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Journalism And The Public Trust: The Recurring Role Of Jayson Blair

(Courtesy Cinema St. Louis)
Jayson Blair from the documentary "A Fragile Trust."

The systematic plagiarism and fabrication of then-New York Times reporter Jayson Blair a decade ago represents one of the most flagrant and grievous breaks in journalistic trust in modern times. It was a black mark against one of the World's flagship newspapers when his deception was revealed, prompting a detailed retraction from the Times and internal restructuring within the organization.

Film director Samantha Grant hesitated to bring further attention to the case of Jayson Blair, considering that his name is already brought up whenever a new breach in journalistic trust occurs despite the unique nature of Blair's plagiarism. 

"I had to think long and hard about whether or not I wanted to dredge up this case that really tarnished the reputation of journalists everywhere," said Grant. "I want to emphasize that 99.9 percent of journalists get up every day and work their butts off."

But in the end she decided to gather first-hand accounts from Blair and other players in the case and produce a film. The result is "A Fragile Trust," screening this week at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Official Trailer of "A Fragile Trust"

"One of the things that I really wanted to do in the film is illuminate the fact that this is not a standard case of plagiarism and fabrication," said Grant. "This was a very unique set of circumstances that had to come together to allow this type of plagiarism and fabrication to happen. And that this should never be used as an example of anything other than this specific case."

We need the past to understand what’s happening now, even if it’s not a good fit," added Matt Carlson, professor of communication at Saint Louis University. "It's ten years on and this is still a relevant topic because he gets invoked all the time whenever we have issues of ethical lapses... If you look at the coverage of the News of the World scandal that happened in Britain...you'll see mentions of Jayson Blair. There's no connection with Jayson Blair. It's a completely different set of ethical lapses. So in some sense these people are symbols. They're symbols of journalistic deviance. And they keep reappearing, and they keep coming out again to be used in new cases. So I think it's important to sort of see how historically they continue to reappear in our culture."

Related Event

St. Louis International Film Festival Presents "A Fragile Trust"
Saturday, November 23, 2013
1:30 p.m.
Plaza Frontenac Cinema, Lindbergh and Clayton Road
For more information, call 314-289-4150 or visit the Cinema St. Louis Website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by MaryEdwardsand Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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