Evil Plagiarist or Ambitious Journalist?
Jayson Blair: some will look back and remember him as a liar, and others will simply recall his ambitious and curious nature. Throughout her film, Samantha Grant shows us the multiple sides and stories of former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair. In her documentary, A Fragile Trust, Grant gives us her interpretation of Blair’s character as well as the opinions of his colleagues, the media, and Blair himself.
Grant’s documentary consists of interviews, old news clips, and photos. The interviews were with Blair himself and his former colleagues at the New York Times. In one of the interviews with Blair, he was explaining how he got to into a place where he felt like plagiarism was his only option. He described himself as “curious,” “type A personality,” and “a misfit.” He also said that he became a journalist because he wanted to help as many people as possible and inspire positive change.
In the interviews with his colleagues, Blair was described as hardworking, spirited, helpful, and ambitious. They all noticed the fact that he was willing to work long hours and get the job done when needed. One of his supervisors noted that although he was the youngest in his group of interns, he was by far the most talented writer.
Blair also said that during his time working for the New York Times, he suffered from several mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorder. He also dealt with drug and alcohol abuse. Working for the Times during the attacks on 9/11 really pushed Blair further into his suffering and isolation.
He claimed that his mental health issues in combination with substance abuse led to a lot of mistakes in his writing for the newspaper. His superiors noticed the errors and eventually Blair got help for mental health and substance problems.
Once he returned to the Times, his colleagues all noticed a change in Blair. He stayed at work for extended amounts of time, he barely ate, and he didn’t change his clothes. Despite these changes, he appeared to be doing well as a writer. He kept this act up because he didn’t want to disappoint anyone. He continued to fabricate his stories to cover up the fact that he could no longer do his job.
His fabrications were never obvious because he would pull small pieces from tons of stories. It wasn’t until his story about a lost soldier in Iraq that his copying became obvious. This is because there were only a few stories written about it at the time, so he had to copy large chunks rather than small pieces. After this story was published, everything really began to fall apart for Blair.
Despite the fact that Jayson Blair is a known plagiarist, his colleagues still spoke rather highly of him. It was clear that they were disappointed in his actions, and some were even very upset, but none spoke poorly about his character. They still described him as hardworking and ambitious despite his actions.
In addition to that, it’s important to think about how Grant portrayed Blair’s character. She could have gone down any route in her film, but she really told his story in an unbiased light. Her approach was quite the opposite of the media’s. The news clips she showed in her film were all harsh and critical of Blair’s actions.
What he did was wrong, and yet she’s able to capture that fact while keeping and unbiased attitude. She could have easily portrayed Blair as a villian, but instead she showed clips of Blair crying while telling his story, pictures of his childhood, and the truth about his mental illnesses. All of these allowed us to see Blair as a human being rather than an evil, manipulative figure.
Grant’s version of Jayson Blair’s story is interesting because it shows him in different lights. She included clips of news stories from the time of the scandal, interviews with his colleagues, and interviews with Blair himself. By including all of these elements, she was giving us her own interpretation of Blair’s character and actions.