It well might be that the very best aspect of PBS’s Independent Lens series is that the filmmakers aren’t tied to others’ agendas.
They examine tough issues through a skeptical prism. They bring us the unvarnished truth — sometimes it’s hard — about the issues and the people they put under their lens.
Jayson Blair is the latest subject of Independent Lens’s tough analysis.
Jayson Blair once was an aspiring and promising journalist. He is an African-American hired by the New York Times. He ascended quickly to full-time status on the Times’s crack reporting staff.
Then he did what no journalist ever should do. He fabricated stories.
While the Times was winning Pulitzer Prizes, the attention turned to Jayson Blair’s misdeeds.
Independent Lens, which aired this week on Panhandle PBS, takes a hard look at what it called a case of the worst “serial plagiarist” in American journalism history.
“A Fragile Trust” tells a shocking story of how Blair put himself — and his craft — at extreme risk of losing the public faith in their ability to tell the truth honestly. He wrote story after story by using other sources’ quotes and pretending he collected them himself. He wrote stories and identified them as being reported from locations he never visited. The most infamous of that kind of transgression involved Jessica Lynch, the soldier who was wounded in action during the Iraq War and taken captive. Blair allegedly reported from Lynch’s West Virginia hometown, but never went there.
The major back story is that Blair benefited from the Times’s affirmative action hiring policy, which gave preference to hiring ethnic and racial minorities. Some have blamed those policies for putting Blair on a job for which he was unqualified. Others have said quite candidly that Blair’s misdeeds could have been committed by anyone, that race wasn’t a factor.
Here is what the PBS promo says of the film: “Samantha Grant’s film features exclusive interviews with all the major players in the story, including Macarena Hernandez, the young journalist and former colleague whose work was lifted by Blair; former Times Executive Editor Howell Raines; journalist Seth Mnookin, author of ‘Hard News’; New York Times journalist and newspaper guild representative Lena Williams; and Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz. With more and more publications moving to online-only formats and with plagiarism seemingly on the rise, this cautionary tale about the slippery slope of ethical transgressions is more relevant than ever.”