Documentary on journalism scandal next in WMU Ethics Center season

Contact: Mark Schwerin
"A Fragile Trust" will be shown at WMU at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28.

"A Fragile Trust" will be shown at WMU at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A documentary screening on a recent high-profile plagiarism scandal at The New York Times is up next as the Western Michigan University Center for the Study of Ethics in Society continues its fall season.

"A Fragile Trust" profiles the case of Jayson Blair, the infamous serial plagiarist who unleashed a massive scandal that shook The New York Times and the profession of journalism. The documentary will be shown at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, in Room 3025 of Brown Hall.

The event is free and open to the public and includes a post-film discussion led by Sue Ellen Christian, a WMU associate professor of communication and award-winning journalist.

The scandal

Blair was caught in 2003 after plagiarizing the work of other journalists and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in dozens of stories. The scandal deeply damaged The Times' sterling reputation, which just the year before had been bouyied by the awarding of seven Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of 9/11. Other news outlets ran with the story, casting doubt on The Times' daily operations.

That Blair is African American also prompted questions about affirmative action hiring programs. Directed by Samanatha Grant, the film follows Blair himself as he walks the audience through his version events, starting with his "reporting" of the plagiarized article that ultimately led to his undoing and unleashed his rapid demise.

The film features exclusive interviews with major players in the case. With more publications moving to online-only formats and plagiarism seemingly on the rise, the documentary serves as a cautionary tale about the slippery ethical slope now facing the profession.

Increasing relevance

"My hope is to draw people in with an account of this fascinating story, and then keep them engaged long enough to explore issues of media ethics, media literacy, media responsibility and media power in a deeper way," Grant says in a recent PBS interview. "With the widespread shift in the news industry from print to digital publishing, plagiarism has become as simple as a quick copy, cut and paste, making the lessons learned in the aftermath of the Blair Affair more relevant than ever."