The film is based on the true story of Stephen Glass, who wrote regularly for the New Republic Magazine, while freelancing for Harpers, George, and other publications. It was the first movie I'd seen that captured the real essence of the job I enjoy. It also showcased the pressures that writers can easily find themselves under. As a matter of fact, there was one scene where a female writer at the magazine was jealous of Stephen's popularity. Glass appeared to be the real deal; editors from other publications kept contacting him, he wrote front page articles, and was bringing in a lot of money. He had the career that every hotshot journalist dreams of. But of course, no one knew his secret yet.
Glass was gradually exposed after a reporter from Forbes (Adam Penenburg) tried to write a follow-up article on a story Glass had previously written, only to discover that the entire story was made up. Things began to unravel from there. But one thing I love about the film is that Glass' downfall was a gradual process; it's almost like watching the sand dwindle in an hourglass. Rather than confessing and resigning, Glass fought back. He created fake websites, business cards, voicemails, emails, and other things to cover his tracks and fool his editors. With every piece of 'evidence' Glass created, he only dug his hole deeper. The 25 year-old writer was finally fired when his editor, Chuck Lane, discovered that Glass' brother was posing as one of his sources.
Why did Stephen Glass do this? No one knows for sure. But there are pressures in journalism, and this movie revealed some of them. Glass was certainly under stress--writing for so many publications and even attending law school at night. Was he a good writer deep down? I have my doubts. I've read that his stories generally were not good narratives until his editors tinkered with them. I heard a lot of people say that Stephen would make an excellent novelist or screenwriter. After all, his stories sounded like hollywood cinemas. But again, this is largely because of his editors and colleagues who would help him. I have Stephen's novel, The Fabulist, and though it's not a horrible read, it can't compare with Glass's creative fiction during his journalism career. But, his book is intriguing all the same because he walks you through how he fooled the fact-checkers and editors.
Another thing that struck me about the movie was the portrayal of Stephen's editors. His first editor, the late Michael Kelly, was laid back, fun and supportive. The entire staff loved him. His successor, Chuck Lane, didn't have Kelly's sense of humor. In fact, one of the writers in the movie described him as "humorless." Editors are different everywhere you work. I've had some that I really enjoyed working for, and others I'd prefer not to work with again. It's the luck of the draw. It's like picking out a pet kitten. You have no idea what kind of personality it will have until you interact with it.
Ultimately, I think Glass only got away with his crimes because The New Republic didn't allow photos in their magazine. Also, with TNR being an opinionated magazine, Glass could write the things he knew his readers wanted to hear. Writing straight-forward AP-style articles like the ones in U.S. newspapers would have made cheating more difficult for Glass. Shattered Glass is my favorite journalism movie without doubt.
I screened All The President's Men sometime late last year. The movie is about the reporters who uncovered the Watergate Scandal. Like Shattered Glass, the film gives an in-depth look into the world of journalism. You see reporters crouched behind desks, talking to sources on the phone or writing articles. You also see that journalists will sometimes run into sources that don't want to be revealed, like the anonymous informant known as "Deepthroat." Another common link between ATPM and SG is showing how different editors can be.
Though ATPM was a good movie, I think it ran on a little too long. Shattered Glass was better in my opinion. The movie really picks up after Stephen writes his final TNR story, Hack Heaven. I'm hoping another great journalism movie comes out soon. I'd like to see films based on Jayson Blair or Janet Cooke. I think SG and ATPM should be screened in every journalism class.
For those interested, here are two interviews with Stephen Glass.