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'A Fragile Trust' is about Jayson Blair's New York Times plagiarism scandal

'A Fragile Trust'


During an exclusive interview with Examiner Dorri Olds on Wed., April 9, filmmaker Samantha Grant said the first question that everyone asked her was why she made the documentary, “A Fragile Trust.” The movie is about Jayson Blair, the most infamous serial plagiarist, and his sack of lies in article after article while employed as a journalist by the world's most trustworthy newspaper, The New York Times.

'A Fragile Trust'
Photo courtesy of Samantha Grant, used with permission

It’s a fascinating, and stomach-turning tale about sociopathic behavior and Grant put together a captivating presentation. She spent years of due diligence on research, interviewing the key players, art directing painstaking animation, and commissioning a gripping musical score, which all culminated in a film that entertains like a thriller.

The movie opens with Grant asking Jayson Blair why he did it. His reply? “There’s not a simple one answer.” Yes, no doubt that is true but what’s most disturbing is the weasely and manipulative way he apologizes. Blair gives empty shrugs and makes accusations: he was sick so he can’t be held accountable, he’s sorry but his editors should’ve noticed he was lying and stopped him, there should’ve been tighter controls, people should’ve known he was inebriated.

It’s the same insincerity of an alcoholic or wife beater who hasn’t learned to take responsibility or make amends to people they hurt. Blair claims he abused drugs and alcohol to self-medicate his bipolar disorder. That is believable enough but it is hard to have empathy because he seems unconcerned that his behavior nearly ruined the credibility of the Times, changed the landscape of journalism forever, and cost two men — executive editor Howell Raines and top deputy editor Gerald Boyd — their jobs.

Does Grant think Raines was scapegoated? She said, “The situation with Howell Raines was so heated already that it was like a tinderbox and Jayson Blair was just the spark. I think Howell probably would’ve had some big difficulties, whether it was Jayson or something else that would’ve pushed the situation to the boiling point. If there had been more time for Howell Raines to settle into his position as executive editor, I think he could’ve adjusted and learned to be a better manager.”

“Things were just so stressful right then,” said Grant. “I mean 9/11 happened on his sixth day as the executive editor. It’s literally like taking over the presidency and having someone drop a bomb on you on your sixth day of office. He was working under warlike conditions.”

Grant was asked about a review in Variety that said, “For rabble-rousing right-wingers, this was naturally hailed as proof of the failure of affirmative action.” Grant said, “The film not only takes a look at the scandal itself and what happened with Jayson inside the Times, but it also takes a critical look at the larger media and how the media as a whole handled the reporting of the scandal.”

She went on to say, “The major media picked up this story and all of a sudden it became a story about race. The fact is that affirmative action is not why Jayson Blair got away with all of the errors for so long. Correcting the record on that was something I wanted to do with this film.”

And, correct it she did.

“A Fragile Trust” is now playing at the Quad Cinema. Samantha Grant and co-producer Brittney Shepherd will be in attendance for a Q&A following the Sun., April 13 showings at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. PBS will show the film nationwide on May 5. Not rated. 78 min.