One of the Gray Lady’s most embarrassing moments comes to complex life in this tough-minded analysis that explores issues of race, affirmative action and institutional inertia. An ugly but important episode worth retelling, journalist Jayson Blair’s deception extended through several fabricated articles in 2002 and 2003, a slippery slope made slicker by his own anxieties about failing, as well as an increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs. Imaginary details were cribbed from the Internet. Entire sentences of Blair’s “on-the-scene” pieces dissolve in the documentary’s humorous use of animation. (A further irony: His lies happened at the delicate moment when the Times was pursuing speedier avenues of digital reporting.)
Director Samantha Grant scores an interview with Blair himself, whose too-little-too-late admissions (along with his reemergence as a postguilt life coach) might drive your crowd to hisses. The more fascinating aspect here, well developed via supporting interviews, concerns curdled aspirations: Blair was exactly the kind of young star that veteran editors hope to encourage, regardless of race. Keeping that hope alive remains a challenge.
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