Who’s to Blame?

Examining the Larger Issues in the Case of Jayson Blair

Samantha Grant takes on the enormous task of telling the story of Jayson Blair with little bias in the documentary “A Fragile Trust,” but still we leave thinking certain things, not only about Jayson Blair, but about who we blame for what happened.

“A Fragile Trust,” tells the story of journalist Jayson Blair, who because of maybe stress, or mental illness or even his own nature, lied and fabricated stories that resulted in the end of his journalistic career.

Grant tries to portray him in a way that will not tell the audience what to think of him. The story is told through several interviews from Blair himself, co-workers, bosses and even interviews that appeared on television directly following the incident. Grant tries to get as many perspectives as possible so to show the most complete story as possible and to allow for us to come to our own conclusions about Blair. Still though, we grasp on to certain aspects of the story and follow them until the end.

The documentary begins with offsetting phrases about Blair like him being a “pathological liar” that immediately put us in a state of doubt about Blair. That doubt continues throughout. Can we trust anything he tells us? Was this all his doing? Records show that even before he worked at the New York Times, he had plagiarized and fabricated stories. His issues with lying dated all the way back to high school and his following jobs. So was this incident bound to happen because of his previous ways or was it brought about by the high demand and stress of the workplace?

Journalism is a demanding field, and even Jayson Blair knew that. However, he found himself in a place where he couldn’t keep up with the demand and speed of the field. While Blair was at the New York Times, Howell Raines, who wanted faster and more impactful news, was appointed the editor. In that time “the newsroom became that more intense overnight,” Blair says. That new demand required more insightful stories at a faster pace, which put pressure on the writers. Blair couldn’t take the pressure and fell to story fabrications and plagiarism to stay on top. When a story goes out, Blair described it as “ constantly chasing this high.” He wanted the exhilaration of finishing his work and putting it out in public without actually doing the work.

Blair, though, ended up finding other ways as well of finding that exhilaration. He fell to drugs and cocaine and eventually to depression. Blair found himself drowning in depression, a serious mental illness that slowly overtook his life. Instead of wanting to go out and find the story, he wanted to stay in the comfort of his own home. He’d do anything not to have to go out, which included lying about where he was, how he got his story and what exactly was the truth. All he wanted was the perfect story, but he felt that he could do that without having to do the work, so he lied to “cover up the inability to do his job.”

Blair was initially described as a good writer, but he just didn’t do the work that was required of him. He spent more time lying, when he could have put that effort into writing a solid, honest piece of work. As his time at New York Times went on, his lies progressed. People began to notice his reoccurring mistakes and his lies, but they did nothing. Those who worked there found a reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t until he resigned that an internal investigation was conducted and it was discovered how big his lies actually were.

In the end, there were so many different things to blame: his past, the high stress, the illness, the drugs, the New York Times, yet anyone can come to a different conclusion. So who is to blame? Blair may not even know himself. All we have to look to are the factors before us and maybe it was just one specifically or maybe it was the combination of factors that made it the perfect storm. The answer is hard to find but the question remains engraved in our minds — was he just blaming the people around him for his own faults or were the factors around him really contributions to his lying and plagiarism?