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TCA: NYT plagiarist Jayson Blair states his case in PBS documentary

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Samantha Grant has a message for viewers who tune in to her documentary "A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair," which examines the case of the disgraced New York Times journalist whose plagiarism and invention of sources tarnished the newspaper's reputation and led to the downfall of two top editors.

Be careful about believing Jayson Blair.

Grant's film features exclusive interviews with Blair speaking in rare detail about the events in 2003. She said viewers should be skeptical of his account.

"You should take what he says with a grain of salt," said Grant, who said Blair at various times was both forthcoming and evasive during the course of three interviews between 2007 and 2011.

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Getting him to talk about his stint at the Times was extremely challenging and required persistence, she said.

The film premieres May 5 on PBS' "Independent Lens" and explores not only the rise and fall of Blair but also the extensive effect the incident had on the world of journalism. Because Blair was a young African American reporter, the scandal also had a chilling effect on efforts to diversify major metropolitan newsrooms.

After being declared a wunderkind in the New York Times newsroom in 2003 after a series of acclaimed stories, Blair was discovered to have boldly copied the work of other reporters and to have supplemented his own reporting with fabricated details. Mental illness and cocaine fueled his actions, he said.

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The film also includes interviews with Howell Raines, who was executive editor of the New York Times during the Blair scandal, and journalist Macarena Hernandez, who was a target of Blair's plagiarism.

Although Blair was reluctant at first to cooperate with Grant, he finally agreed. He wrote, "I became convinced that while the documentary would hardly be flattering to me, it would provide the depth that would answer some questions people had, including me."

Grant said that Blair, who is a certified life coach in Virginia, has not seen the finished film and has expressed no desire to.

"He's afraid that it would be too painful," she said. "But I would love for him to see it."

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