Film Review: A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times

Informative doc fleshes out the story but holds few surprises.
Reviews

Looking at the Jayson Blair scandal ten years after his plagiarism and fabrications ended a promising career at The New York Times, Samantha Grant's A Fragile Trust brings together not only key participants but observers whose voices weren't heard in the media's outburst of attention to the newspaper's spectacular screw-up. Though its even-tempered account may be more thorough than print and TV coverage at the time, the doc doesn't offer anything dramatic enough to draw many eyeballs at this late date; on video, though, it should have legs as a thoughtful one-stop postmortem.

Blair himself is onscreen a good deal here, reading from his much-maligned memoir and offering sometimes weasely apologies for his lies. His account, even so long after his public shaming, is sometimes limited by the therapeutic lens through which he views the episode: Yes, he'll own up to what he did, but he takes pains to suggest his bosses should've recognized signs of substance abuse and emotional instability. (True enough, but that's something for them to fess up to.) He's most helpful when describing how his first, minor lies opened a floodgate: Suggesting that most of us often resist temptation because we believe we'll get caught, Blair recalls the perspective-shift of realizing just how far from omniscient his bosses were.

Those bosses (notably former NYT executive editor Howell Raines) and less famous co-workers offer their perspectives on what it was like to work with Blair and how he survived at the paper for so long; outside observers like Seth Mnookin and Howard Kurtz offer harder-edged perspectives, while San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez (who was, poignantly, a fellow intern with Blair years earlier) describes the realization that he had presented her work as his own in the story leading to his exposure.

Colorful as some of this is, the film's biggest shock is unrelated to journalistic crimes: Just ten years after he became world-famous for ruining his life and derailing a few others, Blair has a successful business giving others advice as a "life coach."

The Hollywood Reporter

Click here for cast & crew information.