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Looking Through 'Shattered Glass' -
November 17, 2003

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Before Jayson Blair let the world know the level to which the New York Times had sunk, there was Stephen Glass.

Glass was the reporter who rocked another icon of the mainstream press, the New Republic. And just like Blair, he violated the No. 1 commandment of the news industry: "Thou shalt not make things up."

Glass' journalistic transgression of passing off fiction as fact is the basis of a new film titled "Shattered Glass." The movie demonstrates how the lust for fame can be a corrupting influence within the journalism profession. At least 20-some-odd times Glass was able to get articles published in one the world's most respected news magazines using trumped-up sources, phony locations and/or non-existent events.

The character of Glass is artfully played by Hayden Christensen, best known for his role as Anakin Skywalker. In the film, Christensen is able to transform himself into an affable sociopath who seduces friends and co-workers with feigned insecurity.

As the ethically challenged Glass commits a series of magazine misdeeds, he's careful to include his tag line "Are you mad at me?" for maximum diversion.

Steve Zahn, a veteran at portraying quirky characters, plays the role of online reporter Adam Penenberg. Upon discovery of the extent of Glass' fabrication, Penenberg appears to be stunned, disturbed and, ultimately, a bit gleeful at the alternative media coup.

In a subplot, the film pays tasteful tribute to the late Michael Kelly, who was fired as editor of the New Republic about halfway through the Glass saga. Kelly, a brilliant journalist and bold conservative, lost his life in 2003 while covering the war in Iraq.

What does the infamous Glass himself think of the film? He assessed it in this way: "It was extremely painful and difficult to watch. There were large chunks of it, or at least significant chunks of it, that I looked at the ground, I didn't look at the screen. ... That being said, it's a good movie."

As it turns out, the whole story is more than a cautionary tale for would-be reporters. It's a prime illustration of the importance of the alternative media, which have become the paramount check to the establishment media, which far too often play tug-of-war with the truth. Journalism schools, including the one I teach at, will no doubt use this story as an object lesson.

But has Stephan Glass actually learned his lesson? Are there repercussions these days for professional ethics violations or personal moral failings?

Not exactly. Glass has been given the big-time opportunity to write, embellish and possibly fabricate again. He has apparently finished an autobiographical novel based on his experiences called "The Fabulist," was recently hired by the Rolling Stone to pen an article on Canadian drug legislation, is writing a second novel and has applied to the New York Bar to become an attorney.

Much like Internet heroes of today who are exposing the mainstream's print and broadcast chicanery, Glass' fraud was unearthed by a Forbes online publication. Let's man our modems and keep up the dig.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2003
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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