*How did former New York Times writer Jayson Blair get away with such blatant plagiarism for so long? Why did someone who worked so hard to become a journalist just throw it all away so willingly? Did his race make it harder for other African Americans to secure positions at major newspapers in his wake?
These answers and more are revealed in the upcoming PBS documentary, “A Fragile Trust,” the story of Jayson Blair’s rise and fall at the New York Times. Filmmaker Samantha Grant traces his journey before and after he was caught red-handed copying the work of other reporters and padding his own stories with made-up details in numerous articles he wrote for the Times.
Grant is the first to get the reclusive Blair to actually talk about his story on camera.
“Getting Jayson and, frankly, almost everybody else in the film to agree to be in the film was a challenge,” Grant said during a TCA panel for the film Tuesday. “But really there’s one word that sums it up, and it’s just sheer persistence. I just kept emailing him. I emailed him every week for six, eight months, nearly a year. And it wasn’t until I had completed the original version of the film, which was a short film that was my thesis film for graduate school, that he then agreed to be in the film.”
Lena Williams, a former senior writer for the New York Times, worked directly with Blair and said he was so willing to risk his career because he wasn’t in his right mind.
“When you’re suffering from manic depression, bipolar disorder and you exacerbate that by abusing cocaine and alcohol, your perspective on the world is totally warped,” Williams said. “That’s why Jayson did what he did. Jayson spent so much time at a bar called Emmett’s when he was taking his he should have been taking his medication. He was snorting cocaine when he should have been reporting a story. And so he had this warped vision on the world.”
Below, Williams explains how Jayson’s race may have also played a role in his ability to get away with his shenanigans for so long.
The Independent Lens film “A Fragile Trust” premieres Monday, May 5, 10pm/9c on PBS.
Watch the trailer below.