core of a profession devoted to truth. Newsrooms will always will be vulnerable to lone actors more interested in personal advancement than the hard work required to produce serious journalism. This film shows the dangers."
C.S. Manegold, Visiting Senior Lecturer of Journalism at Mount Holyoke College, formerly reported for The New York Times, Newsweek Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer
"Samantha Grant slowly and expertly unveils the complexity of professional misconduct using Jayson Blair as her muse and the NY Times as the setting. Her use of everyday imagery and thorough storytelling reminds us that in the quest for success, we all are capable of perpetuating deceit. I will be using the film in my ethics class. In its delivery of this lesson along with others equally as powerful, A Fragile Trust should be required viewing for any student who aspires to enter into a trusted profession."
Dr. Tricia Bertram Gallant, Lecturer of Management, University of California-San Diego, Editor, Creating the Ethical Academy: Understanding Misconduct and Empowering Change in Higher Education
"This documentary unpeels the Jayson Blair debacle like an onion. All of the complex, interwoven issues are given a fair hearing, thanks to the panoply of interviews. We may never fully understand the Jayson Blair case, but thanks to this film, we can understand why it matters."
Dr. Norman Lewis, Associate Professor of Journalism, University of Florida
"This in-depth examination of the Blair case will prompt further discussion on the ethics of journalism."
Rosemary Arneson, University of Mary Washington, Library Journal
"A Fragile Trust is a must-have for Journalism Studies DVD shelves, highly recommended."
Midwest Book Review
"A well-made and engaging film...It should be of interest to journalism students, scholars, and practitioners."
Timothy Hackman, University of Maryland, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Presents a cautionary tale of the young reporter whose work seemed too good to be true...This compelling documentary about one of the biggest contemporary scandals in American journalism is recommended."
S. Rees, Video Librarian
"An intriguing documentary...Fragile Trust makes the interesting point that it was only with the transition of many newspapers to digital editions that plagiarism became easy."
Louis Proyect, CounterPunch
"Well-balanced...meticulous. Portrait of disgraced reporter Jayson Blair raises tough questions about journalistic ethics and personal responsibility in the digital era."
Ronnie Scheib, Variety
"A remarkable film for its probing, its wealth of detail and testimony - remarkable above all, perhaps, in the clinical picture of its subject, one devoid of any efforts to assign mitigating factors to his disastrous career, whether of race or class."
Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal
"The film is a stellar cautionary tale and morality play that will hopefully inspire future generations of journalists, bloggers and opinion leaders to be accountable for their editorial discretion and how they will distribute information to their audiences."
Christopher A. Daniel, TheBurtonWire.com
"It should be required viewing for all journalism students, and interesting discussion fodder for pros."
David Cuillier, Society of Professional Journalists Blog
"As a subject that destroyed reputations, careers and tarnished the endeavours of working journalists worldwide, journalist, educator and filmmaker Samantha Grant's film A Fragile Trust explores the Jayson Blair story with accuracy and intent, producing a Rashomon style documentary that explores media ethics, issues of race, power and the failure of institutional journalism through a retrospective of the high pressure media world of post - 9/11 New York."
Chris Binding, Pictureshow Magazine
"One of the Gray Lady's most embarrassing moments comes to complex life in this tough-minded analysis that explores issues of race, affirmative action and institutional inertia."
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
"Director Samantha Grant chronicles an ignominious but fascinating chapter in modern journalism in this solid doc."
Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
2 versions: the original 75-minute version and a 57-minute version, plus scene selection for both versions, and SDH captions.
The film's website
DECISIONS ON DEADLINE Check out this free, fun, and fast paced browser & tablet based journalism ethics game specifically created as an interactive companion project to "A Fragile Trust"
Awards and Festivals
National PBS Broadcast on "Independent Lens"
Arthur Prowse Award for Press Criticism, National Press Club
Ethics in Journalism Award, Society of Professional Journalists
Best Documentary Award, Macon Film Festival
Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Award, Salem Film Fest
Nominated for Special Jury Award & EDA Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Nominated for Best Documentary, Hawaii International Film Festival
Nominated for Metropolis Award, DOC NYC
Nominated for Best Documentary, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Nominated for Best Documentary, Fargo Film Festival
Selected for HotDocs DocSoup screening series
Nominated for Best Documentary, Cleveland International Film Festival
Hamptons International Film Festival
St. Louis International Film Festival
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Hollywood Film Festival
Denver Starz Film Festival
East Lansing Film Festival
Sebastopol Film Festival
Salem Film Festival
Atlanta Film Festival
Thessaloniki Int'l Doc Film Festival
Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival
Garden State Film Festival
River Run International Film Festival
Kansas City Film Festival
Sarasota Film Festival
DOXA International Film Festival
Seattle True Independent Film Festival
Documentary Edge Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"A clear and thorough story about the most damaging plagiarism scandal in the history of America's flagship newspaper, and about the ambiguous and troubled individual who sparked it."
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
"A Fragile Trust lays it all out...with clarity, so that you understand what happened and how it happened."
Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
"Though the Blair scandal was exhaustively covered as it unfolded, the new documentary A Fragile Trust...argues it has been seriously misunderstood."
Simon Houpt, (Toronto) Globe and Mail
"Grant paints a fascinating portrait of a talented but disturbed, insecure (and possibly sociopathic) young man who spun a web of lies so thick his falsehoods soon became indistinguishable from his reality."
Zeba Blay, IndieWire
"At a time when newspapers are struggling and resources are stretched, A Fragile Trust is a compelling reminder of the importance of paying attention to the details, no matter how small or trivial."
Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
"First-Rate...A thorough and balanced examination."
Steve Leftridge, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Great journalism and superb documentary film making."
Carole Di Tosti, BlogCritics
"An excellent field guide for dissecting the moment when telling a mistruth seemed like a better idea than being honest."
"This thorough account of a terrible time in journalism serves as a reminder to everyone in the media to never put expediency ahead of professionalism."
Peter Howell, The Toronto Star
"A compelling and balanced account of scandal and the fight for integrity in a business where trust is everything."