Gray Flannel Dwarf

6/14/2004

Review: Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass is the title of the 2003 film written by Billy Ray and based upon a Vanity Fair article by Buzz Bissinger, concerning the rise and fall of disgraced journalist and former associate editor of The New Republic, Stephen Glass.

Shattered Glass is an all-encompassing account of how, over a three-year period, Glass (played by Hayden Christensen), under two different editors — the late Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) and Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) — managed to partially or completely falsify twenty-seven of forty-one articles written for The New Republic, often referred to in the movie as “The in-flight reading material for Air Force One”. The Republic was not the only publication fooled by Glass, however, as a variety of other magazines, including Rolling Stone, George and Policy Review all published Glass’ fabricated bits.

In this film, much (due) credit is given to Forbes writer Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) in discovering this perpetrated fraud, when asked by his editor, “Why didn’t we get this story?”, with regards to a Glass piece entitled “Hack Heaven”. In researching Glass’ names, places and accounts, Penenberg is able to discover nary a shred of evidence, which leads to a seemingly implausible trail of deceit constructed by Glass, in a desparate attempt to cover his tracks.

The film itself does a fairly good job of illustrating the manipulative nature of Glass, who managed to turn much of the Republic‘s staff against its new editor, Lane. Actress Chloë Sevigny convincingly plays the role of “Caitlin Avey” (based upon real-life staffer Hanna Rosin), perhaps the most loyal and misled of any staffer in the film.

In this day and age, while watching this film, it is somewhat hard to suspend disbelief that Glass was able to “override” the fact checking system the way he did — searching the Internet, as Penenberg did, no longer seems to be as “novel” an approach now, as might might have been in 1998. Furthermore, from the beginning, the film’s rendition of Glass’ enthusiastic (and faked) account of his “hacker story” prior to publication will most likely be viewed with cynicism in the eyes of just about any technologically-oriented person. However, it must be realised that this is a true case of hindsight being 20/20, and that nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of journalists and readers were fooled time and time again by Glass’ actions.

The film does seem to drag on a bit near the end and Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of an ever-increasingly desparate Glass does seem a bit contrived. Furthermore the repetitive nature of some of Glass’ statements throughout the film — not to mention staffer reactions — sometimes get tiresome, but overall, this film is is pretty fascinating in exposing how one writer managed to fool well-read and well-trained readers, over and over again.

The DVD version of this film includes a 60 Minutes interview with Glass, concerning the events that unfolded. It should be noted, however, that Glass did not contribute to, nor have any comment, on the film itself.

Below are some articles of interest concerning the story of Stephen Glass:

  • Penenberg’s exposé of Glass’ deception, entitled “Lies, Damn Lies, and Fiction”: http://www.forbes.com/1998/05/11/otw3.html
  • A screenshot of the faked “corporate website” that Glass created as an attempt to cover his tracks: http://www.forbes.com/1998/05/11/otw3b.html
  • A website illustrating the articles falsified by Stephen Glass: http://www.rickmcginnis.com/articles/Glassindex.htm

cswiii @ 10:10 am

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